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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 August 2005, 06:36 GMT 07:36 UK
Top Tories unrecognisable - Howe
Interview
By Ollie Stone-Lee
Political reporter, BBC News website

Lord Howe
Lord Howe has yet to decide who he wants as next Tory leader
Ex-Chancellor Lord Howe says he struggles to recognise more than three of the Tory top team because the shadow cabinet has changed so many times.

The former deputy prime minister says Conservative frontbenchers only get the chance to appear fleetingly.

He also warns a "permanent Catherine Wheel" driven by "fashionable impulses" means people are discarded if they are reminders of past Tory misjudgements.

The new Tory leader must be able to use talent from across the party, he says.

But he raises concerns about the credentials of some of the leading contenders - although he has yet to decide who he thinks should succeed Michael Howard.

There was no question of generation change or saying goodbye to the past or modernising sloganising
Lord Howe on Thatcher's first shadow cabinet

The Conservative peer was Sir Geoffrey Howe when he served as chancellor, foreign secretary and deputy prime minister under Margaret Thatcher.

He says the bookmakers' favourite for the leadership, David Davis, is a "seriously minded man" who has experience of jobs outside politics.

"He's never struck anyone as a really great orator though, has he, or a very thoughtful person," he adds.

Lord Howe suggests rival contender David Cameron, 38, must surely have in mind the experience of William Hague, who became leader aged 36.

"William Hague, whose first job was as my PA [political adviser] was deeply unwise to become leader when he did," he says.

'Lust for unity'

Lord Howe argues the next Conservative leader must be able to command the enthusiastic respect of a cross section of his fellow MPs. Experience is another crucial factor.

The "magic" of Margaret Thatcher's election as Tory leader was that she combined younger people in her shadow cabinet with experienced hands such as Lord Hailsham, Lord Carrington, Willie Whitelaw and Angus Maude.

"There was no question of generation change or saying goodbye to the past or modernising sloganising," he says. "It was a question of putting together the most effective team...

Tory leader Michael Howard
Michael Howard is due to hand over the leadership in November

"The party needs to generate a spontaneous lust for unity.

"And any candidate ought to be thinking about his own ability to achieve that broad base.

"If the party at the level of shadow cabinet can't unite in creating that organisation then it has much lesser chance of uniting at every other level."

Thatcher contrast

Lord Howe complains that former ministers now sitting in the House of Lords, such as Douglas Hurd, Michael Forsyth and John Macgregor, are not consulted despite their experience and the fact they are identifiable on the streets.

"I find it extremely difficult to recognise more than two or three members of the shadow cabinet because they don't have the opportunity of really appearing except fleetingly, not appearing coherently and identifiably and given roles," he argues.

"There have been so many changes in the shadow cabinet at every stage. You never know who's doing what."

There are now hardly any real people in the House of Commons
Lord Howe

That contrasts with the way key shadow cabinet ministers held the same jobs for the four years leading up to Margaret Thatcher's first election victory, he says.

Lord Howe worries some figures have been excluded from the Tory frontline because they are associated with the past - something which did not happen with Willie Whitelaw after Bloody Sunday, for example.

He would like to see the return of former leader William Hague to the front bench, describing him as the type of person who would be chancellor "in any sensible Conservative government".

But he worries about the trend of shadow cabinet ministers not being expected to have jobs outside Parliament - Mr Hague has taken up lucrative business positions.

Public confidence

Lord Howe says he had three company directorships in the late 1970s but was not disqualified from serving as shadow chancellor.

"There are now hardly any real people in the House of Commons," he says.

"I've always said people before they become a candidate for a safe seat they should establish an independent existence in a different role."

The rise of "professional" politicians means fewer MPs have pursued careers in law, medicine, industry and other jobs before entering Parliament, he fears.

"It's one of the reasons why people's confidence in the electoral system has declined so much. They have all become shadowy political creatures."


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