Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Honesty in a leadership contest? Surely not

I never thought the Tory leadership content would be the event to knock me out of my recess induced political coma, but it has. Even more unexpected is the source of this surprise - Murdo Fraser - and the hard hitting and strong speechhe delivered to launch his leadership bid.

“Change is no longer an option, but a necessity. Now is the time to face the truth [that] the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party is failing...and it will never succeed in its current form”.

“If I am elected as Leader of the Party, I will build a new and stronger party for Scotland”.

Fraser’s speech was a brutally honest evaluation of the Tories performance in the last 15 years which saw them reduced, despite a well-run campaign from Annabel Goldie, to just over 12% of the regional vote in the recent SP elections and losing key people like Derek Brownlee.

Whenever politicians talk about honesty my suspicions are usually aroused. It’s usually vacuous window dressing, but this time it was different. Why? The reason is simple: as the establishment figure Fraser was the overwhelming favourite for the vacant post. He had everything to lose, so it follows that he would run a safe campaign.

Yet by questioning the fundamental existence of the party and how it operates, he implicitly criticises his own performance in a failing enterprise. Numerous questions come to the fore: why didn’t he air his feelings sooner? Why now?

Curiously, he has acted in a way that is anathema to a rational political actor pursuing his self-interest. He has set out his stall, his vision, which may well see him (if he doesn’t win) kicked out of the party. The only conclusion we can draw from this is, shock horror, he actually means what he’s saying.

Disappointingly, both the Herald and the Scotsman decided to lead with negative front page stories with the latter saying "division deepens over plan for Tory divorce”. In contrast, the opinion pages were awash with praise.

But here’s the thing: it could well be that his plans for a new centre-right party resonate more strongly with people outside the party than those within it, which is problematic considering the former can’t vote.

Following Fraser’s speech, I and a colleague remarked on how stale and sterile Scottish political debate had become; in effect, it is wedded to a left of centre ideology. The prospect of a new centre right party, then, should be welcomed because it would generate alternative policy discourse and provide a rejoinder to the social democratic soup. Every democracy needs healthy opposition and Scotland is no different.

Murdo Fraser is taking a huge gamble in more ways than one. Not only is he putting his political career on the line, but he is gambling on a supposition that there is an appetite for a new centre right political party amongst the Scottish electorate.

He may be right. He may be wrong. In fact, he may never find out. But one things for sure: his speech will stimulate debate in a leadership content we all thought would be dull and uneventful.

Good luck to all the candidates. You can follow them via twitter - @murdofraser2011 , @Carlaw2011 and RuthForLeader


P.s. apologies for the lack of links - blogger is playing up.

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