Thursday, December 28, 2006

Cometh the hour?

The Conservative Party is many things at the moment, but not even its most ardent supporters would claim that it is overflowing with talent. My opinion of the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, has risen recently, but it still difficult to view the Shadow Cabinet as a whole as anything other than uninspiring. There are good men in key places: David Davis is perfectly placed at the Home Office, William Hague has been solidly competent at the Foreign Office, assisted admittedly by the transcendental uselessness of Margaret Beckett, arguably the worst Foreign Secretary in living memory.

But still there is a definite lack of star quality in the Shadow Cabinet; an absence of interest; a lacuna in pizzazz. It is very hard, admirable a man though he may be, to get terribly excited at the pronouncements of Andrew Lansbury, or even of David Willets. There is, of course, languishing, if not on the back benches, then at least in the less than glamorous position of Shadow Minister for Higher Education, one of the most recognisable figures in modern British politics.

What to do with Boris is one of the conundrums facing the Tories at the moment. His well publicised capacity for getting into trouble is much less damaging now than it would have been a decade ago, but endless headlines about Petronella are still a long way removed from the ideal. In appearance at any rate Cameron has given him a job where the capacity to screw up is as present as it would be anywhere else, but the potential political fall-out is significantly less. If he's drinking in the last-chance saloon, maybe he'll be more careful who he buys the drinks for.

If he has determined to straighten up, he is, simply, to great an asset to be ignored. He has wide recognition, is held in some degree of affection by many and is too bright to be dismissed as purely a lightweight. Those who scoff at the accent and appearance are in danger of overlooking one of a very few scholars in the Commons. It is by no means certain that he will ever be able fully to shed the wooly exterior, but it might now be time for the Conservatives to take a punt.


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