by Kevin Meagher
What does Tory backbencher Adam Afriyie think we should be doing to boost the economy, reform public services and deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions?
Until I read yesterday’s newspapers, the thought to ask had never crossed my mind, but judging by yesterday’s Sunday Times it’s clear the MP for Windsor is the coming man; the saviour of a post-defeat Conservative party. A future prime minister. “Black MP is hot tip to be next Tory leader” ran the headline. I searched in vain in the subsequent story, (as bemused Tory MPs may have), for any indication of what Mr. Afriyie thinks, well, about anything.
Nevertheless, the paper reports “a secret operation is underway” to propel him to the party leadership. More than 100 Tory MPs have been approached to this end. A “friend” of Mr Afriyie explains that his cadre of backers are “very concerned” about the long-term direction of the party and believe that Afriyie is the best man to succeed David Cameron. “He has a fantastic back story and is very impressive.”
I admit to knowing the name and knew a bit of his biography, but to be honest I had quite forgotten Afriyie was there. He’s pretty low profile, but that’s not really an excuse as he’s been in parliament since 2005. Brutally, I assumed he had missed his mark and like Archie Norman and other business people who realise too late that the rough and tumble of Westminster is not their bag, led a quiet life before, inevitably, shuffling off back to business.
How wrong I was. What I did learn is that Afriyie is very rich and has a gang of eight fellow MPs pursuing his cause among Tory backbenchers in the expectation (hope?) that David Cameron will blow it in 2015.
I wrote last week that Cameron gives some of his troops the belief that he is weak and vacillating because he understands the compromises that are needed to make a coalition work. But within his own party he should be assured of more loyalty than he is clearly getting. A Thatcher, Blair or even a Brown would not be so sanguine about a well-heeled upstart flesh-pressing the backbenchers to build his on powerbase on the assumption of defeat for the party.
Where was the counter-briefing to knock holes in the Afriyie veneer once it became clear the Sundays were running with this story? Did Downing street do nothing to prick the bubble of arrant pomposity surrounding him with a pair of clod-hopping size 12s?
Looking at this dispassionately, it’s fair enough for those with a particular view of where their party should be heading to want their own candidate in place as leader to help get them where they want to be.
If you are a classic right-wing Tory you may see Cameron as insufferably wet and want someone more in tune with your view of the world. That’s a perfectly respectable view. Similarly, if you’re one of those metro-set Tories, staunchly free market, but socially liberal, you again probably want your own person in charge. This is only logical.
But what is illogical, actually bizarre – and symptomatic of a party losing its collective marbles – is to change horses for someone with no discernible beliefs whatsoever. Whoever was doing the rounds on Afriyie’s behalf over the weekend didn’t bother to furnish the media with any details about what their man thinks or stands for. This is particularly remiss in a week when Cameron has staked Britain’s future in Europe. What does Afriyie think about that? All very odd.
For Labour this may be the point when Tory MPs slip back into familiar habits, wiling away their days plotting against their own leader and gorging on Euro-hysteria. Plus ça change.
But there’s a wider issue here that affects everyone in British politics. At one time our politics was ideological. You believed in certain things and fought for them. Those who took the path of least resistance were deemed untrustworthy, charlatans who were out for themselves. Big political figures, a Bevan or indeed a Thatcher, won big battles because they had firm, resolute beliefs. They staked their careers on what they believed in.
I may be doing Mr. Afriyie a disservice here, but it strikes me that if you seek to lead a political party it is not unreasonable to ask for your credentials. To assume this is unnecessary is self-obsession verging on narcissism.
The betting odds apparently have Afriyie at 33/1 to become the next Tory leader. I’d say that is generous and that the ambition/ ability axis is dangerously, perhaps humorously, out of whack here.
Tall, smart and good-looking he may be, but then again, so was Robert Kilroy-Silk.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut