The Tories lose the plot (again)

Last updated at 10:02 27 May 2005

Like the Bourbons of old (surely one of the most wretched royal dynasties ever to occupy a European throne) the navelgazing Tories seem to have forgotten nothing and learned nothing.

Only three weeks ago, there was a palpable sense that they had at last stopped the rot. A disciplined election campaign, some welcome Parliamentary gains, an influx of new talent and a Government wide open to attack& all this appeared to offer hope of a revival.

But look at the state of the party today: plots to get rid of Michael Howard, MPs queuing to give him an unhelpful push, faction fighting, rows behind closed doors, all the wearisomely familiar symptoms of an Opposition again tearing itself apart.

And of course it was all so sadly predictable. However honourable Mr Howard's motives in announcing his intention to go later this year, the prospect of a long battle for the succession was an open invitation to trouble.

So it has proved. Discipline is fraying. Unity is eroding. Some supporters of David Davis want Mr Howard to go 'within weeks' so their man can seize the battered Tory crown. Party 'modernisers' meanwhile want to put off a contest as long as possible as they scramble to find a plausible candidate of their own.

And the whole sorry mess is made worse by the botched attempt to reform the party's organisation and change the rules for electing the leader, which ended in Mr Howard's humiliating U-turn last night.

Now the Tories find themselves in the worst of all worlds. When they are in such disarray, they are clearly in no fit state to take an early decision on the future of the party. Yet if the present turmoil continues, their plight will become even worse.

They are playing with fire.

Unless they find discipline, unity and a leader who can articulate a vision of modern Toryism in language that connects with the voters, their party has no future.

Shouldn't they look long and hard at the spectacle they are making of themselves - and step back from the brink?

A brave warning

The language is stark, the message apocalyptic: unless Asians and black people integrate themselves properly into society, Britain faces the risk of race riots on the scale of Los Angeles in 1992.

Had such a warning been uttered by a mainstream white politician, he would already be a pariah, denounced from the rooftops as a scaremonger or worse.

But these words can't be dismissed so easily. They come from Trevor Phillips, the highly-respected black chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality and one of the few public figures who can address such issues frankly without provoking kneejerk accusations of racism.

With huge moral courage he points to the way local councils perpetuate the problem of 'corporate multiculturalism' by funding community groups that often promote the ghetto mentality.

Young Asians and black people, he says, want to integrate while retaining some aspects of their parents' culture.

Yet all too often, councils "give status to leaders of a certain age who want to translate the habits of Rajastan or rural Jamaica into Blackburn or Brixton".

The dangers are obvious. Segregated communities tend to deny themselves opportunities while risking isolation, misunderstanding and unequal treatment.

Yet it needn't be like this. Many groups, such as the Chinese, have successfully integrated while retaining their cultural heritage. Shouldn't their example be followed by other ethnic minorities too, in a tolerant nation that embraces different strands of Britishness?

Trevor Phillips has painted a grim picture of what could happen if the effort isn't made. Are the politically correct arbiters of official policy listening?

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