Sunday, October 12, 2008

In Praise of Michael Howard

A quote from a comment from the wonderfully named David Cameron's Forehead on Michael Howard:
The man is an absolute bellend, & I'd like to hear why you think otherwise!?
Which is a fair enough request, but the answer is probably worth more than burying in the comments section of a post completely unrelated to the former Tory Party Leader.

See, I do like Michael Howard. I admire and on some levels respect him. I have no hesitation in saying he was the best Tory leader since Thatcher - although some of the competition is not that fierce. And whilst I still have serious issues with Howard, I still reckon he was one of the few politicians in recent political history who actually warranted any proactive political support.

Let's deal with some of the problems with Howard. First up - and there is no way from getting away from this - there is the small question of his presentational issues. Anne Widdecombe - a woman who resembles a baggy, damp duvet in a bad wig, so there are element of pot and kettle if we take her comments on presentation too seriously - famously described Howard of having "something of the night" about him. It helped to lead to the cliched view of Howard as some sort of vampire. However, I'd argue that this sort of synopsis of Howard's image is actually hideously inaccurate. Painting him a a vampire makes him sound far more glamorous than he actually is. If he is a vampire, then he is a vampire who has let himself go and is in need of a serious influx of new blood. Ultimately, Howard looks like exactly what he is - an old man who has not aged that well.

And yes, he doesn't sound very good when he is talking. There is something in his voice that just doesn't work. He sounds slightly strangulated, like he is sitting on his own scrotum and as a result the pitch of his voice is all over the place. And his complete inability to say the world "people" is a big flaw in a politician who seemed to want to use that word in every sentence. I can't have been alone in being confused every now and again in wondering what exactly these "peepell" were that he constantly cited.

Yet I refuse to dismiss a politician - any politician, of any party or ideology - because of the way they look and they sound. We've experimenting with a photogenic Prime Minister who speaks well, and we've should all now understand after a decade of Blairism that looking OK and sounding posh are not good enough qualifications to make someone Prime Minister. Yes, you can note that Howard both looked and sounded incredibly awkward; you should also concede that Churchill was no looker himself, and Thatcher had a voice that could liquefy concrete.

Some of the political opinions of Howard are far more of a concern for me. As DCF points out:
I should have thought he'd be on your shit list, as his opinions are straight out of the Daily Mail, as represented by the shite he brought in as home secretary
Yes, Howard did implement some deeply restrictive and illiberal measures whilst he was Home Secretary. And he probably was the most right wing Home Secretary in recent memory, if you ignore Straw, Clarke, Reid and Smith. But whilst I am not making excuses for him, Howard was simply doing what the Tory party do when they are in power and the polls aren't going the way they want them to go. He was playing to the blue rinse brigade, and implement the sort of socially conservative policies that would have pleased retired Brigadiers everywhere. Watch this space; Cameron's Home Secretary will do very similar things as soon as the shit gets anywhere near the fan.

Likewise, some of Howard's rhetoric as Tory leader worried me. The posters stating "It isn't racist to talk about immigration..." were technically correct, but a colossal misjudgement. The Tories at the time were still being dismissed as racists, and as the "nasty party", so why the hell did Howard think it was a good idea to spout that sort of line on billboards across the nation?

So, he didn't look or sound great, and he had some ideas that were deeply troubling for me. Why on earth did I (and do I still) support Howard?

First of all, he was the first Opposition leader since Blair went into Number 10 who actually understood what opposition was about. Hague gave the impression of being apologetic for being Tory leader, whilst Ian Fucking Duncan Fucking Smith may as well not have bothered. In contrast, Howard took the fight to Blair and actually seemed to understand that it was his job to oppose that grinning homunculus of a Prime Minister.

And as a result of actually acting like an Opposition leader, Howard made the Tories a recognisable political force in the UK. For the first time since 1992, the 2005 General Election presented a Tory party actually willing to fight for power, rather than just surrender when the election was announced. I'm no fan of the Tories, but actually having some opposition to Nu Labour was (and is) a good thing in this country.

Finally, Howard actually gave the impression in believing in what he was fighting for. He actually was that "conviction politician" that so many leaders bleat about trying to be but fail to be as they are more interested in poll ratings than policy. At the height of Blairism, Howard was a breath of fresh air - a politician who actually believes in something. It was novel at the time, and would still be unique amongst main party leaders if it were repeated now.

Michael Howard - the best major party leader when he was in power, and better than any of the trio currently running one of the major parties in this country right now.

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At 5:22 pm , Blogger david cameron's forehead said...

Thanks for the attention! But his plans to implement ID cards & his support for the invasion of Iraq, trying to outflank Blair on the illiberal side, still make me think there would have been no reason whatsoever to vote for him.

I actually prefer Cameron, as hie is very slightly more liberal, though not nearly as much so as Davis, & he does have an element of the follower about him so he might reach for the authoritarian "solution" which won't work, but will go down well among the usual twats.

But you have not in any sense persuaded me away from my opposition to Howard :)

At 9:04 pm , Blogger The Nameless Libertarian said...

I wasn't actually trying to persuade you not to oppose Howard; rather was outlining the reasons why I did (and do) support him.

I'd say that Howard is slightly more liberal than Cameron, albeit it in different areas. I would say, though, that Howard has one big advantage in my book over Cameron - he is a conviction politician, whereas the only thing Cameron believes is that he should be elected ASAP.


At 11:36 am , Blogger david cameron's forehead said...


I agree that Howard is a conviction politician & that Camoron is weak & a follower.

But all that says to me is that Howard would go out of his way to be a cunt, whereas Camoron is at least capable of doing something sensible, if the last person he spoke to has any sense (admittedly unlikely, but at least he isn't deliberately evil).

Depends on your perspective :)

At 2:15 pm , Blogger The Nameless Libertarian said...

I don't see Howard as evil or as a cunt. Certainly stubborn to the point of being obtuse at times, but again that could simply be down to him actually having opinions.

I'll agree it does come down to perspective, but on the one hand you have someone who is willing to embrace stupid policies because they are a political lightweight and desperate to suck up any spare popularity going, and on the other hand you have someone who might pursue stupid policies because they stubbornly believe in them. Neither is a great situation for a politician to put themselves in, but there is more of a nobility in having misplaced beliefs than there is in simply being a popularity whore.



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