Chris Moncrieff: Farage is the ghost in the political machine

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DAVID Cameron is engaged in the laborious task of trying to crank up the Conservative Party motor to make it roadworthy for the forthcoming general election. Alas for him, the engine is not purring like a sleek, well-oiled Rolls Royce, but is rather more subject to spluttering and stalling. A political MoT shows there is still major work to be done.

One of his main tasks will be the Cabinet reshuffle. Cameron is not in favour of unnecessary reshuffles, and likes to keep ministers in the same posts wherever possible.

However, it seems to be pretty much a racing certainty that old warhorse Kenneth Clarke will return to the backbenches. He is now totally out of kilter with the present Conservative Party’s stance on Europe, and Clarke could be a serious thorn in Cameron’s side if he continues, from the front-bench, to preach a pro-Europe sermon.

Cameron also seems obsessed with the idea of importing more women into the Cabinet; their gender appears to be more important than any ability to do a Cabinet job. A mistaken policy.

Europe will also continue to be a major issue in the run-up to the election and in the campaign itself. The trouble for the Prime Minister is that despite all his breast-beating over the appointment of the hated Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission, many Tories do not trust him. They wonder why he is so reluctant to hold the in-out referendum sooner rather than later, since his attempts to renegotiate and reform the EU will simply fail. It is banging your head against a brick wall.

And this is where Ukip will score. So long as he persists in delaying the referendum, Cameron will not lure back into his fold those many Tories who have defected to Nigel Farage’s blossoming party.

What would probably help Cameron to win next May would be for him to enter some kind of alliance with Ukip. But both leaders seem too obstinate to even consider such a move.

Things are probably even worse for Ed Miliband, whose “lacklustre” leadership of Labour is attracting serious criticism from within his own ranks. His own principal policy director, Jon Cruddas, has been scathing about him, describing Miliband’s “dead hand” on policy issues. There is even dangerous talk of asking Hull MP Alan Johnson, the former 
Home Secretary, to stand as a stalking horse candidate. Johnson, thankfully
for Miliband, is too honourable and loyal a person even to contemplate such action.

But still the Tories continue to depict Miliband as a man just sitting there, waiting for his orders from the trade unions. And all the while, Nigel Farage is waiting too, in the wings, like Banquo’s ghost. Cameron and Miliband should both beware.

ONE of the British Jihadists who travelled to Syria to fight with extremists linked to al-Qaida has said: “If and when I come back to Britain it will be when this Islamic state comes to conquer Britain and I come to raise the black flag of Islam over Downing Street, over Buckingham Palace, over Tower Bridge, and over Big Ben.”

If that does not smack of treason, I don’t know what does.

In America, anyone trying to leave the country who is suspected of travelling to the Middle East to be a jihadi can be arrested for the crime of going to aid a terrorist organisation.

The British government should set in motion, without delay, similar legislation. There can be no excuse for not dealing in the harshest possible way with people who carry the protection of a British passport and yet who effectively go to war with their own country.

FORMER Prime Minister John Major will be aghast at the news that, under the regime of its new Canadian governor, Mark Carney, the Bank of England’s traditional annual cricket match will be abandoned – and replaced with rounders.

It’s said that cricket is too elitist, but perhaps it’s more because Canadians are not noted for their cricketing prowess.

Cricket-loving Sir John Major once told me, when he was Prime Minister: “You may or may not be aware of this, but I am vice-president of the Surrey County Cricket Club. By far the most important post I hold.”

There’s a man who knows where his priorities lie.

Chris Moncrieff is a former political editor of the Press Association.