CONSERVATIVE support is collapsing and the Tories face an existential threat from Nigel Farage and his all-conquering Brexit Party, but perhaps there is the tiniest glimmer of a sliver lining to the dark storm clouds.
The race to succeed Theresa May has a ridiculous number of runners and riders, but some aspects of the contest so far have been impressive. First and foremost in our troubled and divisive times, the competition so far has been conducted in an atmosphere of respect and decency where political differences are debated calmly and rationally.
The contrast with the screeching, hate-filled mob besieging Westminster this week to protest against the state visit by US President Donald Trump couldn’t be sharper. At a time when our two countries came together to remember the sacrifices made to defeat fascism 75 years ago, the behaviour of these clowns, whipped up to a frenzy by Jeremy Corbyn, was nothing short of a national embarrassment.
The courtesy shown by the candidates for the Conservative leadership provides a much-needed lesson for the Left that sharp political divergences can be discussed without resorting to thuggery and violence.
There has also been some fresh thinking by the various candidates on policies beyond Brexit such as education, taxation, health, housing and transport – crucial areas of policy if the Conservatives are ever to reconnect with potential supporters.
But most impressive of all has been the innovative social media campaigns, compete with slickly edited videos. After a dismal European Parliament campaign the Conservatives – or at least the individuals vying to lead the party – have upped their game massively.
Take, for example, the novel idea by Rory Stewart, Secretary of State for International Development, who has simply gone walkabout, filming himself on his phone walking the streets and inviting members of the public to come and find him to ask him questions.
This has earned him an enormous amount of derision from political pundits who have likened Stewart to a lonely singleton desperately searching for a partner via the dating app Tinder.
It is true this has produced some awkward moments, but it has been a brave strategy and to the ordinary people he has met – and more importantly to the thousands who have viewed his videos – he has come across as genuine, knowledgeable and passionate.
Boris Johnson’s campaign video, a seemingly random compilation of his doorstep encounters with voters, was in fact carefully and cleverly targeted to deliver a key message. In one crucial clip he asks a woman if she has ever voted Conservative. She bursts out laughing and says: “Never!” Johnson asks sweetly: “But would you consider voting for me?” “Yes!” comes the emphatic response.
The message here is that Johnson is the “Heineken Candidate” – he refreshes those parts of the electorate that the other candidates cannot reach.
Equally impressive is Jeremy Hunt’s campaign video in which he takes us back to a room above a garage where he started a small publishing company in the 1990s.
The company went on to employ 200 people and was sold a couple of years ago for £30m – a story that allows Hunt to emphasise not only his hard work but also his leadership and negotiating skills.
Michael Gove concentrates on his record in government in education and environment and says how he would relish taking the fight to Corbyn – a point backed up with a clip of his famous, barnstorming speech earlier this year when he humiliated the Labour leader in the House of Commons.
These are talented and decent people and any one of them would make a better Prime Minister than Corbyn whose only achievement so far is to drag the once proud Labour party into a cesspit of racism and bigotry.
Who will I vote for? Truth is I don’t have a vote and neither do you unless you are a member of the Conservative Party. Once the large field has been whittled down to two by the Parliamentary party, the decision on who will be our next Prime Minister will be the choice of around 130,000 Conservative members.
You may think this is outrageous, but it is the seventh time it has happened since the war. Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-Home, James Callaghan, John Major and Gordon Brown all became Prime Minister without having won a general election.