The accusation that should be laid at the door of William Hague and his colleagues is not that they ran a slipshod campaign – which they did – or, for that matter, that their strategy was flawed and they made no use of tactics. Rather, it is that for the best part of four years, they made no real attempt to stir up trouble for the government.
The result of this year's election is an indictment of the Conservative opposition. Even in an era where industrialists and politicians alike stick to their jobs as if with superglue, regardless of the havoc that they wreak, there must surely be a case for wholesale resignations, at Conservative Central Office at least.
However, the question needs to be asked: could they have done better? The answer, given the identities of those in charge, is a resounding "no". Take Michael Ancram, for instance, a man fresh from defeat in Scotland, who was brought in to spearhead a national campaign as chairman of the party. There is no aspect of this man's career that shows he had any aptitude for the position. Or take Sebastian Coe. The idea of Coe, rejected by the electorate and placed in the House of Lords as adviser and right-hand man to Hague is a bad music hall joke. Or Amanda Platell, glamorous, hopeless director of communications.
If these judgments seem harsh, let us examine the winning years of Margaret Thatcher. Of course, it was easy then. Thatcher was lucky. "Luck", as Oscar Wilde so wisely said, "is the secret of success". In 1979, the party chairman was Peter Thorneycroft. In 1983, with chairman Cecil Parkinson, the Conservatives won a formidable victory. In 1987, with chairman Norman Tebbit, the party won the biggest majority ever. With the best will in the world, there can be no comparison between Thorneycroft, Parkinson, Tebbit and the lacklustre Ancram.
There must surely be a case for wholesale resignations, at Conservative Central Office at least
Then there is the advice that Thatcher received. How can you compare Lord Coe with Sir Keith Joseph, a man of culture and intellect? Joseph could not run very fast (although he was a formidable cricketer in his day) but his mind was as sharp as a razor. The murdered Airey Neeve and Ian Gow were formidable adversaries, the like of which Coe could never be.
Platell is a sometime newspaper editor, with curious credentials for a Conservative. Gordon Reece did her job in 1979. A man who produced News at Ten, Songs of Praise and Emergency Ward Ten. A man with the experience of news, emotion and soap operas – all the stuff of politics. Trained on the Sunday Express by John Junor and performing constituency work in Brighton, Reece understood journalism and politics. The facts speak for themselves and do not reflect well on the judgment of Hague. Political parties, like dead fish, go bad starting at the head.
All this apart, what were Thatcher's strengths and Hague's weaknesses? Much as Thatcher would have liked to have stuffed her cabinet with those of her own opinions, she understood the need for balance. She recruited for competence and peace was preserved. An uneasy peace, but when the time came for an election her choices were the best candidates in the party. Hatreds and feuds were put on hold and Labour was torn to shreds. Peter Walker, Michael Heseltine and Jim Prior fought like tigers alongside Joseph, Tebbit and Angus Maude.
Lord McAlpine is a writer and former treasurer of the Conservative Party.