06 December 2005

Tories have a new leader

Tonight, the British Conservative Party finally has a new leader. It was a long time coming. Seven months after Michael Howard announced his intention to stand down after his defeat in the general election, the Conservative Party membership has elected David Cameron to take his place in what turned out to be a landslide victory. Cameron's winning margin of 134,446 votes to 64,398 over David Davis is described by The Times' political editor as "a very considerable mandate", and it's difficult to argue with that.

Cameron, 39, is the MP for Witney in Oxfordshire. Educated at Eton and Brasenose College, Oxford, he is the father of two young children, with another on the way. He has only been an MP for four years, and was considered a rank outsider in this leadership race until he made a storming speech at the Conservative Party Conference, thus launching himself on the national stage and thoroughly pulling the rug out from under the then front-runner David Davis.

The similarities between Cameron now and Tony Blair when he took over the Labour Party leadership back in 1994 are striking and have been noted and discussed at length in the British media, even prompting some commentators to speak of "Blaireron", implying that the two are indistinguishable.

This will make for a very interesting next few years in British politics. Cameron has plenty of time to settle in and cut his teeth in the leader's job before he has to fight an election campaign, and a lot of things can, and will, happen before then. It would be premature to make predicitions at this stage as to whether or not Cameron will have the ability to reverse the result of the last three elections and lead the Conservatives to victory. However, when you read his profile, or interviews with him, or look at what he has campaigned on and the style and media savvy with which it is all brought across, it is easy to see why the British Conservatives are feeling more buoyant and confident tonight than they have for many a year.

David Cameron's first two tasks as leader will be to name his Shadow Cabinet and to take on Tony Blair at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday. Which way he goes in the former case will give an indication as to the direction he intends to take the Tories in between now and the next election; the latter will be a fascinating first duel between a relatively inexperienced but evidently very talented young politician and a Prime Minister who was once just like his opponent but is now on the way out and finds himself politically on the ropes both at home and in Europe. Fascinating stuff.

[It goes without saying that this is the top story in the UK at the moment. All the major newspapers and news outlets have extensive coverage and analysis. Go on, knock yourself out.]