Learning from Michael Howard

Four people are currently contesting the Conservative Party leadership. Three others publicly - and more privately - considered a campaign but concluded that they lacked the support. There are two important things that these individuals can learn from the example of Michael Howard.

FIRST, when you think it is over, it isn't necessarily over. Michael Howard contested the leadership in 1997 and came flat last. He served as a front bencher for a couple more years, but then stepped down. Two years later he made a somewhat surprising return as Shadow Chancellor and then, to everyone's surprise, not least, I am sure, his own, became Party Leader with no opposition.

SECOND, the old motto that assassins never prosper still stands. The only way to advance your career in the Conservative Party is to loyally serve the leader. If you do that your chance may come. Your chance may even come again. Any other route will fail.

David Cameron is young enough to realise that if he fails to win the leadership this time his chance may yet come again. Others should realise that if they fail the same could well apply.

There is no doubt that forces close to David Davis were among those who undermined Iain Duncan Smith. It was for that reason that Davis was not in a good position to mount a leadership challenge when IDS fell, and stood aside for Michael Howard. Here's hoping he has learnt his lesson.

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