THE dignity with which William Hague acted yesterday morning failed to mask his culpability in the Conservatives' disastrous election campaign.

In playing on the fears of Europe, asylum seekers and taxation, Mr Hague appealed to the Tory faithful but not to the country as a whole. He got the electoral verdict he deserved.

After four years in opposition, Mr Hague nor his party learned the lessons from the landslide of 1997. Britain and the world has moved on since the 1970s and 1980s. The Tories have to move with the times.

If they remain rooted in the past, they risk being banished to the political wilderness, destined never again to be the natural party of government.

Their survival as a potent force depends on the choice of leader. One person stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Kenneth Clarke is, beyond doubt, the most popular and respected Conservative politician in the country. Around him, the party is capable of gathering sufficient respect and support to offer a credible challenge to Labour at the next General Election.

On the grounds that he is the person Labour would least like to see as Tory leader, the Conservatives must choose him as Mr Hague's successor.

Regrettably, his pro-European views may prevent him even making the shortlist of candidates drawn up by his Euro-sceptic parliamentary colleagues.

In ignoring the attributes of their most powerful personality and prized asset, they will be showing an act of folly equal to Mr Hague's choice of campaign themes.