Sunday, May 29, 2005

Rawnsley Backs Davis

Writing in today's Observer, the ever plugged in Andrew Rawnsley says:

'What is striking is not so much the levels of support that Mr Davis enjoys on the Tory right, among whom he seems to be well ahead of Liam Fox, his main rival for the affections of that constituency.

What makes Davis look increasingly inevitable is the language which centrist Tories are now using when they talk about him. Some do still slag him off as a self-regarding schemer who will march the Conservatives up another disastrous cul-de-sac.

But more and more of those Tories who like to call themselves modernisers speak about Davis with the wary respect of people preparing to do business with the winner.

'David has a lot of talent,' says one of the most prominent of the Tory mods, a man with his own leadership ambitions. He paused pregnantly and then added: 'I genuinely mean that.'

Rawnsley runs through DD's attractions: '...the image consultant's choice. A full head of all grey hair gives him something of the look preferred for American newscasters. Character is added to the face by a nose he has broken five times...a 'backstory', a personal narrative that would help to kill several of the negatives that cling to the Tories like stale cigar smoke. If they want to shed the impression that they are a party of greedy toffs who hate single mothers, there is quite a lot to recommend a self-made man who was brought up by a single mother on a council estate.'

And he spells out how this would play against Blair.

'It makes him the mirror of Tony Blair, which is an asset if you believe parties often prosper when they choose unstereotypical leaders. Blair was the public school son of a Thatcherite. Davis is the grammar school grandson of a Jarrow marcher. Just as it helped Blair to broaden his party's appeal because he was not a member of the traditional Labour tribe, so Davis has the advantage of not looking or sounding like a conventional Tory.

That would surely be an asset to a party that will never find its way back to power unless it can reconnect with the concerns and aspirations of urban Britain, vast tracts of which are presently Conservative-free zones.'

And his weak points?

'The criticism from colleagues that most nettles Davis is the accusation that he is too laid-back, 'the matinee idle' in the disparaging remark of one hostile Tory MP. Davis has been heard to say to friends: 'How did I get from where I started to where I am now if I am so fucking lazy?'

It's always seemed a strange charge: nobody who has battled his way up like Davis is going to be lazy.

'The more toxic charge against Davis is that he is too much the schemer, too addicted to the politicking of politics. Some of his more zealous supporters added to that reputation last week by talking out loud about acting to speed the exit of Michael Howard.

Odd though it may seem to be attacked for being a schemer by other politicians, the example of Heseltine and Portillo is a warning to Davis that he needs to keep his supporters under exceptionally tight control.'

Good advice, Andy. Fortunately DD seems to be there already.

At the risk of quoting the whole piece, Rawnsley concludes:

'The image of the right-wing, adrenaline-fuelled hard man that he has played up to masks a more subtle and complex personality. Many Tories can intellectually appreciate that they need to demonstrate they are seriously interested in what happens to the less affluent. Davis's understanding of what it is like to be at the bottom of the heap is rooted in his biography. He once told me that the problem with too many of his colleagues in the Tory party was that they had 'never known the true meaning of despair'.

After three election defeats, more of them do now perhaps understand the meaning of despair. Is David Davis the answer to it? He has got self-confidence, ruthlessness, ambition and a keen tactical sense, all necessary qualities for leadership. What is unproven is whether he has the team-making and strategic skills. He has a personal story that would help his party appeal to more of Britain. What he now has to show is that he has got the political vision to go with it.'

All very fair comment.

And the sooner they let DD get to work, the sooner he can turn up the volume on that political vision he has already sketched out here and here.

Bring it on.
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