David Davis won the backing of Shailesh Vara yesterday - the Tory Party's only Asian MP - (David Cameron won the support of Greg Barker) but it was his speech to the Centre for Policy Studies that won most attention.
There have been complaints that the Tory leadership race has been characterised by uncontroversial generalities. Those complaints could not be directed at last night’s David Davis speech.
Speaking to two hundred supporters of the CPS Mr Davis made an unapologetic defence of lower taxation and radical reform of schools and hospitals.
The first half of DD’s ‘Modern Conservatism’ speech was dedicated to public service reform. He said that Tony Blair had tested to destruction the idea that ‘spending without reform’ might work. He said that parental/ patient choice – exercised locally – was the only sure way to give every citizen the schooling and hospital care that they deserved.
But if DD confirmed his reputation as a slightly turgid platform speaker during the first half of his speech, it was during the second half - on tax - that the speech came alive. Last week Michael Howard had said that low tax was not a silver bullet for Tory fortunes. David Davis addressed this ‘aunt sally’ directly:
”"Some argue that low taxes aren't a silver bullet for the Conservative Party. And of course there's no single remedy to the position we're in. But accepting the high tax, high spend terms of the debate set by Gordon Brown is certainly a bullet to the heart of electoral success."
The frontrunner for the Tory leadership also was careful to pay tribute to other pretenders to the Tory crown. He paid tribute to David Cameron for supporting marriage and David Willetts for his emphasis on social renewal.
The speech went down well at The Daily Telegraph. A leading article concluded:
”Mr Davis's speech was infused with what he called a "new Conservative idealism". We heartily endorse the ideas he has set out. If the other candidates follow suit, we can be confident of the Conservatives' victory in four years' time, whoever their leader is.”
The speech is understood to have been written by Nick Herbert MP. Mr Herbert is a long-time friend of Mr Davis and was head of the Reform think tank until he succeeded Howard Flight as MP for Arundel & South Downs. DD’s speech was a confirmation that Reform’s emphasis on tax cuts and free market solutions to the public services would be central to a Davis leadership.
During questions DD said that he would be embracing compassionate conservatism during a forthcoming speech to the Centre for Social Justice. Another forthcoming speech will set out his views on foreign policy.