Last night a group of about twenty socially conservative MPs interviewed David Cameron, David Davis and Liam Fox about their leadership ambitions. Each candidate was asked a dozen or more questions in meetings that each lasted about fifty minutes. The minuted meeting was organised by MPs John Hayes and Edward Leigh.
All candidates were of the view that the party made only very limited progress at the last election and that one more heave would certainly not suffice. They all committed to a more compassionate brand of conservatism with David Cameron paying particularly strong tribute to Iain Duncan Smith’s one nation strategy. All supported lower taxation, stricter controls on abortion and active support for the institution of marriage. To varying degrees they all gave Euro-sceptic messages but with very few specifics.
ConservativeHome.com has spoken to three MPs who attended the interviews and there was agreement that Liam Fox put in the most impressive performance. He was described as “relaxed”, “funny”, “coherent” and “intellectually interesting”. He showed "impressive" command of (1) the NHS brief he held under William Hague and IDS and (2) of the foreign affairs brief that he has held since the General Election.
It was generally agreed that David Davis “went backwards”. Although he provided "sound" replies to most questions he sometimes appeared to resent having to answer the MPs’ questions. Furthermore he was “thin-skinned” about criticisms. He reacted angrily to suggestions that he was an undistinguished party chairman who had neglected his fundraising responsibilities. In this reaction he confirmed fears that he might be a harsh leader who would not listen to MPs’ views. He promised less than Dr Fox but that might be a reflection of “a more mature assessment of what could be delivered”, thought one MP.
David Cameron was thought to be the most “courteous” and “likeable” of the three contenders but at least one of the MPs was very concerned at a lack of depth. That MP thought that DC was “a creation of The Times” with little backing in the parliamentary party.
Some newspapers are presenting the contest as a 'Cameron vs Davis' clash but two of the three MPs thought that Fox would make a more formidable opponent for David Davis in a final round.