Since 1945 only two Prime Ministers have been re-elected and served two consecutive full terms: Blair and Thatcher. Each had a clear big idea and succeeded in connecting their parties with the electorate’s aspirations. They both ran very positive and passionate campaigns, they were for not against things and gave strong leadership, but with very different personalities. They are both worth studying for the personal qualities that made them successful. Successful political leaders are rare.
Almost all debate about the Conservative Party leadership has been about the agenda we need to follow and very little has been about the personal qualities required in a new leader. They are at least equally and probably more important. British elections have become increasingly presidential; the character and image of party leaders are crucial to success. It is demonstrably no good just voting for a leader whose political views most closely conform to one’s own.
Most of what has been said about the agenda by the “modernisers” is correct: we need to address public services and social issues constructively and in a way that appeals to floating voters; we need to connect with the hopes, fears and aspirations of those millions of voters who are thoroughly disenchanted with Labour, but seem unable to bring themselves to vote Conservative. Most Conservative MPs would agree with most of this. There is not a huge gulf between modernisers and others, but the right agenda is no use without an effective leader.
Leadership is one of those intangible qualities that is difficult to define, but recognisable when you meet it. A successful Conservative Leader must look and talk convincingly like a potential Prime Minister; be able to communicate with voters in a tone and language to which they can relate; clearly understand the lives of ordinary voters; belie public prejudices about the Conservatives being for the privileged; have real leadership qualities and clear, well thought through views; inspire loyalty and follower-ship; and be good on TV and radio. Candidates should be evaluated against these criteria.
David Davis has all these attributes. He has a convincing presence and an excellent relaxed style on TV and radio. He is a good communicator. At the last two elections we failed to get our ideas across; research has shown that many of our policies are attractive to voters, until they are told the policies are Conservative ones. David Davis would be able to connect our values and policies to people’s lives, their hopes and fears. That is only partly an agenda issue; it is far more important to be able to get people to listen by talking in a language and a tone to which they relate. It is much easier to do this if you understand the lives of ordinary voters, which I believe he does.
We have a very negative image and are thought to be out of touch, for the rich, living in the past, unsympathetic etc. It is vital that our new leader clearly belies those prejudices. David Davis’s background is absolutely not that of a typical Tory. He has a warm and classless image, in tune with modern Britain.
His views are always very well “thought through” and therefore strongly held. If you are not convinced yourself, it is very difficult to convince others. Much of the work that the party has done on public services, helping the disadvantaged, localism etc. was begun and developed by him. His instincts on ID cards are right and without him we would be saddled with the wrong policy.
A successful leader needs courage as well as vision, the ability to stand up to colleagues as well as to the fashionable view and to take, and stick to, difficult decisions. Politics can be very difficult and leadership very lonely. Our new leader must really want the job; not just want to be Prime Minister, but want the job of making the Conservative Party relevant and electable.
We must choose a leader who has the ability and skill to communicate the message of modern conservatism to the electorate. I believe that David Davis best fits the specification. He might even be as good as Thatcher, he is certainly better than Blair.