The famous Wat Tyler (not pictured) - Blogger for David Davis - is the author of the latest Hustings Report from this morning's Frimley venue...
Lakeside Leisure Complex describes itself as the Home Of World Darts, the hallowed spot where the legendary Jocky once slugged it out in beery combat against the mighty Cockney. No beer (or Pink Pussies) on hand today, but still plenty of well-flighted arrows.
There was an excellent turnout of about a thousand, and not all of them over 65 (or even 67). Plenty of support for both Davids, although quite a number chose to wear stickers for both sides, so we guess there were still many undecideds. The atmosphere throughout was relaxed and upbeat.
DC was first up to the ockie. He delivered his usual polished noteless performance, complete with jokes about people like Alexander the Great and Eric Bristow achieving huge things even younger than him. In truth, we'd heard most of the jokes before ("having" Paxman, seeing more of DD than his own wife - maybe they should get a civil partnership, etc), and it may be time for a new script. But his familiar slogan "Hope Optimism Change" did seem to go down well in the hall.
He ran through his litany: we must change; we must reflect the country as it is today; we must have policies on all areas people are concerned about, including traditionally non-Tory concerns like the environment; and we must be proud of our shared values. But his biggest applause came on his "button" statement that it would be "great if William Hague returned to the Front Bench". He ended by saying that in all elections you can either be the party of the past- and lose- or the party of the future- and win. He told us we can paint Gordon Brown's Labour as the party of the past. "Come with me: do it; win it".
One Hundred And Eighty!
DD then stepped forward. Again, a very familiar pitch. He told us he was delighted at the way the contest had shown the party to be alive with ideas, and that there's much more that unites us than divide us. And he again underlined his key message: a new Tory idealism to rescue the victims of state failure.
He touched on his differences with DC: a more combative style of
leadership- "I will not be an accomplice in saving Tony Blair's
half-baked reforms...I want to hasten his exit"; and taxes- "lower
taxes generate growth". But again, his biggest applause came on the
"button" issue of Europe, when he said that the British people had
voted to join a Common Market, not a United States of Europe. He ended
by telling us we have a choice- between image-led politics, cautious on
policy, or battle-hardened experience.
One Hundred And Eighty!
The umpire then read out some of the written audience questions. What are the biggest challenges? Both agreed the economy, and public service reform as one and two. How should we sort out the NHS? Both agreed top-down Whitehall control had to go, but DD stressed the need to empower patients to choose, whereas DC stressed "devolution" to healthcare professionals. And he reiterated his oppostion to patient passports.
Should we contemplate a LibDem coalition in a hung Parliament? DC said he was fighting to win, and cracked the joke about trying anything once, except incest, Morris Dancing, and coalition with the LDs. Which left Davis to field the other joke about pushing LibDems off Beachy Head. And that was actually emblematic of the entire session- these two now know each other so well, they're finishing each others' jokes. Which really is like an old married couple.
Drugs? Nothing really to add to their well-known positions. How do we appeal to the younger age group? Again, nothing new. How do we make poverty history? Both agreed that we need to proselytize for the rule of law, property rights and free trade. Other questions were: "are you the heir to Blair?"- no; "what's the future for British farming?"- bring the CAP under our control; "how do we control left-wing bias in the media?"- difficult, but according to DC, the "time is right" for the new Conservative story (disappointingly, neither David suggested privatising the BBC, which Chez Tyler we reckon could remove much of the bias at a stroke).
The only two questions that really came alive for me were on PMQs and leaving the EEP. "How would you handle PMQs" obviously hit a particular interest of both men, having worked together on them for John Major. They didn't give much away, but hopefully, they'll be worth watching whoever wins.
On withdrawing from the EPP, DC seemed to have changed his position. Previously, this had been billed as pretty much a done deal, to take place almost as soon as DC became leader. Today however, he said while he was convinced it is right, the "timetable" would be a matter for the new Shadow Foreign Secretary. Sounded like another of those DC rethinks.
Overall, it was a gentle and gentlemanly display. Finishing each other's jokes, applauding each other, smiling, nodding and looking supportive in all the right places...indeed we were tempted to think this really isn't a contest at all any more. It's taken on the feel of a unity tour for members.
Which can only mean one thing- both men already know who's going to win, and the only question now is which job David Davis is going to offer David Cameron.