Imagine the scenario: David Cameron tops the poll with 101 votes tomorrow - more than half the parliamentary party. David Davis comes second with 52 votes. Liam Fox comes third with 45.
In such an improbable (but possible) scenario David Davis would have won the right to challenge David Cameron in the run-off but would have lost the confidence of his colleagues. His opponent would have the support of more than 50% of the parliamentary party. That kind of endorsement is what David Davis believes should decide the Tory leadership. If Mr Davis were to win the Tory crown (a more improbable scenario) he has said that the final decisive round of voting should be amongst MPs only and the leader would be chosen by a majority vote. If DD folded after such a vote, as described above, Mr Davis would be acting in accordance with his ideal method of election.
I don't think he will fold. Although Mr Cameron's lead amongst grassroots members looks unassailable this race has already been transformed once and it could be again.
More important than that is the need for this contest to continue for the sake of party democracy. The next six weeks are an essential opportunity for both of the final two candidates to be thoroughly tested on policy. Mr Cameron has yet to clarify his policy position on drugs, for example. What does he mean by the modern part of 'modern compassionate conservatism'? What would he do about Iran's nuclear weapons programme? These and other questions should be put to him and his opponent in the final round. The members deserve their right to question and elect the next Conservative leader. The party needs more clarity from Mr Cameron.
Over the last two days The Telegraph's editorial pages have given us an opportunity to directly compare the policy platforms of the two Davids battling it out for the Tory leadership. On Monday Mr Cameron made his pitch. Yesterday Mr Davis made a slightly shorter case for his agenda.
Listed below is a colour-coded comparison of what the two men said about key policy areas. I've chosen magenta for Mr Cameron and cyan for Mr Davis. [And please don't read anything into my choice of colours!]
EUROPE: "The flow of new regulation from the EU must also be reduced: our aim should be to take back control of employment and social regulation" / "I want to see an open Europe, with a lightly regulated single market at its core, in which other powers are returned to Parliament. And let me be absolutely clear: as prime minister, I would insist on powers being returned."
TAX: "We must reduce and simplify taxes." / "We need an unequivocal commitment to lower and simplify taxes."
TECHNOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT (FOR MORE): "We need to harness the power of the market... to generate the advance in technology needed to control climate change." / "We should, for instance, harness new thinking and technology that could... drive real progress in tackling climate change."
URBAN BRITAIN: "Create the urban revival that can alone prevent the urban exodus that threatens our countryside and natural environment." / "Unless the party offers hope to the hard-working urban majority, it won't deserve to win power."
LAW & ORDER: "Elected police commissioners responding to the priorities of local people." / "In New York... no-nonsense "zero tolerance" and "broken windows" policing, has reduced crime."
HEALTHCARE: "Opening up the right to supply healthcare to all qualified providers." / "France and Germany provide first-class healthcare even for the least well-off through mixing private and public provision."
SCHOOLING: "Real school autonomy and more parental choice, freeing schools over admissions and allowing them to establish their own identities. But that autonomy must operate against the background of strong leadership to ensure rigour throughout the system. Restoring the credibility of A-levels, radical reform of the QCA, synthetic phonics at the heart of literacy... I'm ready for a huge battle with the educational establishment to banish the "progressive" theories that have done such damage for so long." [A longer list - reflecting, no doubt, that DC is Shadow Education Secretary!] / "Sweden funds parents to exercise school choice." + "Anyone who aspires to be prime minister has to be able to offer a coherent programme to deliver excellence in health and education to the majority who can't buy their way to a better deal."
FAMILY: "I've never believed in preaching... My approach will be guided by the evidence, which shows that children do best when both parents are involved in their upbringing. So we should ensure that the tax and benefits system encourages couples to get together and stay together." / "Without judging anyone, we should recognise the central position of the family in underpinning strong and stable communities. The tax-and-benefit system should help this aim, not hinder it."
POLICY FORMULATION: "We must use the next three years to make the Conservative Party the engine room of new political ideas - engaging with academics and think tanks; the brightest and the best minds producing detailed policy for the long term, not policy by headline." / "We need to build lasting new solutions and a new consensus, using centre-Right ideas to achieve social justice. That means re-energising the party's policy-making, opening it up to the think tanks, academia and public service professionals, spreading our ideas among Britain's opinion-formers."
My goodness! These two men appear to believe in very similar things! There's hope for a united Conservative Party...
Themes addressed by DC but not by DD:
"We will never get good schools, universities, hospitals, transport or police on the cheap - so we must share the proceeds of economic growth between tax reduction and public service investment."
Co-payment ideas like tuition fees and road pricing.
"No ID cards, No religious hatred laws."
Sub-Sahraran Africa's poverty.
Themes addressed by DD but not by DC:
Asset-based welfare and prosperity: "So I want to build an Opportunity Society in which every citizen has the chance to claim a stake in Britain's success. We should empower people through increased ownership of property, shares and capital."
"We should reverse welfare dependency through brave reform that supports the weak but rewards those who work hard."
Some themes addressed by neither (in these articles):
Arms trading and defence spending...
I apologise to all the Fox and Clarke supporters who feel left out but Dr Fox has written for The Telegraph today and I'll try to blog something on it later! Those interested in the case for Dr Fox should please click here for Simon Chapman's compelling Platform piece about the Shadow Foreign Secretary.
Some of David Davis' supporters are understandably angry at the way that their candidate's conference speech was reported. They'll readily concede that Mr Davis is not a good platform speaker and that last Wednesday's speech was disappointing. But disappointing; not disastrous. 'Disastrous', of course, is how the media played it. Within minutes pundits were describing the speech as awful and drawing very unfavourable contrasts with the previous day's contributions from rivals Cameron and Clarke. Cameron's speech probably gave a 1000 volts boost to his campaign but the frenzied media probably doubled that voltage.
The Davis campaign thinks that it has been unfairly treated and I couldn't argue with that assessment. David Davis' speech was "uninspirational" - as I wrote at the time - and the Cameron speech did "delight" the conference but Mr Cameron's speech also had its weaknesses of detail (none of which have been properly scrutinised six days later but which may yet cause him problems at the hustings before MPs).
But complaints of unfair treatment - however well-founded - almost miss the point. The press gave Mr Davis some raw treatment because a lot of journalists wanted to kick him. That fact is arguably more important than the slanted coverage it motivated.
Some journalists have been at the sharp end of the DD campaign's bully boy tactics in the same way that MPs have. Many journalists have also observed the way that the DD camp has briefed against other contenders and they choked on Mr Davis' suggestion that conservatives should never speak ill of a fellow conservative. In contrast to the negative attitude to Mr Davis, a lot of journalists like David Cameron. Many of them share Mr Cameron's Notting Hill/ metropolitan outlook. He has made himself accessible whilst Mr Davis spends a disproportionate amount of time in Yorkshire.
The media are likely, of course, to become cooler towards Mr Cameron and Mr Davis' new media quartet (identified within this post) are more likely to charm the press pack (which Andrew Mitchell, DD's campaign chairman, mismanaged). In the meantime, however, one of Mr Cameron's top assets is his support base in the media and one of Mr Davis' greatest problems is his lack of media allies. Tim Hames and Michael Brown are prominent DD supporters but they are the exceptions. Leading the charge against Mr Davis are Peter Oborne and Bruce Anderson. Forunately for Mr Davis, few are as unforgiving as Mr Anderson in his Independent column of today (subscription required):
"How did so many Tory MPs manage to persuade themselves that [David Davis] was a serious figure? It is possible to imagine any of the other four leadership candidates in Number 10. But David Davis? Imagination has its limits... "
Today's Observer reports that David Davis will relaunch his leadership bid this week with a speech on healthcare. Other sources within his campaign team talk of a wider relaunch that will focus on David Davis' appeal to women and urban Britain. Mr Davis' campaign team has certainly been shaken up. Andrew Mitchell has stepped down from running Mr Davis' press operation. Former journalists Paul Goodman, Damian Green and Julie Kirkbride will now combine with David Willetts to promote Mr Davis to the Fourth Estate which has become 'Cameron Country' according to Andrew Marr.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Matthew d'Ancona suggests that Mr Davis' team is studying Bill Clinton's 'comeback kid' model. Mr Clinton was on the ropes in the early stages of his 1992 bid for the Democrats' presidential nomination but he fought back time and again. Mr d'Ancona suggests that Mr Davis "has not communicated often enough, or with true passion... that he would change the way the party operates, seek to transform its image, and make those changes a metaphor for his proposed reform of the country".
I think that Mr Davis would be better placed to concentrate almost exclusively on his message for the country. Mr Davis won't out-smoothe David Cameron. Recasting Mr Davis as as nice as Mr Cameron won't convince. He needs to play to his strengths. The broken-nosed Davis could show the British people that he's a fighter and will fight tirelessly for them if he becomes their Prime Minister. Mr Davis should turn his toughness, that some observers think is a liability, into his key asset. He should promise to deploy his toughness on behalf of Britain's strivers (an electoral group championed very successfully by Australia's John Howard). Those strivers include all the people struggling to survive in crime-ridden estates and the victims of Labour's stealth taxes and inadequate public services. A 'Battling for Britons' message could yet resurrect Mr Davis' campaign.
Is the slide in support for David Davis beginning? That's certainly what the Cameron Camp wants us to believe. They have just issued the following press release:
"FORMER DAVIS BACKER SWITCHES SUPPORT TO DAVID CAMERON
Peter Viggers, who proposed David Davis in 2001 and was one of the original 18 MPs voting for him has today announced his support for David Cameron.
Peter Viggers said, "David Davis has strengths and I was happy to nominate him in 2001. The situation now is different - events have moved on and we have to identify the person best placed to win and hold the confidence of today's and tomorrow's voters. Before deciding who to back I also wanted to speak to constituents. My considered view is that David Cameron is our man."
The media has all sorts of faults. At least three of them have been on evidence in Blackpool over the last few days:
There has been over-interpretation. At the weekend David Davis was portrayed as the more-than-likely victor. Today his campaign is seen to be in crisis with Cameron riding high.
The spectator sport of over-interpretation easily mutates into active agitation. The journalistic pack loves to become involved in a story and scenting blood they are now chasing every possibility for the young David to topple the Davis Goliath.
There has also been an excessive personalisation of coverage. Little policy has been discussed. Coverage has been biased towards considerations of age, looks, experience, charisma and oratorical skills.
The last 72 hours have undoubtedly been bad for David Davis but a few days should pass before an authoritative damage report can be made. He certainly needs to re-jig his campaign. This blog’s ‘Good Week, Bad Week’ has often complained about the DD campaign’s failure to inspire. Yesterday’s wooden performance followed similar delivery problems on the fringe. Just as Team Bush tried to minimise the number of presidential debates with John Kerry, I predict that the Davis camp will attempt to minimise the number of opportunities that party members will have to see Davis ‘hust’ with his final round opponent.
Blackpool’s Imperial Hotel and Wintergardens were alive with speculation about defections from the Davis camp. David Davis needs to abandon his safety-first strategy or he does risk a haemorrhage of support. He should begin by reshuffling his campaign team. Three areas for overhaul stand out:
His speech appeared to be written by a committee. He desperately needs a speechwriter who can help him to find his voice.
Clarke-ites and T-shirted Cameron supporters were leafleting the conference every day and delegates were handed a fresh newsletter every morning. Why didn’t Team Davis organise anything comparable?
His inner circle of parliamentary supporters is probably the weakest link in his set-up. Any camp MPs who break the ‘Don’t speak ill of another Conservative’ commandment – that DD blazenly decreed yesterday – should be fired.
‘Not speaking ill of another Conservative’ should not preclude Team DD launching a rigorous examination of David Cameron’s beliefs, however (assuming a DD-DC contest). DC’s Tuesday speech was well-delivered and its compassionate theme compelling. But it lacked substance. Team DD could recover its confidence if it can expose David Cameron as having the wrong views on such issues as drugs and licensing and ill-thought-out views on Europe. The questioning of DC will either prove that he is too inexperienced to become Tory leader or the testing will prove him worthy of the Tory crown.
Sky TV's judging panel gave DD's speech the lowest rating of the contenders so far. Negative emails and texts have poured into BBC's Daily Politics programme. Iain Duncan Smith - commenting on the speech - described it as a little boring.
The delivery was certainly wooden. His face hardly moved as he spoke and the passages on a conservatism for the weakest members of society failed to convince. Tributes to the sporting excellence of non-white Britons also appeared slightly patronising. I watched with other representatives in the Hilton Hotel. One nearly choked on his coffee when DD urged the party to adopt Ronald Reagan's eleventh commandment: 'Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow conservative'. Was this the same DD whose allies regularly besmirch other Tories?
For core conservatives, however, the speech offered a great deal of reassurance. He said that immigrants must subscribe to British values and speak English. He condemned the failure of Labour's electronic tagging scheme and urged greater use of imprisonment. He attacked Labour's policy on cannabis and lax licensing laws. He promised to support stronger family life. He promised vigilance against the constant drive of the Brussels bureaucracy towards 'ever closer union'.
Many commentators will over-interpret this performance and decide DD's leadership bid is in trouble. If the leadership was decided solely on the basis of oratory DD would lose to Cameron, Clarke and Rifkind (given their performances over the last 48 hours) but policy substance and TV performance matter at least as much. DD has had a bad week but this race is a marathon; not a sprint.
David Cameron and Ken Clarke were both received very well by today's conference and gave David Davis' camp something to think about. If either DC or KC face DD in the final round (which DD is almost guaranteed to reach) their capable and convincing public speaking skills will make them formidable opponents. Mr Davis, excellent on TV, is not a compelling public speaker and he bombed giving a speech to a Bow Group fringe event yesterday and again today, to Reform. Mr Davis' aides are anxiously already playing down expectations for their candidate's speech tomorrow (when Dr Fox will also speak).
Mr Cameron spoke before lunchtime and without notes. He emphasised his message of a 'modern compassionate conservatism' and called for social entrepreneurship to be as important to Conservatism today as economic entrepreneurship was to 1980s Conservatism. In a nod to the Cornerstone group (dubbed the Tombstone group by one cynic today) he advocated tax support for the institution of marriage. He concluded by advocating a course to a Conservative Party of aspiration, social justice and concern for the world's poorest people and he promised that there would be 'no turning back' on that course if he became Tory leader.
If Mr Cameron emphasised compassionate conservatism, Mr Clarke focused on economic competence. He spoke about his own record as Chancellor, about protecting the economic achievements of the Thatcher years and of the importance of low taxation for economic well-being. He blasted the way Labour had undermined the integrity of the civil service and parliament. Gordon Brown would be as bad an 'Emperor' as Tony Blair had been a 'President', he warned. No-one was more of a control freak than GB, he insisted, and also pointed to the Chancellor's arrogant treatment of colleagues and his obsession with headlines.
KC attempted to convince the audience that he was the 'Big Beast' that the Tories needed. He jokingly suggested that he was heeding David Willetts' advice to work harder and retire longer. He was the Tories' Prime Minister in waiting and had been kept waiting by the Tories for a long time! He concluded:
"I may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I promise you this. If you give me the chance to lead this party, I will lead it unspun. I will say what I think, and try to do what I say, as I have always done in politics."