Thursday, September 29, 2005

A Man of the Past

The tastefully-named Ken Clarke is a man I have often agreed with. There is no doubt that a Tory party that wanted to be relevant at the turn of the century would have elected him leader in 1997, and would have chosen him ahead of IDS in 2001. His time, however, is well and truly past. If yesterday's campaign launch proved anything, it is that he is a man from a different era. His appeal to the media is that he appears an ordinary bloke, and a breath of fresh air to the perfectly presented political class that infests too much of our public life these days. That alone is not enough to take the Tory party back to government, however. If Ken's irrelevance needed to be highlighted any further, you only needed to look at the prominent figures in the audience at his launch speech. Quentin Davies and Anne Widdecombe. Yikes.

Indeed, all of Clarke's supporters are the old guard of the One Nation Tories (and Quentin Davies and Anne Widdecombe, admittedly). The TRG figures are by and large supporting David Davis; the think tank figures of the 2005 intake seem to be rallying behind David Cameron. The list of endorsements linked above is actually yet more revealing; not only does David Davis have a clear lead in the number of endorsements, but he also seems to have support from a number of groups in the party. Davis may well turn out to be the unity candidate.

I'm not a fan of Davis's policies. Yet as a politician, he is tremendously able. Indeed, the reports of his chairmanship of the Public Affairs committee - from all parties - are nothing short of glowing. And he is very astute at handling a debate. Tony Blair made a lot of capital when he was leader by being strong enough to admit when the Major government did something right; just hammering the Tories twice as hard when they did something wrong. That lifted him above the image of partisan hackery. That's what the Tories need to do, and I have a feeling Davis will be the man for the job.

Given what I have previously written about the political class, it is no surprise that I am not a Cameron fan. There is a man who has done precious little other than be involved in politics the entireity of his adult life. This helps explain the vacuousness of many of his pronouncements for the leadership race. Not wearing a tie, wearing pink shirts and having gay friends may win media attention, but it doesn't add up to a political ideology. What do the Notting Hill Set believe? If they think that the Tories just need to change their image, they are wrong. They have been rejected on the back of their manifesto, too. Let's not forget that the Tory manifesto at the last election (written by Cameron) was a PR masterstroke. It got across all the key points of the Tory campaign succinctly. And it was rejected fairly soundly. Let's not forget that a key part of that was due to how pathetic the nature of many of the reforms they talked about actually were.

The image that the Tories have is not entirely unfair. Much of their membership is out of touch and obsessed with fringe issues. I've spoken to activists and candidates at the 2001 election who were embarrassed by having to trot out the national party line of "Save the Pound" when they felt they had all kinds of things to say about schools and hospitals that were given no prominence. It's not just the image that has to change; the substance isn't particularly successful either. I doubt David Cameron has a proper appreciation of this. He strikes me as a man who is unaware of a world outside of the Conservative Party, unless thought of in marketing terms. David Davis certainly isn't. And that's why I'd argue that if the Tories know what's good for them, Davis would be their next leader.