October 12, 2005

If David Davis does not improve his organisation he will lose, says Watlington

Posted by Watlington

David Davis, the initial front-runner of the Tory leadership race, will lose if he does not improve his organisation, argues Watlington. At last week's Conservative Party conference, Team Davis was complacent, lacked an air of excitement and organised the worst parties. David Davis can still win the Conservative Party leadership race, but only if he appoints the best and the brightest to his campaign team. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director.

One of the myths from last week's Conservative Party conference was that David Davis had bombed because of the quality of his oratory. In truth Mr Davis's speech was reasonable, albeit unremarkable. Contrary to impressions from the media, he was received warmly in the conference hall. Under normal circumstances he would have passed the delegates' test perfectly adequately.

The problem for Mr Davis however is that these were not normal circumstances. Whilst charismatic oratory (although of course helpful) was not essential, efficient, slick and ruthless organisation was compulsory.

In this Mr Davis was sadly lacking. Whilst Team Cameron was spinning and briefing the press and placing key people at key vantage points in the hall for both the Davis and Cameron speeches, from Team Davis there was a complacent air that "everything is in the bag".

Whilst Team Cameron was putting out newsletters in hotel rooms at 03.30 am, from Team Davis all there seemed to be were two buxom women parading around in It's DD for me T-shirts. Whilst Team Cameron and Team Fox put on lavish parties attended by movers and shakers, Team Davis put on a dingy affair in a basement room of the Imperial Hotel. Not only did Mr Davis arrive an hour late and keep his increasingly angry patron and financial sponsor Lord Kalms waiting, but the food offering was poor and the room was unbearably hot and full of junior researchers and "wannabes". By the time Mr Davis had arrived, the few people of any significance in the room (other than his campaign team) had left.

The next evening, Team Fox had a reception, supported by William Hague and attended by 150 plus. Just up the hotel corridor, in Lord Kalms's suite, there was a further party for Mr Davis, described as a "wake" by some people who left in order to find some fun elsewhere.

The truth is that Team Cameron and the Notting Hill set showed a ruthless determination to win and a sense of organisation and creativity that was unparalleled by any of the other leadership candidates.

Liam Fox came a close second and his strategy of appealing to the right has clearly worked in winning the backing of a significant part of the right-ish Cornerstone Group. This should give Fox a good chance of being propelled into the second round of voting by MPs. Like Mr Davis's campaign, the Clarke campaign is also faltering. Mr Clarke has still not won any endorsements from the new Conservative MPs elected in 2001 and 2005.

Interestingly, in recent days David Davis has been citing the example of the Australian Prime Minister John Howard - an uncharismatic leader who has won four elections. Whilst the example is a good one, Mr Davis should note that John Howard set up a brilliant campaigning organisation with first class individuals - witness Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor. John Howard would never have fallen into the trap of complacency just because significant numbers of MPs have "publicly" signed declarations of support.

After all, these declarations of support are somewhat flaky. In the Commons this week, a few MPs who are known as Davis supporters were saying that they would do their duty and vote for Mr Davis "in the first ballot". Others were considering covertly moving to the Cameron camp in the privacy of the polling booth.

But all is not over for Mr Davis. He still has an incredible story to tell about aspiration and merit. He has a remarkable opportunity to show that he is strong enough to recover from the disaster of last week and that he can triumph over adversity. Above all Davis now has the excuse to genuinely reorganise his campaign team and appoint the best and brightest. He should use some of the new MPs more, many of whom have creative and campaigning experience. He should also appoint a Lynton Crosby-type figure to run the constituency campaign.

If Mr Davis is to be leader, he really needs to show that he has the organisational and campaigning skills necessary for leadership and that he can rise above parliamentary machine politics (at which he excels). He needs to move fast. Time is running out. Too many people are now talking of a Cameron-Fox coalition. Ten days ago the same people were wondering where the DD juggernaut would stop next.

To read more by Watlington, see Watlington.

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Is hosting the best parties really a good indicator of what makes a good Prime Minister? One does not want the Prime Minister to have parties which are too good. Not really much of a surprise to hear that Cameron holds the best parties - after all is campaign is made up of advertising execs and urban media types - but would that make him a good Prime Minister? From what I hear, David Cameron's problem is that he may have been rather too keen on rather too louche parties, at least while he was at Oxford and involved in the Union.

From what I hear this coming Sunday's tabloids should make rather interesting reading.

Posted by: Anon at October 12, 2005 06:34 PM

Ken Clarke does now have an endorsement from the 2005 intake in the shape of John Penrose, the newly elected MP for Weston-Super-Mare.

Posted by: Jon at October 12, 2005 06:49 PM

Oh my god! David Cameron smoked a joint at uni! Let's have him beheaded immediately!

Posted by: OD at October 13, 2005 10:10 AM

If Mr Davis attracts the best and brightest, will one of them deliver his speeches for him?

Posted by: s masty at October 13, 2005 10:49 AM

This druggie smear on Cameron reveals the paucity of the counter-attack on him.

I don't care if he snorted cocaine off the thighs of teenage girls at Oxford twenty years ago. Will he defeat Brown at the polls? That is what really matters.

Posted by: Guido Fawkes at October 13, 2005 11:35 AM

OD, you say that smoking a joint at university is not much of an issue - agreed. But - just for sake of argument - what if it were cocaine?
Let's not personalise this. Just for sake of argument - let us say - that several of a Conservative leadership candidates Oxbridge Union contemporaries were hawking stories around Fleet Street of the said candidates cocaine binges after Union debates, would that change the picture? A rhetorical question perhaps, let's wait until Sunday.

Posted by: Anon at October 13, 2005 12:00 PM

The reason why there is no counter-attack on Mr Cameron is because he's a blank page.

It's difficult to find out anything about Cameron on anything apart from written questions and answers to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. All he seems to be passionate about is changing the education system to help less fortunate children.

That's an honourable cause, but when he was asked at the hustings how he would fund the changes that he was proposing he couldn't give an clear answer.

It's very well being high minded but politics is a pragmatic business where you have to make deals with people that you don't necessarily like, and more often don't agree with. Quite frankly I'd have to agree with Mr Cameron. He is no Tony Blair! Tony Blair would never put himself in a position where his conviction blured his politics unless it meant invading another country to secure its oil reserves. A nice version of Tony Blair? pull the other one!!!

Posted by: pigmalion at October 13, 2005 12:35 PM

I'm afraid Davis's performance this morning on the Today programme speaking about prison overcrowding was very poor. He was hesitant in his delivery and his voice lacked any dynamic range. I'm sure his ideas are first rate, unfortunately modern politicians need more than that (in the case of our current PM, they don't even have to posess any good ideas to succeed) what is necessary are the skills of oratory and even some acting proficiency.

Posted by: Rob at October 13, 2005 10:13 PM

No it does not matter if it was cocaine. Personally, I smoked a lot of dope, took LSD, and even had some cocaine at university. Didn't stop me getting a top Oxbridge First, and indeed being a hard-working professional now, when I no longer touch any of those things.
In response to your question, it is his ex-friends who are disgustingly immoral, not him! Only a hypocritical fool would disagee.

Posted by: OD at October 14, 2005 09:45 AM

Addendum. It seems to me the only facts about a politician that we ought to care about are those which are relevant to assessing either their competence or their integrity. Those are the two things that matter, or ought to matter, about politicians. Could 'Anon' please explain why taking cocaine 20 years ago has any relevance to either?

Posted by: OD at October 14, 2005 10:38 AM

So what's happened to your Sunday tabloid revelations, Anon? They don't seem to have happened - all we got was a load of old bollocks about George Osborne. David Davis must be gutted.

Posted by: David at October 16, 2005 02:43 PM
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