Speculation 'tortured' Davies

Resignation: Decision to quit as PM-elect leaves Welsh Labour Party floundering
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The Independent Online
THE WORST day of the worst week in Ron Davies's political life began, as it ended, with a telephone call to the Prime Minister.

The former secretary of state for Wales, had been in constant contact with Tony Blair while he contemplated his future in a secret hideaway with his wife, Christina, and teenage daughter, Angharad.

Downing Street denied vehemently Mr Davies was handed the political equivalent of a bottle of Scotch and a pearl-handled revolver, but it is clear that Number 10 was unhappy with the ex-minister's apparent desire to cling to his position.

As late as Wednesday night, the 55-year-old MP's supporters were still stressing that he was set to defy the hugely damaging press coverage and "tough it out".

Dozens of Welsh MPs had rallied around to sympathise with him and his family and offer their support if he chose to remain as Labour's candidate for First Minister of the Welsh Assembly. The logic was that Mr Davies' undoubted popularity among MPs, including Opposition MPs, coupled with the fact that there was no obvious successor, would mean he could credibly stay on for next May's elections.

However, by the time of what Downing Street described as a "personal" phone call yesterday morning to Mr Blair, it became clear that the line had changed dramatically. Following what is believed to be indications from senior members of the Welsh Labour Party executive, Mr Davies confessed for the first time that he was considering stepping down.

Mr Blair then told yesterday morning's Cabinet meetingmany MPs had felt sorry for the former minister when he was forced to resign on Tuesday over the incident on Clapham Common. "He said a few words about how people were very sorry Ron had had to resign and that it was clear colleagues were being very supportive in what were difficult times," his official spokesman said.

Downing Street had been irritated with Mr Davies's refusal to clarify the mystery of exactly what had occurred on the common on Monday night, but it stuck to its line that it was a matter for the MP to decide with his family and colleagues.

"He will obviously want to talk to his colleagues in the Welsh Labour Party and then make clear his intentions," Mr Blair's spokesman told reporters at the 11am lobby briefing at No 10.

Mr Davies then spent the rest of yesterday canvassing opinion from his wife and his closest friends and colleagues.

However, the arrest of three suspects on Wednesday and a further two yesterday confirmed that the problem was simply not going to die down.

Spin doctors were worried about potentially damaging revelations expected in Sunday's tabloids - coverage that may have made his position of wait- and-see untenable. Downing Street dismissed as "nonsense" reports that Alastair Campbell had telephoned him to demand that he withdraw his candidacy.

Support began to slip away when David Morris, the Euro-MP for South Wales West, said that Mr Davies should quit before the scandal became more embarrassing. "I don't think he has got much option. Because of the rumours that are circulating, because it appears that he in fact hasn't got confidence in his own people to share with them what he has done, I believe he is losing sympathy."

Elwyn Morgan, chairman of the Caerphilly constituency party, yesterday pledged his backing but also said he hoped the MP would use a meeting of the party to clear up uncertainty.

"There is no doubt from the calls that I am getting that the vast majority of people are backing Ron. I would be very happy to lead Ron's campaign for the assembly if he asked me ... but as long as there is vagueness there will be rumours and innuendo."

By the early evening, it had become clear even to Mr Davies that his long-cherished dream of becoming Wales's first "prime minister" was over and he informed Mr Blair of his decision by phone.

Avoiding further media intrusion, he then instructed his spokesman to issue a letter to his constituency party in which he explained his "torture" at the speculation about the affair.

Derek Lamb, the secretary of Caerphilly constituency Labour Party, last night said that Mr Davies was "understandably quite distressed".

However, Mr Davies decided to remain as MP for Caerphilly and even as a candidate for the Welsh Assembly he had hoped to lead. In the letter, he stressed how much the Caerphilly area means to him. It is there in the weeks ahead that he "will gain the strength to continue with his political career as a backbencher at Westminster", his spokesman said.

But as long as the details of what he was doing on Clapham Common remain unresolved, it is unlikely the tabloids will allow him such breathing space.