The Ron Davies affair: The old-style political fixer whose talent for survival finally ran out

Click to follow
The Independent Online
RON DAVIES is not a man universally loved at Westminster, but even the former Welsh Secretary's political enemies expressed sadness and shock at his sudden demise last night.

"This has knocked us all sideways. I'm afraid we are all in something of a state," said one sparring partner who still described Mr Davies as a friend.

An old-style political fixer, a wit, a lover of wildlife and an outspoken critic of the Prince of Wales, Mr Davies has had an often controversial political career. However, the profile-writer who described this politician as "nasty, brutish and short" was regarded by most of his colleagues as unfair.

Last night it was not clear whether Mr Davies faced an obscure future on the back benches. In fact it was not even clear which back benches might beckon - he had planned to leave Westminster for the Welsh Assembly, and had even been selected by Labour as its candidate for First Minister of that body.

Born in 1946 in Machen, a small town north of Newport, he was the son of a fitter and a primary school teacher. Although his father was an active trade unionist, the young Ron did not become interested in politics until he was a student, first at Portsmouth Polytechnic and later at the University College of Wales, Cardiff.

When he did become involved, he found himself studying at a different academy - the hard Labour school of South Wales valleys municipal politicians. At 23, Mr Davies was elected to Rhymney Valley District Council, four years after joining the Labour Party, becoming one of the youngest councillors in Wales. Finding a parliamentary seat took longer, though, and after narrowly missing a couple of selections he became MP for Caerphilly in 1983.

On paper, his career since then looks smooth. Promotion in 1987 to deputy agriculture spokesman for his party, election to the Shadow Cabinet and a job as Welsh spokesman in 1992, and a seat in the Cabinet in 1997.

However, there have been a number of rocky patches along the way, illustrating Mr Davies's talent, at least until now, for survival. In 1987 he risked political life and limb by falling out publicly with his chief whip, Derek Foster, in a row over the election of some members of his office. Mr Davies lost his job as Welsh Whip as a result.

As an agriculture spokesman he took the opportunity to promote his anti- hunting views, and was once given police protection after foxhunters tried to run him off the road for sponsoring a failed Bill to ban the sport. Later still, his conviction got him into more serious political trouble.

In November 1995, he claimed the Prince of Wales was not worthy of respect: "He spends his time talking to trees, flowers and vegetables, and yet he encourages his young sons to go into the countryside to kill wild animals and birds for fun, for sport. Is this person a fit sort of person to continue the tradition of monarchy?" he asked. He went on to suggest that the Prince could not become king while he was "living in sin" with Camilla Parker Bowles. Tony Blair forced him to apologise.

Mr Davies's relationship with his party leader was reportedly frosty. Mr Blair, on hearing that a former Labour Prime Minister had invented the post of Welsh Secretary, was reported to have mused: "So I've got Harold Wilson to thank for Ron Davies."

Others were less diplomatic. Emma Nicholson, the former Tory MP who became a Liberal Democrat baroness, described him as "a classic Labour male chauvinist pig" . The Independent's own Donald Macintyre criticised him for making "the crassest winding-up speech of the year" in 1993 after Mr Davies refused to allow a Tory rebel, Elizabeth Peacock, the chance to back Labour's position in a debate on the coal industry.

Tales of Mr Davies' abilities as a "fixer" are legion. He was credited with using his influence to help a former Tory minister, Alan Howarth, to win a Labour selection in Newport East. Politically, Mr Davies was harder to pin down. Left-wingers in the party regarded him as one of them, and in 1979 he opposed devolution in Wales. However, others regarded him as a moderniser and he had certainly thrown himself enthusiastically into support for the Government in recent times.

The Career of Ron Davies

Born: 6 August 1946

Education: Bassaleg Grammar School, Portsmouth Polytechnic and University College of Wales

1969: Entered politics as councillor for Bedwas and Machen district council

1983: Won Caerphilly seat

1985-87: Opposition whip

1987-92: Opposition spokesman on agriculture

1992: Elected to Shadow Cabinet and made Welsh spokesman

1997: Appointed Secretary of State for Wales

The Letters

Prime Minister,

Thank you for seeing me this morning and for being so understanding in what are very difficult circumstances for me and my family.

As I explained, because of a serious lapse of judgment that I have made, I wish to offer my resignation as Secretary of State for Wales.

After driving back from Wales last night, I parked my car near to my home in south London. I went for a walk on Clapham Common. Whilst walking, I was approached by a man I had never met before who engaged me in conversation. After talking for some minutes he asked me to accompany him and two of his friends to his flat for a meal. We drove, in my car, to collect his friends, one male, one female. Shortly afterwards, the man produced a knife and together with his male companion robbed me and stole my car, leaving me standing at the roadside.

I reported this matter immediately to the police.

In allowing myself to be placed in this situation, with people I had never met and about whom I knew nothing, I did something very foolish. That is a serious lapse of judgment on my part. The whole incident will inevitably cause embarrassment not only to me and the Government, but, most important, to my family. I wish, therefore, in the interests of the Government which I have been so proud to serve, to tender my resignation forthwith. I believe it is the only sensible course.

I was proud that you placed your trust in me to deliver on our pledge to establish a Welsh Assembly, and that this is so close to becoming a reality. I will continue to give you and my successor as Welsh Secretary all the support and goodwill that I can as the Government continues to implement the programme of modernisation on which we were elected.

RD

Dear Ron,

Thank you for coming to see me this morning in what are clearly such difficult times for you and for Chris [Mr Davies's wife, Christina]. Given the situation you described, I accept your decision to resign.

I do so with a real sense of sadness. You have done an excellent job for the people of Wales, particularly in the way you have prepared for the establishment of the Welsh Assembly.

I am grateful for your continuing offer of support, and I know that your successor will be grateful for your help and advice.

Many people will share the profound sympathy I feel, that your Cabinet career has come to an end in this way.

Yours Ever, Tony

Comments