Bruce Anderson: Cameron may not be a superstar, but he can turn the Tories into a party of ideas

David Davis is not very clever, not very energetic, and insecure. To him, all politics is personal ambition
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The Independent Online

Many Tories now believe that with the emergence of a new supernova, their Party's problems are over. It will not be that simple; it never is. Between 1975 and 1979, Mrs Thatcher had successes, and reverses. Though she did have some remarkable by-election gains, there were also failures. Only in retrospect did it look like an inevitable victory. Between 1994 and 1997, it did not even feel that way to Tony Blair.

But David Cameron does at least look like a potential winner. The second most remarkable phenomenon of recent weeks is David Davis. How did so many Tory MPs manage to persuade themselves that he was a serious figure? It is possible to imagine any of the other four leadership candidates in No 10. But David Davis? Imagination has its limits.

There are three explanations for Mr Davis's earlier successes: machismatic strutting, jealousy and simple-mindedness. The Davis team went around telling MPs that their train was already unstoppable and that those who did not scramble aboard would be run over. This was effective with some new MPs. The Davisites were good at intimidation.

They were also good at stroking malcontents. Damian Green is a bright man and an effective communicator. But for some reason he never got on with Michael Howard. Thus far, he has not had the preferment he deserves. With the emergence of David Cameron and George Osborne, he also feels that his generation is being unfairly treated. In that, he is not alone.

Although Michael Howard wants David Cameron to succeed him, the appointment of George Osborne as shadow chancellor did Mr Cameron no favours. Mr Osbourne is turning into an effective shadow chancellor, but his and David Cameron's combined age is still under 75. This upsets a number of able Tory MPs, not least David Willetts.

Partly because it would have given him a better platform for a leadership campaign, Mr Willetts believes that he ought to have been shadow chancellor and he would have done it well. If that had happened, he would not be supporting David Davis.

At Blackpool, I had a chat with Mr Willetts. David Cameron, said I, is clever, confident and energetic. If he were leader, a huge amount of intellectual energy would go into policy work. Although those responsible for particular areas would not always get their own way, everyone would feel that they were making a valued contribution.

As leader, Ken Clarke would be clever, confident and idle. Those responsible for specific policy areas would be given a great deal of latitude. This would have its attractions, as long as they did not expect their leader to read their output.

David Davis is not very clever, not very energetic, and insecure. To him, all politics is place-hunting and personal ambition. A compulsive plotter, he cannot conceive that anyone else thinks or acts differently. So if a shadow minister produced good material, David Davis would assume that this was a leadership bid and feel threatened. A party whose policy-making has to keep pace with its leader's mediocrity will not do much policy work.

Rightly, David Willetts takes a quiet pride in his intellectual rigour and his intellectual honesty. That may be why he looked so uncomfortable in Blackpool. He sounded like a defector to North Korea - so much so that I asked him whether the Davisites had kidnapped his children.

Yet it would be misleading to conclude that the Davis team is full of agonised intellectuals aware they have made the wrong choice. Most of the dimmest Tory MPs support him. These are characters who adopt a Hare Krishna approach to politics: chant a word and you create a reality. Say "vouchers", and all schools will instantly be transformed; "tax cuts,", and you will have written the 2009 Budget; "more prisons'" and the underclass disappears.

There is an analogy with the Labour benches. A large number of old Labourites, resentful of the way in which their leader sucks up to the middle classes, take comfort in John Prescott and Mick Martin (the Speaker). Even under New Labour, it is possible for manifestly incompetent mouthless proles to occupy great offices of state, thus flying two fingers at the middle classes. Just so, some of the Davis supporters are expressing the resentment of the simple-minded against those who insist on living in a complex world.

David Davis's response to last week's reverses was characteristic. He blamed his staff. We were told that there would be a stronger team and a re-launch. We were invited to compare him with another politician who recovered from reverses: Bill Clinton. This is fantasy piled on delusion, resting on a foundation of nastiness.

There is only one respect in which Mr Davis's team are to blame: supporting him in the first place. They cannot be held responsible for failing to sell the unsellable. In this column a few weeks ago, I wrote that in 18 years as an MP, David Davis had never done, written or said anything remotely prime ministerial. Over the past fortnight, he had two opportunities to put that right. He must have known that the launch of his campaign and the party conference speech would be much the most important events in his political life. Both times, he flopped. That is not the staff's fault. Re-launch? A souffle does not rise twice, especially a hemlock souffle.

The Bill Clinton comparison is the greatest absurdity of all. They both came from poor backgrounds; so did lots of people. It is hard to think of a politician whom David Davis less resembles. That is not necessarily to his discredit. At least DD, as his friends call him, has never stood for draft dodger.

The momentum against David Davis is not yet fully reflected in the parliamentary Conservative Party. A number of Tory MPs are still reluctant to admit their mistake. But a secret ballot is a cunning salve for vanity. If the Davis vote depended on Tory MPs with an IQ of more than 100 who really think that he could be prime minister, he would not reach double figures.

Assuming that the party takes the obvious route, everything will be different. New Labour's ruthless anti-intellectualism has created a vacuum in British politics. It is easy to imagine David Cameron turning the Tories into a party of ideas. Though an idée en marche does not inevitably win elections, it is helpful, as the Tories discovered in 1979. David Cameron can also take the credit for another unexpected development. Many Tories feared that the leadership campaign would be a Calvary. Instead, it is turning into a resurrection.