"An now I must lose my friends," Churchill is reputed to have remarked upon becoming Prime Minister in 1940, when he was faced with the task of forming a government – disappointing many in his own party, who had to make way for those whom Attlee nominated to serve in the wartime coalition.
These words should echo in the Clarke and Duncan Smith households this weekend, as they wait nervously for the Tory leadership result on Wednesday. With the contest now over bar the counting, each is probably already playing fantasy shadow cabinet on the back of an envelope – with, I hope, the word "coalition" dominating their putative lists. Anecdotal evidence from the series of party hustings points to a Duncan Smith victory. But, given the bizarre twists and turns of this interminable contest, I still have a nagging feeling that we have continually under- estimated the Clarke campaign on the only test that matters – votes.
Whoever wins will have to disappoint several of his closest acolytes – those who have worked so hard for their man. The likes of Julian Brazier and Bill Cash, generally regarded by their opponents as "headbangers", are unlikely to be called by Mr Duncan Smith, while Mr Clarke's cheerleaders, such as Ian Taylor and Michael Mates, may face similar ingratitude from their hero. Mr Clarke has made it clear that he would reflect the Eurosceptic balance in the party, which must mean that he will call on the most prominent supporters of his rivals. Mr Clarke will go first to the careerists among the defeated Portillistas, such as Tim Yeo and David Willetts. They appear to be distancing themselves from the likes of Francis Maude and Archie Norman, who have thrown their toys out of the pram.
But while Mr Clarke can only afford the luxury of doodling on his envelope with a pencil, Mr Duncan Smith's status as front runner means that he can use indelible ink and even take the risk of the odd phone call to preferred choices for the top jobs. First call is most likely to go to the real winner of the 2001 leadership campaign – the Public Accounts Committee chairman, David Davis, who withdrew after the second parliamentary ballot.
Mr Davis left the battlefield with glory, delivering a ringing endorsement and most of his votes to Mr Duncan Smith. He also bequeathed David Maclean, his campaign manager, to Mr Duncan Smith's campaign headquarters. Mr Maclean is an adept operator whose skills in bailing Mr Duncan Smith out of the BNP mess a fortnight ago will undoubtedly be rewarded with a shadow cabinet post.
Mr Duncan Smith owes Mr Davis. Big time. But will Mr Davis be willing to relinquish his powerful position as PAC chairman? It would mean a big personal sacrifice. He loves the job, but I hope he can be persuaded to give it up – for the sake of the success of a truly grand coalition, and because of the need for the Tory party to benefit from his clear-sighted abilities.
Rumour has it that the shadow chancellorship is Mr Davis's for the taking and I am certain that if he wants it he can have it. But I am not so sure that this would necessarily bring out his main strength – executive management of a team. And also, Gordon Brown has seen off Peter Lilley, Francis Maude and Michael Portillo. True, the shadow chancellor has the status of a top job but I believe party chairman, at this stage, is far more important and would enable Mr Davis to do the most vital job for Mr Duncan Smith: heal wounds and provide the dramatic overhaul of the party that is the prerequisite for recovery.
For the next two years, with policy-making and party organisation the top priorities, Mr Davis's combination of courtesy and ruthlessness would be the ideal qualities to get to grips with the nest of vipers that Central Office has become during the past decade. The research department should be the focal point of the party's attention and Mr Davis could have far more influence over policy at Smith Square than at the dispatch box. He has run one of Tate & Lyle's subsidiary companies and, with such experience, would be able to cut through the red tape of petty party bureaucracy in a way that has escaped most of the previous holders of this post.
Above all, Mr Davis's appointment to such a position would show Mr Duncan Smith's supporters, some of whom might be frightened of him, that he means what he says when he backs Mr Duncan Smith as a man he believes to be a winner. When Mr Davis gives his support or imprimatur to someone or their cause, it is because he is utterly committed to their success.
The next call that Mr Duncan Smith will need to make will be to Mr Clarke, although I suspect that the conversation will be terse, ending with Mr Clarke saying "thanks, but no thanks". Mr Clarke has made it clear that it is the leadership or nothing, which I still think is a great shame. But the conversation should turn quickly to which of Mr Clarke's supporters he would recommend to Mr Duncan Smith. If Mr Clarke suggests Andrew Tyrie, his campaign manager – and even Ian Taylor and David Curry – Mr Duncan Smith should jump at the chance and take all three, giving them substantial portfolios. This would show Mr Duncan Smith's willingness to include Europhiles in his team.
The most difficult people will be the Portillistas, who are still in a state of belligerence and shock. There is obviously no point in phoning Mr Portillo himself, but an invitation to Oliver Letwin, Mr Portillo's deputy during his time as shadow chancellor, might prove more fruitful. Mr Letwin did not do himself any favours during the general election. His view that the Tories ought to look at reducing public expenditure by £20bn caused him in the end to go into hiding for much of the campaign. But Mr Letwin's views, if he becomes shadow chancellor, are beginning to look more plausible now that Gordon Brown has begun to face up to the growing prospect of budget deficits during the term of this Parliament.
The character and success of a Duncan Smith leadership, by his own admission, will be determined within the first six months. But his ability to reach out to all sections of the party, and the public, will be decided within the first six days by the nature of the Churchillian coalition that it is necessary for him to establish.Reuse content