The Sketch: Let's stop apologising and walk tall... sorry about the speech

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The Independent Online

If it all sounds painfully familiar it's because we've been hearing it from the Prime Minister for the past 10 years.

Aspirant leader David Davis went on to quote Churchill, Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, that old beer commercial, and David Cameron ("The best is yet to come."). When he quoted himself ("Walk tall,") we all wished he hadn't. He also got a laugh in the middle of his story about a woman murdered last year. That wasn't quite in the spirit of Compassionate Conservatism.

"Let's stop apologising and get on with the job!" he urged his audience. But unfortunately, neither he nor they seem to know what the job is. They haven't studied Labour Party history. And they are, after all, the stupid party (I blame the members).

But if Mr Davis wants Conservatives to "walk tall" he has to explain Mrs Thatcher to modern youth. This is the woman, young people now believe, who used to climb in through children's windows at night and eat their feet right off the end of their legs. Exhortation is no substitute for argument. Be proud of a woman who ate children's feet off the end of their legs? It is too much to ask.

But there he was, the clear front-runner, getting a standing ovation. It was only a 6/10 speech, and therefore a loss. His odds slumped. Television declared he'd bombed. It wasn't true, but it started to become true because it had been said on TV.

Liam Fox gave a speech which seemed to me almost completely without merit, but he got warmer applause than Davis. William Hague inspired 16 rounds of applause and a standing ovation. If he comes back as shadow Chancellor, he will be doing the nation a service, no less than his party.

Suddenly it was tea time and the conventional wisdom had formed that the Davis campaign was crumbling. MPs had started drifting away. Fair-weather friends had felt the barometer dropping.

The devilries of the country's "most sophisticated electorate" are too complex to go into here. We have to look to their track record to predict the future. The party's instinct for death is so strong that the Sketch predicts the final two candidates that the MPs offer to the country will be Liam Fox and Michael Ancram (who has already pulled out of the race).

"Rather than spinning it out through the media," Mr Ancram gave the conference audience an exclusive. He announced his withdrawal from the leadership race "without rancour". If only Roy Jenkins had been alive to give it his own special delivery.