Leading Article: The Davies gamble

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AT LEAST you knew where you were with Tory sleaze. Some senior politician would be caught in the act. The culprit would receive the full backing of the prime minister. And then the burrowings of the press would gradually unearth more and more juicy details until, eventually, some days or even weeks later, the miscreant would resign. In the process the government would be dragged through the dirt, its credibility slowly eroding. Newspapers would look back to a golden age when politicians resigned on principle at the slightest hint of scandal.

New Labour resolved to learn from all this. It decided that swift and decisive action should be its response to such situations. So when Ron Davies told the Prime Minister that he had made a "gross error of judgement" - albeit without specifying what it might be - he immediately offered to resign. To Tony Blair's chagrin this decisiveness seems to have made no difference at all. On it drags, now threatening to assume full-blown Claphamgate proportions.

Ron Davies has based his strategy on making a distinction between the public and private. Now he has resigned, he insists, he is not public property and does not have to answer certain questions. It may all come out in court, of course, but then the police often don't solve these kind of mugging crimes, so the former Welsh Secretary evidently thought this a gamble worth taking. But the incident happened when he was a member of the Cabinet and it is unrealistic of him to expect the press not to pursue the unanswered questions about the circumstances which forced his resignation. Judging by his interviews on Welsh television Ron Davies is determined to hang on and hope that those details will never come out. For the government spin-doctors the situation is a mess. But then that's life: mess is what human frailty produces, and even New Labour will just have to learn to live with it.