Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday 5 October 2005

Cameron, Clarke and Davis - main Conservative hopefuls have spoken

I refrained from posting yesterday after the speeches of David Cameron and Kenneth Clarke because I thought it better to wait until what I consider to be all the main contenders had spoken. David Davis just finished speaking a short while ago.

I already gave my view of Malcolm Rifkind's here - relevant part:

Malcolm Rifkind [is] a personable fellow, but really he needs to stand aside and let others get on with the real business - I watched his speech this afternoon and am just now seeing him speaking as part of a question-and-answer panel in the conference hall. He is never, never, never, never (etc, but you get my drift) going to become Leader, far less win an election. Let's move on, and quickly!

- so unless Liam Fox produces something truly (and unexpectedly) momentous this afternoon I think we have heard those we need to consider seriously.

David Cameron
Cameron spoke (as indeed did Rifkind) seemingly extemporaeously and with a very relaxed demeanour. The vocabulary he uses is modern, contemporary, without being any form of faux 'yoof speak' - in other words he took the conference hall with him, but at the very least will not have alienated non-Conservatives and potential younger voters, quite the reverse - people who are not absolutely opposed to everything about the Conservatives will, I think, have found his ideas quite attractive.

The speech itself (click on 'video' link to to see a recording) was short on specifics, but full of points designed to trigger emotion amongst listeners, very much in the style of a Blair, or a Reagan. Although he quite obviously comes from a stratum of society different from most other people in the country, I think it fair to say he would strike most people as decent and clever. He knows how to deliver a message and he seems to have a worthwhile message to deliver. Whilst a few apects of what he said (or what I thought he was saying, in code) did not particularly appeal to me, it was on the whole a very positive performance.

Kenneth Clarke
I like him; he should have become the Leader in 1997 and I voted for him in the 2001 run-off, although I would have preferred that Michael Portillo had been in the run-off, too, instead of that mediocre man, Iain Duncan Smith, and in that case Portillo would have been my choice.

Most people of his generation deliver their speeches from a lectern, and this is what he did yesterday. It was a good and powerful speech (click on 'video' link to to see a recording), yes, but for the life of me I cannot share the view of most commentators that it was a 'great' speech - he is a serious and quite witty speech-maker so injected a fair amount of humour, but a lot of it was about past success - for many younger voters throughout the country, people who will be eighteen at the time of the next election, they will probably have only vague childhood recollections of who this man is. It's a great pity, but whilst he would have made a good Leader in 1997, and might even have won the 2001 election if the Conservative could have got past their EU-hangups to choose him then, but I think his time is past. He would still make a good leader of the Conservative Party, even today, and would provide a powerful source of opposition to Tony Blair in House of Commons jousting, but I just don't think he could any longer galvanise a sufficient proportion of the wider electorate to take the Conservatives back to power in 2009 or 2010.

The BBC's Nick Assinder gives his analysis of the Cameron/Clarke speeches here.

David Davis
Considered by most people to be the front-runner, certainly me included, at least until I had heard him deliver his speech. He is not the man I would choose if I were still a member of the Conservative Party - but you probably knew that anyway, if you are familiar with my blog.

He is not an inspiring speech-maker; he looks very presentable, but is no Clinton or Thatcher when it comes to speech-making and took the safe option of delivering his speech from a lectern with a text. He speaks confidently, though, and makes an effort to introduce a little humour into his words, even if like the rest these 'jokes' are delivered rather woodenly. But none of that would matter, not in the least, if I liked what he said.

Davis delivered what I think could be classified as a very traditional Conservative speech (click on 'video' link to to see a recording) - law and order, rights and responsibilty, taking back "our power as a sovereign nation". He wants the Human Rights Act either radically revised, or repealed - appealing directly to the instincts of core Conservative voters. However I don't think this kind of policy agenda is going to appeal to enough of the wider voting public for the Conservatives to stand more than a vanishingly small chance of getting back into power. Yes, he wants us not to give up any of our fundamental freedoms, and I completely share his ideas here, particularly his disagreement with leader Michael Howard when he opposed the introduction of ID Cards. However, I just don't accept that emasculating or repealing the Human Rights Act is the solution. The real reason he has latched onto this, in my opinion, is because (whatever he may feel in the core of his being, and I have no way of knowing what that is) he knows that many died-in-the-wool old-style Conservatives do not like the idea of an equal age of consent, gays serving in the military or the soon to take effect Civil Partnerships Act. The first two of those reforms (or steps into decadence, if you take a different view from me) were wrung out of the present government as a result of cases threatened or brought before the European Court of Human Rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, prior to this having been incorporated into British law as the Human Rights Act. We have been hearing all week that most Conservatives know they have to change, but far too many of them equivocate when forced to contemplate anything other than token changes - none of this is going to fool the wider public.

However, and equally, none of this means that David Davis is now likely not to become the next Leader of the Conservative Party. It seems that his speech has not been greeted by activists with excessive enthusiasm, but they could still easily choose him as their Leader. My view, after having heard David Davis speak, is that if they do then they won't form the government after the next election. If they do want to do that, then I take a different view from Ann Widdecombe (surprise, surprise!) who is a Clarke-supporter, they need to make a more radical change and choose David Cameron to give themselves a better chance. If they do indeed do this then I think I will probably take a 'punt' on him and re-join the Party. That about sums up what I think needs to be done.

Here's what Guido Fawkes thinks - the Al Gore comparison is cruel, but not entirely off-base, unfortunately.

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