Paul Goodman MP authors his first post from inside the David Davis campaign. Later today Michael Gove will post from ‘Camp Cameron’. conservativehome.com has invited both to post two or three times a week. Francis Maude is writing about the leadership process and he posted his first contribution earlier today.
This contest now offers brilliant opportunities to David Davis, David Cameron – and to the Conservative Party itself.
It offers an opportunity for DD, because it gives him a chance to make his case to the members. If he wins, he wins. If he loses, he has the chance to do so with grace, commitment and good humour. Offering to make David Cameron his deputy leader certainly struck the right note.
DD could have folded his campaign last Thursday. After all, the electoral odds seem stacked against him. So it’s to his credit that he’s fighting on – because, by doing so, he’s helping to give party members a choice.
This is why the contest is also good for David Cameron. According to the opinion polls, a majority of party members support him. But in the Parliamentary contest, a majority of Conservative MPs did not. A clear victory in the country would therefore stamp any new Cameron leadership with authority and legitimacy.
And this, in turn, is why the contest is good for the party, and offers a showcase for conservatism. David Cameron has the chance to answer some tough questions, and prove beyond doubt that there’s real substance beneath the style. And the DD campaign has the chance to communicate its message clearly.
That message, in a word, is “Heineken” – that under a DD leadership, the party can reach the parts of Britain that it hasn’t reached for far too long. One stark fact illustrates what’s at stake: in the north, we hold just 19 seats out of 162. That’s not just the north-east – that’s the entire north. Most of the marginal seats we need to win lie there, or in the midlands.
DD is the best candidate to reach out beyond our southern comfort zone for a simple reason – and, no, it’s not because he grew up a council estate and is the son of a single mum. It’s because he’s got the right plan for Britain and for the party, and has the experience and resilience to see it through.
The right plan for Britain is to reject the Blair consensus, and shape a Conservative one. If we fight the next election on a platform proposing, inter alia, lower taxes and more public service choice we’ll deserve to win it. If we don’t, we won’t.
This isn’t to say that tax and the public services will be the only issues at stake in 2009 – far from it. Quality of life will matter just as much, perhaps more, than the standard of living: healing what Liam Fox has called “the broken society” is the great challenge of our times. But it’s vital to get our approach to tax and the public services right if we’re to reach out from the south to the provinces. DD clearly champions lower taxes and more choice.
And the right plan for the party is to modernise – but to stay united as we do so. We need more local campaigning, to learn lessons from the winning experience of our local councillors, and Parliamentary candidates who are more like the communities they serve.
But we don’t need a deliberately-staged conflict with any particular part of the party, or any age group within it. Nor do we need to declare war on the conservative media. While I don’t always agree with Simon Heffer, for example, I believe that he’s part of the conservative family. I don’t know of any modern centre-right party which has won an election by provoking a conflict with its base. DD certainly won’t: he wants to take the base with him to win.
Reaching out beyond our southern base. Challenging the Blair consensus with conservative ideas. Uniting to modernise. Doing all this with experience and resilience. That’s the case for DD in a nutshell.