First things first: I’m not going to start by claiming that DD won tonight’s debate. (I believe that he did – but then again, I’m a DD supporter, so my view must be discounted.) Indeed, I thought that David Cameron stuck to his guns, despite some extremely hostile questions, and that the criticisms of him by some bloggers on this site are unfair.
Those bloggers, and most others, are currently claiming – and they’re writing as I’m writing – that DD was the victor. I’ll go on to make a prediction. I watched the debate at the BBC’s Millbank office with lobby journalists and commentators. I believe that they will also write tomorrow morning that DD won.
If the settled view, both tomorrow and afterwards, is that DD lost on a platform in Blackpool, but won on national television, questions follow: why, and what will happen next in this leadership election?
I believe that the answer to first question is simple. DD’s authority, experience, clear sense of policy direction, command of detail and faith in Conservative beliefs and ideas shone through. And while his conversational style doesn’t lend itself to platform rhetoric, it’s made for tv – where the next election, after all, will be decided. I think that fair-minded viewers, watching DD last night, could imagine him as Prime Minister.
I won’t argue that DD is now set to win this election. But I believe that this contest is no longer a stroll to the finishing line for one candidate – if it ever was. After last night, the two Davids are set battle all the way to the winning post. The race is back on, and this extraordinary leadership contest is alive again.
This is because the debate will have been watched closely by very many party members. Many of those who previously inclined to David Cameron won’t – having seen the programme – switch their vote immediately, or maybe at all.
But they will pause, and ask questions. Am I sure (they will ask) how to cast my vote? Should I weigh up the merits of the two Davids again? Wouldn’t it be wise to ponder their merits, study their policies, and weigh up their merits – rather than voting in a rush?
I believe that many party members will conclude from last night that their vote is too valuable to cast hastily or lightly. I’m also convinced that they will be right to do so. David Cameron isn’t entitled to easy votes because of one good conference speech. And DD isn’t entitled to easy votes because of one good television performance. Naturally, I think that DD will benefit from a careful weighing-up of the merits of the candidates: I would do, given my bias. But it must be true none the less that careful votes are better than careless ones.