Magazine article The Spectator

David Davis Has Suddenly Acquired the Air of the Runner-Up

Magazine article The Spectator

David Davis Has Suddenly Acquired the Air of the Runner-Up

Article excerpt

Despite well-meaning efforts by Francis Maude, Theresa May and Alan Duncan to cast a pall over the occasion, Blackpool 2005 turned out to be the most life-enhancing Tory party conference in recent years. With 6,000 members present, it provided a pleasing reminder that vigour and enthusiasm survive among the grass-roots. Meanwhile, a series of outstanding speeches from the platform demonstrates the remarkable depth of talent within the parliamentary party.

The first revelation was awesome: David Cameron. Every so often in British politics a star is born, and this happened last week.

There has always been much to like about Cameron. But there was every reason to suppose that the same easy and plausible manner that has provided the impetus for his apparently effortless ascent through the foothills of Conservative party politics might in the long term prove an obstacle.

Even admirers wondered whether the fashionable clique that has facilitated his rise would be utterly unable to sustain him once he reached the top.

In his dazzling campaign launch last week, and in his fine speech in Blackpool on Tuesday, Cameron demonstrated three qualities that I had never been sure he possessed: professionalism, commitment and moral seriousness. All politicians face one common and far from simple task: to become really substantial figures they must transcend their backgrounds and their immediate circumstances. David Cameron has achieved this. We now know, with reasonable certainty, that this most engaging and attractive figure will be a permanent fixture in the front rank of British politics for the next 25 years.

Nevertheless, Kenneth Clarke's memorable speech on Tuesday afternoon was so much more formidable and accomplished, and a reminder of the distance that David Cameron still needs to travel. Clarke spoke to his audience much more clearly and directly, and it is instructive to compare the two orations. Cameron's decision to speak without notes or any prompts was brave, and was indeed vindicated by a virtuoso performance. Still, at times I found myself covering my eyes out of sheer nervousness.

Paradoxical though it sounds, Cameron gained virtuosity at the expense of spontaneity. I felt that he devoted so much energy to remembering his lines that he lost some of the passion and power of his delivery.

This explains why David Cameron made merely a very good, rather than an excellent, speech. Cameron impressed the party, but did not electrify it. Afterwards I discussed this with a columnist who has close links to the modernisers and who offered a different analysis. 'David couldn't make them really love him in the hall, ' the columnist noted. 'You have to be racist or xenophobic to do that.' The comment was wretched, because it completely failed to comprehend what motivates the admirable people in the conference hall. These attacks on the Tory party faithful display a regrettable failure of moral imagination amounting to something like blindness. I have studied them for years, these modest Tory activists who make the annual journey to the seaside party conferences. Unlike the politicians who strut their stuff, they do not go out of personal ambition, or for any kind of financial reward, or even the prospect of a good dinner. …

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