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Saturday, October 29, 2005 

What the hell is David Davis doing?



David Davis was originally felt a shoe-in for the leadership of the Conservative party. When Michael Howard announced his resignation within 24 hours of the Tories losing their third consecutive election, there was mutterings around of a campaign to stop him. Howard's final reshuffle, bringing in relatively little known MPs to shadow front bench positions, seemed to show his admiration of the so-called Notting Hill set. David Cameron, now Davis' rival in the membership vote, was moved to education spokesman, while George Osbourne, a good friend of Cameron, became shadow Chancellor. Liam Fox because shadow foreign secretary. All of this has turned out to be virtually unnecessary; Cameron has become the leader-in-waiting within barely a month.

How did this happen? It all started with Davis's disastrously monotonous and boring speech to the Tory party conference in Blackpool. While the day before Cameron and Kenneth Clarke had both given uplifting and humourous speeches, with Liam Fox delivering an unashamedly Eurosceptic and hard-right Tory speech in the morning, Davis's nervousness got the better of him as he sent many of the already sleepy Tories closer to the grave. The media mauled him, and Cameron as emerged as the new Tony Blair, despite having the Rothermere press attempt to smear him on drugs. Ever since Davis has been more and more woeful.

Up until now, that is. Davis has over the last two days revealed two new policies which he would bring in if he was Conservative leader. For a start, this is welcome. While we have heard plenty about personalities, we have so far heard very little about policies. In hindsight though, perhaps that was for the better. Both of Davis's policies are hard-right, and are playing to a gallery which no longer exists.

Davis plans to save the "average family" £1,200 a year by cutting taxes. As with the Tories promise at the election to cut taxes, with Howard's now infamous comments about lower taxes, cleaner hospitals etc, they don't seem to be very sure how about they are going to go about doing this. We are also meant to believe that this won't affect public services. Davis proposes cutting the amount going to them so that it rises just slightly above inflation, lower than what it does now. What will this add up to? The difference will be £38 billion by the election after next. This would be achieved either through cutting income tax by 8 pence, or by cutting income tax by 2p, reduce the main rate of corporation tax by 3p and scrap inheritance tax, stamp duty and capital gains tax entirely. So either he's going to cut taxes for the rich, or he's going to cut taxes for the fat cats and the rich. He has no proposals for reforming the tax system, just stay as it is and instead we'll go by the old trickle-down economic theory. If the rich are making more, instead of saving it they'll be encouraged to spend the difference, therefore the people lower down the chain will be getting more and so on. That this is crap doesn't really matter in the long; the rich are getting more money regardless.

So that's one policy that's not going to appeal much to the average Labour voter which Davis would need to attract. So then, on to Education. Davis today said he wants to create 20 new grammar schools. This he says, will create "equality" in education, which makes me wonder whether he has any grasp of the past or the present whatsoever. Grammar schools were mostly abolished because they were feeding inequality. The 11+ was biased towards middle class kids, and secondary moderns became the working class dumping ground. That some counties still operate grammar schools at all is an outrage that Labour hasn't stamped down on. Now Davis is proposing even more. This said, Cameron isn't any better. He's staying with the "choice" agenda of Blair, and perpetual reform which is breaking our schools and stopping them from improving.

So just who are these policies aimed at? They won't appeal to the Labour voter which switched from the Tories after the 92 election. The country now expects the public services to be properly funded. Davis seems to oppose that. He also wants to ghettoise the education system once again. He seems to be taking the same Tory position which both Hague and Howard did - the kneejerk ride to the right in the face of defeat.

Maybe I've read it all wrong. These policies may have been thought up to appeal to the dieheard hanging and flogging wing of the party. The question then is how many of then those exist. Even if he wins the leadership, if he sticks with such policies he faces taking the Tories to their fourth election defeat, with Gordon Brown laughing all the way. It seems that to him power is more important personally than for his party allegiance.

David Cameron is the best chance the Conservatives have, and is the leader Labour desperately need. If he wins the fight for the centre ground will be too crowded. Labour will have to turn back to the left or go further to the right. A further rightward move would leave the party without a base. Gordon, the only way is the left. Labour can win an election using leftist policies. If Gordon wanted to be even more radical, he could introduce proportional representation and make sure the Tories could never get back in by making parliament a true 3 party system, with the Lib Dems no longer being a wasted vote in many parts of the country. It's about time Labour recognised the huge chance that it has to shape this country for the 21st century, and it may well be brought about by the Tory party finally reinventing itself.

(The picture is of Davis and Cameron inexplicably presenting a somewhat frightened Billie Piper with her award for best actress at the tv awards.)

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