The Conservative Party conference: a report, part V

[Posted 3:28 PM by David Pryce-Jones]

The Conservative members of Parliament have jumped through the final hoop in their act of choosing a new leader. Two days ago, they eliminated Kenneth Clarke, who presented himself as on the party�s left. Today they eliminated Liam Fox, a doctor, a Scot, who presented himself on the party�s right. But it was touch and go. This rather superior electoral college numbers 198 and Fox received 51votes, just six short of David Davis�s 57 votes. The outright winner is David Cameron, with 90 votes.

A bandwagon in politics is a wonder to behold. Nobody is quite sure how Cameron has done it. Aged 39, he has been in parliament for only four year, and his experience is evidently limited. Over and above that, he was educated at the great public school of Eton, which in England today risks marking him as a man from outer space. The youngest and the brightest members of the parliamentary party are his outright fans, and they have created the impression that he will reinvigorate distressed Tories. Billing himself as a moderate and a moderniser, he probably picked up most of Clarke�s former list. He circulates the coinage of change, optimism, and hope, without quite yet spelling out how these phrases will evolve from the hustings into programs. Could he be a William Hague with hair, and go the sad way of that clever predecessor in this most demanding role ?

David Davis has the experience. His background was very different, as the son of a single mother brought up on a council estate. Effective in parliament, he has often pushed New Labour into retreat. He promotes classic Tory views about a smaller state, lower taxation, more freedom for the individual, and less of the European Union. For that reason, he previously seemed the front runner for the leadership. But somehow, in those details of speech and gesture which so test a man, he may have failed to rise to the occasion. Could he be an Iain Duncan Smith with hair, and go the sad way of that clever predecessor ?

Today�s Daily Telegraph carries a poll of party members, and it shows that 59 percent want Cameron, 18 percent are for Fox, and only 15 percent for Davis. The Cameron bandwagon is running on the fuel of the media. Now Cameron and Davis, and their supporters, have to race around the constituencies persuading the 300,000 party loyalists whose vote on December 6 will choose the ultimate winner.

Messrs Blair and Brown settled who was to lead Labour by dining together privately in a restaurant. And the supposedly elitist Tories do the opposite with their procedure, messy but thoroughly democratic. The country is sitting up and noticing that.