Meet the man who decided the last Tory leadership contest

Meet the man who decided the last Tory leadership contest


    Does David Davis regret his sacrifice in October 2003?

While Tories deliberate on whether MPs or party members should have the final say over the leadership it is worth recalling that 23 months ago the decision, for all intents and purposes, was made by just one man, the current favourite, David Davis. For it was his withdrawal from the race on October 29th, just 90 minutes after IDS had been ousted, that led to the former Home Secretary getting the job unopposed.

    True, there were other potential candidates but after the DD pull-out none of them felt able to resist the strong pressure to follow suit by standing aside as well.

Until an hour before the IDS confidence vote closed the odds against DD being leader at the general election were less than 2/1. Then, in the space of a few minutes, the price moved out to 10/1 and the money piled onto Howard.

Davis’s sacrifice was huge because he stood a really good chance of winning. Instead all he got were accolades for sparing the party a divisive ballot and for allowing Howard to be in a position to capitalise on the forthcoming Hutton Report on the David Kelly suicide.

It cannot have taken long for Davis to have regretted giving Howard gave a free run. The anticipated Hutton bloodbath for the Prime Minister ended disastrously for the Tories a few weeks later. Howard’s pre-publication gamble of attacking Blair’s integrity was made to look pretty dumb when the actual report came out. As the former Tory MP and Independent columnist, Michael Brown noted at the time “Howard bet the farm on Hutton and lost”.

The political damage was enormous because after Hutton Michael Howard could never raise Iraq issues without being portrayed as an opportunist. He had blown the main political reason why Davis had given up his candidature.

    How must Davis feel now that one of the driving forces behind Ken Clarke’s current leadership challenge is that the former Chancellor can attack Labour and Blair over Iraq because he was always opposed to the war?

As to the other reason for David’s October 2003 move Howard’s age almost inevitably meant that he could only be a one election leader so the avoidance of a divisive leadership contest two years ago was only a postponement.

With the move to Ken Clarke in the betting Davis must surely fear that he’s in danger of getting scant reward for what he did two years ago. There’s one consolation – at least the Tory membership seems to have forgotten that it was DD, and DD alone, who deprived them of their 2003 ballot.

Thank you Philip Grant. This is my first posting since returning from holiday yesterday and I would like to thank Philip for the way he has kept the site going in the past two and a half weeks. He’s done a brilliant job and there have been some great innovations. This was my first complete break since creating Politicalbetting and it has been good to have the rest. The idea of a “guest editor” is certainly one I want to continue.

Mike Smithson

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