Only the “don’t knows” will switch today
The BBC devoted the whole of last night’s Question Time to three Davids: Conservative leadership contenders Davis and Cameron, and moderator Dimbleby. If you didn’t catch the broadcast, you can watch it by following the video link here. The opinion of most of our contributors was that neither Davis nor Cameron made a fatal mistake or scored an overwhelming hit: and despite Davis’s poor performance on the platform at the Tories’ October conference in Blackpool, he was the narrow winner last night.
The weaknesses that Cameron did show, though, seem unlikely to put off any of his committed supporters. He started nervously, and on several occasions when he was put under pressure after his charm didn’t seem to work, he appeared quite rattled. On policy topics apart from his education portfolio, his grasp of detail didn’t match Davis’s. But Cameron supporters will have forgiven these things in advance: it goes with the territory of backing a 39-year-old with 4 years’ Commons experience, and trusting that he’ll grow into the leadership role. To Cameron’s advantage, he came across very well when speaking one-on-one to the audience members who asked questions.
Davis should score well among those Conservatives who were undecided before the debate. His delivery was far better than in Blackpool, he appeared largely relaxed and self-confident, and his messages on drugs and family policy will have appealed to traditionalist Tory members.
With the level of support Cameron has built up in the last month, the debate won’t change the course of the race. It would be unwise to bet against Cameron, even with odds of 7/1 available (from Stan James) for a Davis win. But if undecided members break towards Davis, it could be worth punting on Cameron getting under 66% of the vote. Paddy Power were offering this at 15/8 immediately after the debate, but are now quoting no price at all for it. Watch for the odds when they start taking bets again.
Mike Smithson returns at the weekend.