Archive for December, 2011


Henry G Manson: In praise of David Davis

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

A LAB man writes about his favourite Tory

Thanks to Gwynfa for offering the ‘Christmas Armistice’ challenge of writing about my favourite Conservative MP. I have been assured by Our Genial Host that this will be reciprocated. One stands out for me above all others.

There are plenty of things I admire about the Member of Parliament for Haltemprice and Howden, the Rt. Hon. David Davis MP. In stark contrast to the manicured, coiffed and pink-cheeked Cameron, Davis has lived – with a face to prove it. David brings substantial business experience from his time at Tate and Lyle. None of this public relations or special advisor flannel on his CV. Real work for a real manufacturer. While Cameron and Boris were throwing buns across the refectory or running out of restaurants with braying brats at university, Davis was serving his country through the SAS regiment of the Territorials.

David is the product of a modest background who took advantage of a Grammar School education. (And Labour leaders searching for a Clause 4 moment should be committing to expand grammar schools.) Like Alan Johnson, David Davis does not hawk around his background as a vote-winning emblem – though his ability to empathise and understand those that current leadership is clearly a huge asset and untapped resource for a party led by minor aristocracy and inherited wealth.

In 2003 Davis helped unite the Conservative Party by not standing against Michael Howard as part of the coronation following Duncan-Smith’s ill-fated leadership. David had a strong claim and reasonable set of numbers by all accounts. I dare say he was assured his time would come but he must have done there was a chance that it would not. He took one for the team and allowed the party to make inroads in 2005 and win the most votes in England when previously the party was on a life support machine under IDS.

Had the subsequent 2005 leadership contest against Cameron been run on first past the post principles (so beloved by Conservatives) then Davis would be Conservative leader now and likely Prime Minister.

Instead his role as Shadow Home Secretary has left a lasting mark. His defence of civil liberties was important and left Labour hideously exposed. It desperately needed doing and now all three major parties are in better shape for it. While many Westminster insiders were befuddled by his by-election in 2008, ask yourself this – can you ever imagine Cameron or Osborne ever resigning on an issue of principle? Me neither. Just as I can’t ever imagine David Davis employing Andy Coulson or spending his Boxing Day with Rebekah Brookes.

I am of the view that a David Davis-led Conservative Party would be much more appealing to voters in the North where Cameron failed to win sufficient additional constituencies. It’s not that Davis is synonymous with being Northern but that his straightforward and down to Earth style resonates. I believe his appeal could have delivered a small but sufficient majority against Gordon Brown and would be a robust Conservative Prime Minister of substance.

As a Labour man I always want to see my team do as well as possible and I will vote red come hell or high water. There’s a wider point. Tony Benn used to talk of two types of politicians – signposts and weathervanes. That’s one thing I agreed with him on. Davis knows what he believes and is direct in making his case. In a world of focus groups and opinion polls politics needs some more ‘signposts’. Forget the Conservative Party, British politics would be stronger if he played a bigger role in the future. I am therefore happy to give David Davis my Labour ‘armistice’ nomination, quietly hoping from a partisan view it proves to be a kiss of death.

HenryG Manson @henrygmanson

Note from Mike Smithson If any Tories or Lib Dems want to write guest slots on their favourite politician in another party then drop me an email


Two days to go in the PB NightHawks cafe

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

What would you really like for Christmas?

Just two days to go and I’m contemplating the drive on Saturday round the M25 to go to my daughter’s in Croydon where we will be having a family Christmas. So the one thing I’d really love is a clear run, especially in the approach to the Dartford crossing.

Meanwhile the politics doesn’t stop and there’s a tight three-way fight going on in a council by-election in Brighton. Last time in the ward it was CON 35.5%: LAB 29.5%: GRN 26.3%: LD 7.6%. Check out Britain Votes here.

Have a good conversation overnight.

Mike Smithson @MikeSmithsonOGH


Which leaders will still be there at the general election?

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011
Which of these party leaders will still be in their positions at the general election? (Tick all that apply)
David Cameron CON
Ed Miliband LAB
Nick Clegg LD
Nigel Farage UKIP

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What if Cameron did fall under a bus?

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Who might fill the gap if it wasn’t an organised departure?

Peter Bone has twice asked in the last week if Nick Clegg would take over as prime minister in the event of David Cameron dying in office – or presumably stepping down with immediate effect in any other circumstance. Irrespective of what’s prompted him to pursue the question, it’s worth looking at.

Although no prime minister has died in office for almost 150 years, there have been some close calls, notably the terrorist attacks at the Brighton Conservative conference in 1984 and the IRA attack on Downing Street in 1991. More prosaically, had John Major’s affair with Edwina Curry become known at the time of the Back to Basics scandals, a rapid departure from Number Ten would almost certainly have followed.

    The increased democracy within political parties makes the question more relevant as it slows the ability of a party to choose a successor according to their normal routine – the last Conservative election took about two months, as compared with the two weeks in 1990 from Heseltine’s declaration of candidacy to Major becoming PM.

The constitutional position remains that the Queen appoints the prime minister and in the event of an unexpected vacancy would have to do so without there having been a leadership election in the former PM’s party. Which is where it gets interesting and Peter Bone’s question comes in.

If the leading members of (in the current circumstances) the Conservatives could agree on a successor, as in 2003 with Michael Howard, or as Labour more-or-less did with Gordon Brown, the cabinet could recommend that person to the Queen and he or she is appointed. On the other hand, if it becomes clear that there will have to be a leadership election, both politicians and the palace are likely to want to avoid the queen being thought to favour any one candidate over another by appointing him or her, and a neutral caretaker becomes an attractive option both to the palace and perhaps to the leadership candidates themselves. There is precedent for that sort of thing when the Duke of Wellington formed a brief administration in 1834 until Peel had travelled back from the continent and could take over.

Two possible options in such a situation would be the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and the Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young. Clegg already deputises for the prime minister at times and has the moral advantage of the Deputy’s title, though that gives no constitutional advantage. Young is not quoted anywhere but is obviously neutral (to the extent that he could, and perhaps should, have become Speaker), and holds a position from where ministers have deputised for the PM in the past. Were the cabinet to consider a Tory caretaker necessary, he is an option.

It should be stressed that the immediate departure is by far the rarest of the three ways a prime minister leaves office: resignation after electoral / parliamentary defeat, and resignation once a party successor has been identified being much more common. Also, of the few bookies offering odds, Paddy Power explicitly excludes ‘caretaker’ prime ministers – a rule which is potentially open to wide interpretation.

David Herdson


It’s time for the PB NightHawks Cafe

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Latest YouGov 40/40/10

With Christmas now only three and bit days away we are still waiting for what should be the final phone poll of 2011 – from ICM for the Guardian. I’ve got no news about it but it’s a survey I’m very keen to see given that the last poll from the firm, at the weekend, had CON 40/LAB 34/LD 14.

Was that just an outlier or can we expect something in the same region? Who knows?

Apart from that there’s a glut of US polling ahead of the Iowa caucuses a week on Tuesday. This is building up to an exciting election which hopefully will set the tone for the whole of the primary season which runs right through until June.

Have a good night.

Mike Smithson @MikeSmithsonOGH

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Can the coalition go on avoiding the blame?

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

A year on and the polling’s almost the same

Every fortnight since the first coalition budget YouGov has been asking the same question in the same format “And who do you think is most to blame for the current spending cuts?”

The response options have been the same: CON-LD coalition: Labour: Both: Neither: Don’t know.

What’s been remarkable is how consistent the response pattern has been. Thus the latest figures are very similar to what respondees were saying a year ago – getting on for 40% blame Labour with 23/24% blaming the coalition.

In that time, of course, Labour has replaced its shadow chancellor with the abrasive Ed Balls and for whatever reason the party continues to get the blame.

I regard this as the biggest challenge facing the red team. The economy dominates almost everything and Labour needs a more refined rhetoric.

The fact that the coalition continues to have such a dominance is surely the biggest challenge.

Mike Smithson @MikeSmithsonOGH


Santorum moves to third favourite in Iowa?

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Could Iowa’s evangelicals unify behind him?

With just thirteen days to go before the 2012 White House race kicks off with the Iowa caucuses there’s been a fair bit of activity in the betting markets following endorsements for Rick Santorum from two of the state’s leading evangelicals.

Surveys in 2008 had 60% of all participants in the Republican caucuses in Iowa describing themselves as evangelical Christians and the big question this time has been whether this key grouping would unify behind one candidate.

Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum have all been competing hard and have each made great efforts to secure the endorsement from the evangelical leaders.

The big question is how influential these leaders are and whether the advice to unify behind Santorum will be heeded. It might take till next week before we see this reflected one way or the other in the polls.

For former front-runners, Perry and Bachmann, a poor showing in the state could be the end of their bids.

Yesterday before news of the endorsement you could have got 40/1 on Betfair against Santorum winning the caucuses. The last price traded as I write at 8am is 7/1.

Mike Smithson @MikeSmithsonOGH


Welcome to Tuesday in the PB NightHawks Cafe

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Thanks for all your ideas, suggestions and nominations for the PB Poster of the Year.

The next step is for Peter the Punter, Sunil and myself to go through the thread and agree a short-list as well as the categories on which we will vote next week.

Have a good night in the PB NightHawks Cafe.

Mike Smithson @MikeSmithsonOGH

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