Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Stop Clarke

Solid, but "uninspired", was the verdict of The Times of the Davis speech to the Conservative Party conference this morning. The text can be read here.

The paper's political editor, Philip Webster, takes the view that the speech was not good enough to seal the Tory leadership contest for him.

He is actually being kind. Activists in the hall at the time reported the speech as "disastrous", judged by the crowing of the Clarke camp, who are increasingly acting as if the contest is in the bag.

Davis's problems, in fact, go way back. At an early stage of the undeclared contest, he was addressing potentially sympathetic MPs is an aggressive and uncompromising manner. In many instances, he has displayed such aggression to some questioners who sought to clarify his policy on the EU that they have walked away determined to support another candidate.

Now, chickens are coming home to roost for, while Davis claims that he has the backing of 66 MPs, the reality is that much of that support as drained away. Behind the scenes, there is feverish activity aimed at trying to identify the candidate – any candidate – who can stop Clarke. To that extent, this is no longer a Tory leadership contest so much as a "stop Clarke" campaign.

In victory, should it be his, Clarke is making it known that he does not intend to be magnanimous. He intends to extend an iron grip over the party, suppressing any dissent, banning associations and deselecting MPs who do not toe the line – in contrast to his own disloyal behaviour, where he has ignored three-line whips and consorted with Blair in support of the euro, contrary to Party policy.

For the moment, therefore, all bets are off as to who will make it to the final line-up as the search for the best blocking candidate continues. And so the farce continues.

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