Monday, July 27, 2009

Do We Want David Davis To Be a Nodding Dog?

James Forsyth has written this morning about the "David Davis problem". He thinks the Tory leadership needs to give him something to do. His article was sparked by Davis's piece in this morning's Times which calls into question the approach of contracting out the maintenance of health records to companies like Google. Forsyth views this as "unhelpful" to the Cameron leadership and lists it as the latest in a line of sallies by the former Shadow Home Secretary, which appear to demonstrate a willingness to fall off the tightrope of outright slavish loyalty. Well, up to a point.

There have been three occasions when Davis has written articles which have tried to kickstart a debate - on the future of Trident, and the need to cut public spending, and our role in Afghanistan. In all three cases he was successful. On Trident, he questioned the need for a full upgrade. Liam Fox might not have approved but many others around the leadership of the party did. And on public spending he was the first to suggest that this would be the main issue of the next election. He was criticised for raising the issue at the time, but he has been proven right. Similarly, after a trip last autumn to Afghanistan he raised a number of the issues which have since become common currency, and questioned the basis of our mission there.

A few weeks ago he wrote an article on the need to retain grammar schools. Last time I looked, that was actually Conservative Party policy. Admittedly he went on to say they should be expanded, which is patently not party policy.

This raises the whole question of what being a backbench Member of Parliament is for. Do we want a parliament full of nodding dogs? Surely not. What we want is for senior politicians to feel able to try to lead a debate on particular issues. If when Davis writes an article it is now only viewed through the prism of whether he is trying to cause trouble, it says something about the level of political debate in this country.

The trouble is that the media only ever report anything a senior politician says if it could in some way be interpreted as an attack on their party's leadership. Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke would no doubt agree. I am not saying that they are always wrong in this. All I am saying is that it is wrong to interpret everything a politician says in this way. It's called judgement.

But it is not only the media who have to judge when a politician is speaking with conviction or whether he's out to cause trouble. Politicians must exercise judgement too - they must judge when it is right to speak out and when it is best to shut up. No one easily forgives a politician who gratuitously rocks the boat in the nine months before an election. But a politician who has something meaningful to say but feels inhibited from doing so because of possible accusations of disloyalty may well not be able to forgive himself.

No one said being a politician was meant to be easy.

52 comments:

Archbishop Cranmer said...

"A few weeks ago he wrote an article on the need to retain grammar schools. Last time I looked, that was actually Conservative Party policy. Admittedly he went on to say they should be expanded, which is patently not party policy."

But why?

Anonymous said...

My wife teaches in a grammar school. I'll leave you to guess whether she thinks they're a good thing!


(Hint: she does.)

Anonymous said...

David Davis Rocks !!

The real problem people in the Tory party have with him is that he is a working class boy made good.

Well if people like him have no room in the modern Tory party, then they may as well pack up and go home.

Ray said...

If people like David Davis (and Dan Hannan, Douglas Carswell, John Redwood etc.) were in the leadership of the Conservatives, and would be forming the cabinet of a future Conservative government, I would still be voting Conservative.

But they aren't, the Tories have David Cameron and I am having trouble seeing the difference between him and Tony Blair.

So I won't vote for them given an alternative (which is hard to find I admit). Not convinced I am alone in this either.

colin said...

No I don't want a nodding dog but I don't want a mad pitbull either. The problem is not so much in his challenging ideas but the manner in which it is done. Look at his opening paragraph:

"When I read in the pages of this newspaper this month that the Conservative Party was planning to transfer people’s health data to Google, my heart sank . The policy described was so naive I could only hope that it was an unapproved kite-flying exercise by a young researcher in Conservative HQ. If not, what was proposed was both dangerous in its own right , and hazardous to the public acceptability of necessary reforms to the state’s handling of our private information."
(Emphasis added).

I think Davis is right to raise concerns but this seems constructed to be provocative (to Cameron rather than generally) and divisive.

I say that as someone who believes Davis has a great deal to offer. I would like to see him in a senior shadow cabinet position, something that would add considerably to the appeal of the Conservatives as an alternative government. I hope this happens but if it does then he needs to be given an urgent refresher course in loyalty and the meaning of collective responsibility.

Anonymous said...

David Davies is a politician of integrity prepared to stand up for his principles. There aren't many of those left.

Conservatives ignore him at their peril.

Anonymous said...

What the Tory party could do with at the moment is an attack dog who is not a shadow, and therefore can speak a little more plainly and controversially and generally shake things up a bit.

For example, someone should stand up and say "a new Conservative government should look closely at the BBC's in-built leftist bias and consider the implications of that on the licence fee, or indeed the BBC as an institution". Or "the public sector has an in-built culture of absenteeism, low productivity and waste that simply cannot be tolerated if this country's balance sheet is to recover". Or "all quangocrats on £100k plus a year will have to be sakced". You know, stuff that's completely obvious but which the Cameroons clearly feel unable to say in public.

David Davis would fit the post admirably.

Timothy Wallace said...

Even if Davis may 'rock the boat' a little by not agreeing wholeheartedly with Tory HQ, its people like him that keep more freedom-loving people voting Conservative.

If Cameron's line was the only one people heard, nobody would see a difference between him and Blair. With the likes of Davis still making their voices heard, there is still a reminder that the party has at least right-wing potential.

Anonymous said...

Never. The conservatives have found strengths in independent people such as DD developing their own ideas and understandings of problems.

This is a natural reality of debate and democratic decision making is only distorted by the media (for one set of obvious reasons) and dogma (for another).

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately when it comes to the Tories narcissist-in-chief Davis, Ian Dale is His Masters Voice.

Sarah_Wiltshire said...

I always thought that Davis was an excellent Shadow Home Secretary and it is a pity we now have the lack-lustre Grayling. However on the issue of Grammar Schools I think he has a point. Why not expand them and could this not be done by turning superlative Comp's into Grammars. I do not understand the mechanics of whether this is possible, but I think it is only right that all bright kids can aspire to a Grammar School education and at present their parents have to move to the more affluent areas to be able to do this.

Alex said...

When you talk about 'the article on the need to cut public spending' I presume you mean the piece in the FT. In that article DD mentioned winter fuel payments and free TV licenses for older people as specific 'gimmicks' which should be cut.

Whilst DD might well have been right about the need to cut spending overall, those specific examples were completely disowned by Cameron when Labour raised them during the Norwich by-election. He described it as a lie to suggest they might be or become Tory policy, if memory serves.

I have no doubt that leaders are happy to have back benchers who think outside the box, but when they go as far as DD did with his examples, or as far as Frank Field has done on many occasions, then these backbenchers cause enormous headaches for their leaders.

Anonymous said...

Do we want a parliament full of nodding dogs? Surely not.

And yet you have, in the past, launched vicious attacks on people who (in your eyes) are failing to show sufficient loyalty. It seems to me that you view the issue of partisan loyalty through a peculiarly selfish and subjective lens: if you argee with a rebel, then the rebel is a plucky hero standing up to a wrongheaded leadership; if you disagree with the rebel, they're a traitor to the party and deserving of expulsion.

You define loyalty as an arbitrary line in the sand based, in no small part, on your personal sympathies and dislikes. And, of course, there is the perennial problem of your assumption that anyone who disagrees with you is a blackhearted moron who's impugning your honour.

GGaann said...

Really happy to hear from any backbencher. David Davis has a good point on outsourcing data management - but the initial idea was worth raising as well. These new commercial businesses know more about handling data in a manner acceptable to general public than the EDS, IBM, or big consultancies we know of - who have a track record of preying on the amateur civil service

If we want grown up politics we need to be grown up recipients

Desperate Dan said...

Unfortunately whenever David Davis pronounces on any subject he manages to sound confrontational and aggressive, as though he anticipates a negative response. And that's what he gets.
He may well have a point but because of the way he puts it across he automatically invites hostility. I don't want to listen to him because he's not very sympathetic. He's the spectre at the feast.

winston said...

I thought David Davis was a nodding dog. I followed him nearly all the way home only last week.

perdix said...

DD critizes but not not suggest HOW data should be stored and by whom.

Dimoto said...

For a Conservative leadership which feels that the likes of Dorrell, Gummer and Rifkind would strengthen an incoming government, the continuing marginalisation of Davis, mainly due to pique, is a very bad start indeed.
Even Enoch Powell could be usefully accommodated in the past.

Tom said...

The problem is there are too few outspoken big beasts like David Davis, Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn on the backbenches. They get singled out too easily. If there were more with their attitude in Parliament they would have strength in numbers.

trevorsden said...

Davis WAS in the leadership of the conservative party until he pointlessly resigned from the shadow cabinet to campaign over 42 days etc.
An act which achieved nothing. You cannot resign in and out of the shadow or real cabinet on a whim.

In case any of you had forgotten (and Davis clearly has) - we have a massive economic crisis and need to save money. It seems fair enough to consider all options - and you had all better realise that medical records is a great way to spend zillions without treating a single patient more.

So get your thinking caps on before you complain about conservatives thinking about ALL possible ways to do more for less.

And assuming we do win the election you had ALL better get used to understanding what the phrase 'difficult choices' is all about.

Anonymous said...

Yes, people hate the fact that politicians are so loyal to their parties, but can you blame the politicians when the media twist any difference between two of them of the same party as a "split"?

trevorsden said...

Oh - grammar Schools.

I to both went to a gramnmar school and bemoan their loss.

However to bring back grammar schools you would also have to bring back secondary moderns. Get real the schools the infrastructure do not exist.

And you would also have to split teachers between the two systems - care to fend off the fall out from that? And you have to consider parents and how it would affect them - not least their carefully laid plans for strategic house buying.

Its too late -- wake up DUNCES! Even if it were all miraculously possible - errr, the cost? In the current climate?

Get real. Good schools are what we need. Good teachers. No matter what the system our education should be a damn sight better than what it is. We need to get the present system working.

Verity said...

Ray - You're not alone. I won't be voting Tory again until the self-proclaimed Heir to Blair is history.

David Davis is a sound Conservative thinker and he's a risk taker. Compare and contrast with David Cameron. The boldest thing he has ever done was sack Patrick Mercer, a military man, to big himself up.

Jonforest said...

"I would like to see him in a senior shadow cabinet position", says Colin.
So would most true Conservatives - leader of the party, for instance.
Or perhaps deputy leader to William Hague.
Cameron was made leader on the simple calculation that he could to persuade a few people who are not very conservative to vote for the party.
The problem is that there is a very real danger that many real conservatives won't vote for a party led by someone who too often appears to want to be Tony Bliar mark II.
How many millions of votes will UKIP take at the next election that would otherwise be delivered for the Conservatives, for instance? I would rather a Conservative Government win with their votes on a proper Conservative platform than by relying on the votes of a similar number of wishy washy lefties and New Labour malcontents. What kind of mandate will that give?

norman said...

As a Tory voter I do not like a disloyal barking dog either. As some one who spent 30 years in computing -related jobs, I know that any work related to electronic health records stretches the technology to limit. There are not that many big players who can handle the enormous database transactions, maintenance, updating and access-related activities that are needed. Google tops the list. American health insurance industry has the expertise. I have no problems with Google as I am sure it will carry out the work efficiently and with security.

The problem with David Davies is that he thinks he is not noticed by his party leader which means he thinks he should be in the shadow cabinet. When he was going well,he threw away his shadow cabinet position and he did not achieve much by winning the ensuing by-election as he had to compete with odd balls. It turned out to be a mere delusion.

With the fading away of Ian Gibson,
he can step into his shoes to lobby and encourage govt and private industries to support science research in universities.
We are losing our bright scientists
to USA, our Nobel Prize winners in science are workng in USA and many
potential winners are leaving the country. David Davis read biological sciences in Warwick University and is best placed to
carry further forward and expand the the work done by Ian Gibson who did it in a modest way, particularly working with science faculties in our top universities helping them to partner with industry. The science and engineering research councils do it but it needs a leader with political skills and gravitas. David Davis is admirably suited to this role. Whether he will be interested in this is another matter.

Mirtha Tidville said...

I find myself in complete agreement with Ray @3.56 and Jonforest.....`Dismal Dave` is a nightmare if you are Conservative..He`s far too Liberal and frankly in the wrong party.Blair Mk2 is bang on...

As for David Davis, sorry but I think a certain strain of madness runs through him. His Nonsense resignation lost him all my respect.

Watch Ukip at the next election...and still betting Farrage stands against Bercow in Buckingham...watch this space eh..

Fausty said...

David Davis is one of the few politicians who is in touch with both party policy and the public mood.

Being practical and truly conservative-minded (not a wishy-washy, flim-flam), he recognises the boils on the nation's derriere and when he sees that Cameron's not lancing them, he does it himself.

His medicine has been working.

Next, rolling back the police state and EU powers, please, Mr Davis.

Plenty said...

I've got total respect for DD. He's principled, mature in debate, and sincere in what he is saying. Name me a Labour MP or cabinet figure who meets all those criteria....

Would have not been that bothered if DD had become leader of Party, he prob would have done a good job just as well as DC.

Jules said...

it's time cameron buried whatever hatchet there is between him and davis and got the latter back in the shadow cab, lickety-split. he's a huge asset, got a bucket-load of clout and brits love former special forces bods, as paddy pantsdown will testify.

iain - please run a poll on bringing davis back ...

Russell said...

Davis is right about Cameron's Google plan, which is simultaneously fatuous and extremely dangerous.

Google is a vast multinational organisation built on the premise of revealing as much information as possible to as many people as possible. Its concept of personal privacy is light years away from that of most ordinary citizens. Surely it is the very last corporate entity to have the most sensitive, private information about tens of millions of people's medical records entrusted to its dubious care. And I don't give a damn about Cameron's personal links to Silicon Valley, which I suspect are behind this disastrously naive idea.

We don't need MPs who are nodding dogs; we need sagacious dogs who not only bark long and loud when they sniff something unsavoury, but also have the teeth to sink into its neck and shake it to death before it ever has the chance to get established.

As for personal control over health records, why not use a credit card sized device which can be updated by a GP's computer and handed back to the patient? It's in existence already.

Optimistic Cynic said...

Davis' piece is very ignorant of many of the facts surrounding Google.

I suggest that in future he actually examines the facts rather than just blurting out some internet memes.

For instance:

1) He quotes Privacy International who got very upset about Google Streetview, despite Streetview doing nothing but filming in the streets, an entirely legal activity and in no way a contravention of privacy.

2) He talks about Google's deal with China, without mentioning that the likes of Yahoo and Microsoft have had to make exactly the same deals to trade with China.

I have a more detailed piece on this on my blog if anyone is interested.

strapworld said...

what on earth did "Dimoto" mean by 'Even Enoch Powell could be usefully accommodated in the past'.

Enoch Powell was the greatest Prime Minister this Country never had. A true patriot. A true christian and one of the very few 'Honourable Members' representing we the people in Parliament.

I only wish he had been around to witness the present shower of all parties, and just what he would have said about the expenses scandal.

Remember Mr Powell never accepted a pay rise, which MP's awarded themselves. He said that he was elected on a certain salary and he would wait until the electorate supported any increase.

Cameron is a pygmy alongside this man. I do believe that Mr Powell would have stood shoulder to shoulder with David Davis. Although he would have been disappointed with his expenses claims!

Surely Williams? said...

David Davis is the most honest Conservative MP. He is the only guy who is prepared to say what a lot of people think, to stick his neck on the line. He should be back on the front bench ASAP.
Getting rid of grammar schools was the single biggest crime against social mobility - one perpetrated not just by Labour but by Conservatives (under Heath).

Doug said...

Breaking News; Iain Dale Defends Davis Davis

Shock horror.

However as others have pointed out including Forsythe it is the way the article was written that is the problem. From the off it highly confrontational and provocative. The obvious result of which is that it would have been seen as an attack on Cameron.

I have no problem with him writing about his thoughts and being constructively critical of Tory policy. But if Davies wants to keep on writing articles without becoming isolated in the party he has to choose his words more carefully.

TrueBlueBlood said...

David Davis is a legend.

A great man.

Never ever should he become a nodding dog.

Anonymous said...

When the Cons. get into Government life is going to get tough-very, very tough!The electorate would be far more likely to take their medicine from DD rather than Eton Dave.The feeling that Dave is all about getting power and nothing else continues to grow within the Party.

Anonymous said...

Ray,Believe me your not.If in doubt talk to some real foot soldiers.

DespairingLiberal said...

He is a serious guy, David Davis and he obviously wants to discuss policy and the ethics of policies, which is unusual in all of the main parties currently. I read his article on Google in the Times and I thought much of what he said was spot-on.

I actually think it's a shame that he isn't currently in the Shadow Cabinet and hope (although probably a vain hope given that all that has transpired) that he comes back. If not, he should clearly continue anyway to speak out clearly and plainly.

A most intelligent man and a politician to be rated.

The Tory plan to give all UK health records to the tender mercies of Google is wrong and it is derived from the sort of manic privatisation-frenzy that has given us the shockingly awful overpriced railway system and the outsourcing of defence policy to former porn writer-cum-journalists.

DespairingLiberal said...

Anon 4:16 - if the BBC has a built-in right wing bias, how come they launched the Kelly affair with a direct attack on the credibility of Labour ministers? The most significant recent political affair.

Domesday said...

Completely agree. All MPs should follow 1) conscience, 2) country, 3) constituency and 4) Conservatives in that order. It would soon start to restore trust in politicians.

Grumpy Old Man said...

I've been posting for some time that we would have to provide our own Opposition in the next Parliament as there would be no significant opposition from the Left parties after the Labour wipe out. We do not, ever, want another era of government by sofa, by which a few syncophants clustered round an all-powerful Leader can rely upon a compliant herd of lobby-fodder to push through half-baked, undebated policies.

That DD is an ambitious man is undoubted. Most MP's are ambitious. That he forced a bye-election to give himself an individual mandate is also common knowledge. To suggest that he intends to damage the Tories by opposing some of Daves' flights of fancy is ridiculous. Cameron needs a crouching slave in the bottom of the triumphal chariot reminding him that he is mortal. This is what Davis, Tim at ConHome and the Daily Maniac (by default) are doing. It will do the Heir to Blair no harm to be reminded that abandoning core support for the Chimera of wooing the floating voter brings eventual death.

Tachybaptus said...

Despairing Liberal wrote, '... if the BBC has a built-in right wing bias ...'.

Oh dear, DL, hoist by your own parapraxis.

trevorsden said...

"The Tory plan to give all UK health records to the tender mercies of Google is wrong" (and to others of that ilk)

Huh - ?
I am suspicious of the growing presence of Google. But why should we think that our records would be any safer in the tender mercies of the Government. A bunch of so called conservatives and libertarians are clearly looking at this problem through the wrong end of the telescope.

Keeping records out of the hands of government is our priority surely. And lets be clear (and DD should be as well) - THIS is what Cameron actually said - "We would have said, 'Today you don't need a massive central computer to do this,'" he said. "People can store their health records securely online; they can show them to whichever doctor they want. They're in control, not the state."

This idea might not work but DD and others should realise that it is a legitimate thought. Lets get the message straight can we - (and pardon my bluntness) all you dummies out there - "They're in control, not the state."
Just what could be more solidly conservative than that???

And the suggestion also was 'LIKE' Google and Microsoft.

And YET AGAIN to all the DD fans - he left the shadow cabinet on what at best can be regarded as a wild goose chase - why hang DC for that??

Salmondnet said...

Despairing Liberal: Because the Kelly affair played to a left wing (though not new Labour) agenda, helping to discredit George Bush and his war. What could be closer to left wing hearts?

As I, and others, have said before, the BBC does criticise Labour, but always for not being left wing enough. It is not that the BBC is directly an organ of the Labour Party, it is more that the Corporation expects the Labour Party to reflect the BBC world view and, like the Guardian, will attack it if it does not.

canvas said...

David Davis should learn discipline. He is a super vain egomaniac. Davis is selfish and he will be a back bencher forever.

There is a reason why the Tories have been out power for SO long - think about it. David Cameron gets it and that is why DC is the (successful) leader and Davis is not.

Anonymous said...

Cameron is going to be a wild success as PM and he does have that excellent Eton background and comes from a first class family.

Anonymous said...

What a lot of people seem to want nodding dogs and whipped curs! I thought it was the totalitarian tendency in Labour that demanded everyone sing from the same hymn sheet (so long, of course, as they don't do God).

What has the recent parliamentary crisis been about if not the ending of craven obedience to the party line, the ending of MPs refusal to consider their consciences and the start of decent scrutiny of policy and legislation (actual or prospective)? Is everyone to follow Harriet Harman and proclaim the fuhrerprinzip - what the leader wants, the leader should get?

Politics and Parliament are about debate - hooray!, let's keep it coming.

sgd. Simon too

Raffael said...

Parliamentary sovereignty is being eroded in all sorts of ways - the EU, more quangos, ministerial injunctions, scandals, the pitiful state of the House of Lords - and the truth is that MPs are just nodding dogs.

The more power these institutions get, the more scandals there are, the longer the House of Lords is kept in its current condition, the less able Parliament as a whole is able to reverse the whole process.

It's a shame the following catchphrase has been used so often without results because

we do need change.

R

http://my.telegraph.co.uk/thomashogg

Chris Heathcote said...

Your article presupposes that David Davis intends to remain a back bencher, I'm not sure his interventions suggest that is his plan. DD knows exactly what he is doing: like it or not as a former front bencher and leadership rivsl he hasn't got the previliage of subleties - his comments will always be viewed as supportive or hostile. I think DD the erratic loner has emerged again.

Dimoto said...

At the merest mention of Davis, the trolls are out and covering this board. How predictable.

Jonforest - bad news, most of the electorate which will hopefully kick Brown and his corruption of a party into touch, are profoundly disinterested in politics, and especially "real Conservative values".

What they tend to want, are simple, practical things which will give them some hope for the future.
Do you really think that a heavy dose of 1980s Conservative ideaology would help in removing the parasitic incubus that ails us ?

Anonymous said...

He is just not a team player and that's all there is to it.

Russell said...

The thing is, privacy campaigners concentrate on their pet hobbyhorse and IT professionals can't see beyond the system aspects. Meanwhile most MPs haven't got a clue and seem to view IT projects as lovely expensive new toys to boost their prestige. There are not many people in a position of influence who can correctly identify the overlap between the two issues, IT and privacy, and successfully highlight it in public.

Step forward David Davis. He knows what he's talking about. And more power to his elbow.

The very last thing we need in situations like this is "team players". That's what got us into trouble with IT projects in the past.