British Politics since the 2005 election has been a curious kind of waiting game- everyone was at first waiting to see who the conservatives and then the liberals would appoint to lead them- having seen David Cameron and Sir Menzies Campbell rise to the top of their parties- the country then waited to see when Tony Blair would go and who would succeed him. Well tommorrow the last piece in the jigsaw before the next election will be completed and as anticipated Gordon Brown, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer will take over as Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury.
Some indications of what that change might mean and how the situation would look over the next few days were given today- in the leak that one man would resign his seat in the Commons and that another despite resigning his party label would stay.
Quentin Davies is a typical conservative MP of the old sort. He voted for Ken Clarke in the leadership contests after the demise of the Major regime. He had a mildly successful career- reaching the dizzy heights of shadow northern Ireland spokesman and also sitting within the shadow Defence team- but he was never mentioned as a prospective leader of the Tory party even at their lowest ebb. A former Diplomat and Banker, the MP for Grantham and Stamford was never seen as much more than a willing Parliamentary foot soldier and seemed at the age of 62 to be collapsing into the semi retirement of an eventual knighthood, seat on the 1922 committee (which governs Tory Backbenchers) and authority as a prominent senior fellow in the Commons.
But this morning came the bombshell- for Mr Davies decided to defect to the Labour party. His reasons for defecting were laid out in a very bitter resignation letter- thankfully the Guardian have the whole text here
and its worth reading. Mr Davies feels unhappy both with Mr Cameron's style of leadership which he feels is stylish but insubstantial and with some of his policies particularly those on Europe. In a sense you would expect Mr Davies to feel these things- he comes from a different wing of the party than Mr Cameron. Mr Cameron has sold himself as a new type of Tory, a Thatcherite with a heart and without the prescriptive moral baggage that often the nastier kind of Thatcherite came encumbered with.
The modern Conservative party is split between mods and rockers- as the Spectator in a wonderful cover story put it. The mods led by Cameron admire and envy Blair, they are slick and libertarian in social values, Thatcherites in economics, anti-European but with a gleaning of more social democratic values in respect of the environment and the noises made about the work life balance. They are Tories a Lib Dem could have a cup of tea with. The rockers on the other hand are like the Mods but without the gilding of civilisation- rather they envy the US Republican party and desire the conservatives to rediscover nationalism and family values and supplement them with an economic agenda that is as bracing as it is pitiless.
And Quentin leaves the Tories
Mr Davies fits with neither group- his rather antique view of conservatism was more based in the era of Edward Heath than any later era. He wants similar things to the modernisers- but fears their modernising agenda and their anti-Europeanism, like the rockers he is a traditionalist but finds their market ideology repugnant- left isolated he left his party.
That at least is one account- but there is something more going on here and it reflects upon the other change at the top of the Tory party. For under David Cameron the Tories have become much more concerned with their image than ever before. Having absorbed defeat after defeat at the hands of Tony Blair they have turned to Blair's dark arts- policy announcements are made not to win arguments but so that the Tories look as if they are making policy. Activity can be used as a substitute for action. Mr Davies grew up in a more innocent era- and disdains those techniques.
For a moment let us turn across the aisle where something else has happened to the party that Mr Davies is about to join. Mr Blair the former Prime Minister (as of tommorrow) is rumoured pretty strongly to be about to resign as MP for Sedgefield. Mr Blair was never that interested as Prime Minister in Parliamentary procedure- nor after his rise to the top did he care much for Sedgefield. As Prime Minister he saw the big picture and attempted to map out a national and even at times global strategy in big print, which could inspire the media and voters and he felt bend the world to his view.
His successes are obvious- like Mr Cameron his style captured the mood of the country and he swept to victory in three stunning triumphs. Throughout the world his mixture of earnestness and idealism carried all before it- until of course Iraq- a moment where it collided with reality and whose consequences are too vast to be included in this brief article.
He though is to be replaced by a man who would love to be in the Commons until he dies. Mr Brown is a fierce man for the detail- Treasury civil servants I know have told me of the Chancellor's mastery of the details of his briefs and his copious ability to read everything in front of him. Whereas Mr Blair trusted to instinct, Mr Brown trusts to his papers. In a sense therefore Mr Blair leaving the Commons to an airy job as Middle East envoy possibly looks like exemplifying precisely the distinction between himself and his successor- no problem is too big for Mr Blair's visionary leaps, no problem too small for Mr Brown's detailed analysis.
If we come back to Mr Davies then who has left the Tories to join Labour- as a natural admirer of the plodding, being one of them himself, he has joined Labour just as a visionary has left and a details man taken over. He left the Tories he says mostly because of the style of Mr Cameron- and has joined Labour in my view just as the style of the New Labour party may become a little more traditional and too his liking- were it Mr Blair (Mr Cameron's twin) in charge, Mr Davies might be still on course for that knighthood.
In a way therefore Mr Davies's defection and Mr Blair's retirement from the Commons exemplify the ways that it seems the styles of both parties are changing in the run up to the next general election. The Labour Party has lost an instinctual populist to get the ultimate research student, the Tory Party has found an eager undergraduate student who can get reasonable results but finds details boring.
Mr Davies made his choice- I wonder what the country will think!