David Davis must step forward

David Davis has an opporutnity to transform the fortunes of the Conservative Party and deliver the Brexit that the British people voted for, his time is now

by Patrick Sullivan, Political Editor on 27 October 2018 15:33

I was working as the Research Director for a Republican Congressional Campaign in 2012. I could not have worked for a better campaign. Not only did I greatly admire the candidate and make life long friends but I also had a front seat with which to watch American Politics, as it happened. The congressional district included such liberal holidaying hot spots as Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod and also the Kennedy's compound in Hyannis Port.

As Joe Kennedy III was embarking on his first successful bid for Congress in a neighbouring district, the Kennedy clan was out in full force and I was able to amuse myself playing a game of “I, Spy, A Kennedy!” In addition to working for the campaign I was also liaising with officials from the State Republican Party, which was working all out to keep the U.S. Senate seat Scott Brown had won in an upset victory two years earlier, and the Romney Presidential Campaign which was based nearby in Boston.

The eventual results came as something as a shock to the Romney campaign, in a large part due to the fact that we were all getting our news from a conservative media echo chamber, much as Democrats today are getting all their news from a liberal media echo chamber. Dick Morris, former Bill Clinton pollster turned anti-Clinton media pundit, told Bill O'Reilly, who had the highest rated program in cable news, that his viewers could expect a Romney landslide and not believe the New York Times opinion polls because their methodology was all wrong. He had made the same prediction in an article for the popular Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill . Mr. Morris was let go by the network soon after the election.

The audience would have trusted Morris as someone who knew what he was talking about and I know many in the Romney campaign did. This was the pollster who had rescued Clinton's Presidency after the Democrats disastrous showing in the 1994 U.S. mid-term elections and was the chief architect behind his 1996 re-election campaign. Reinforcing Morris's predictions was so-called Bush's Brain, Karl Rove who even managed to try and deny the results on Fox News, as they were coming in, and restoring credibility to the network was actually taken to task live on air by host Megyn Kelly, in a move which made her now broken career.

Mr. Morris was let go by the network soon after the election but Mr. Rove kept his lucrative commentator gig but was left chastened by the experience. At a time when algorithms are reinforcing our biases when searching for news and facts on the internet, it is important to be aware of what is happening outside your comfort zone.

Failure to prepare, is preparing to fail. In order to understand what is going on, so that you can develop you strategy accordingly, it is important to be aware of political and social movements and trends across the whole spectrum. In his recent book,Microtrends Squared, another former Bill Clinton pollster Mark Penn had this explanation for the bold and mostly unexpected changes that have altered the body politic in the West, in recent years: “Often two diametrically opposed trends are occurring at the same time.... Today in politics, for example there is no overall ideological shift: instead one group of moderates become more conservative and another group become more liberal, causing society to become both more liberal and more conservative at the same time, cancelling each other out.

This increased polarisation then produces even more gridlock and confusion. We can see similar rugs and pulls throughout society ... Some live in a world of globalisation, while others yearn for a return to a greater nationalism. To explain this we have borrowed from Newtonian physics; for every trend there is a counter trend. It is human nature in the Information Age: every move or desire in one direction seems to inspire a counter movement by another group in the opposite direction.”

I tend in large part to agree with Mr. Penn as he offers a realistic, data driven interpretation for the changes in our politics that have stunned the punditocracy and chattering classes, as the impossible kept becoming reality; first with Corbyn's election as Labour leader, second with the Brexit vote in the UK, third with Trump defying the odds and winning the Presidency and finally, with Theresa May's predicted election landslide becoming a historic election landslip as she threw away her Commons majority.

That is of course, looking only at Britain and America, I could go on for pages if I were to list every impossible thing that has now happened across the world in the past three years. In the early evening of Tuesday 4th November, when the experts had predicted Hillary had the Presidency in the bag and I was interviewed by Talk Radio and said correctly that all might not be as it seemed: “I think this could be another Brexit situation. What we don't know is; are the hidden Trump voters actually there?

States like Pennsylvania and Michigan, with heavy white working class populations are now in play, so we are going to see what happens. People who haven't voted before might very well turn out and vote this time. “ Just as the famous beer ads for Heineken used to go “Heineken. Refreshes the parts other beers can't reach.”; both Trump and Obama proved with their campaigns adapt at mobilising sections of the electorate other candidates couldn't reach. In the 2017 General Election campaign, Jeremy Corbyn attempted to do the same thing; by reaching out to previously agnostic voters and bringing them inside his coalition.

Most Conservatives had viewed the electorate as static, paying little attention to activating potential untapped supporters of their own amongst those eligible to vote. It was not that the Conservatives did not actually improve upon their vote tally from 2015 election, in many of the most marginal seats; it was simply that Labour was able to improve on it's vote tally even more with these new voters. Given that these pundits and self-proclaimed wise men were wrong, it is amazing that anyone keeps listening to them. In essence, when we are trying to find out what the hell is going on some of the facts on the ground are going to make for reassuring reading to conservatives and Brexiteers but others are going to going to require uncomfortable studying, as they provide reassurance to liberals and Remainers. Additionally we find microtrends showing younger voters are becoming increasingly culturally conservative, take a look at their increasingly dismissive attitudes towards alcohol, for instance. Other microtrends show this group of voters open to the arguments for socialism. Also we find that much of the data we look at shows us two contradictory things at the same time.

I have tried to use microtrends when doing my own professional political analysis; for instance, when on London Live News following the local election results in May, I made a point of pointing out the lessons for the Conservative Party were bi-polar: “This was a tale of two elections; The election in London, where the Conservatives didn't do as well as they would have liked, they lost ground, where there was a Brexit backlash, where we have have seen the Liberal Democrats gain because of Brexit, where a very sort of David Cameron-style, George Osborne style message would go down very well compared to what was going on in the rest of the country where they were able to gain councils like Basildon and Peterborough because of UKIP voters coming back.” I stand by most of that analysis. In London you had seen a Brexit Backlash, as metropolitan Tory voters didn't turn out, feeling little enthusiasm for the Party of Brexit. Outside of London, there was a Brexit Bounce where many former UKIP voters came home to the Conservatives, because before Chequers they saw them delivering on Brexit.

My self-confident hearty laugh after saying “Well I think Brexit's happening” goes to show that I am just as susceptible to over-confident predictions, as the chattering classes, I so enjoy gently poking. I should have remembered the lesson of the 1966 World Cup important both for those reporting on sport or political gamesmanship. In the BBC's coverage of the game, far more entertaining than Brexit negotiations could ever be, Kenneth Wolstenholme had a fabulous turn of phrase, which has made it into our national fokelore. As fans started to spill onto the pitch in the very final moments of the game he declared “They think it's all over.” and and as Geoff Hurst, with mere seconds left to go in the the game, scored a fourth and final goal for England “It is now.” The Prime Minister is presently trying to play for extra time, just as I suspected would have to, almost exactly a year ago, on France 24 Debate: “The problem is, is that when David Cameron called the referendum: he thought that Britain was going to vote to Remain and he told the Civil Service not to prepare. So Theresa May is suddenly in this position where she has inherited Brexit, which was voted for not only by Conservatives but also by a lot of people who are Labour supporters, and suddenly, there is no blueprint and so she has got to make it up on the fly, as she's going along and something as complicated as Brexit can't be made up on the fly. I think that the deadline we've got of, of the sort of,end of 2019 is just ridiculous because you are just not going to get a deal by that time. It's just too complicated. PRESENTER (Francois Picard): “Will it be rolled back” “I think it has to be rolled back or there would have to be transitional arrangements made. Yes, absolutely” Regardless of whether or not the Prime Minister is able to push the Brexit negotiations into extra time, it is safe to say, that we're in the Endgame now. Whichever side is to win the public debate, or the parliamentary manoeuvring, is likely to be the side that most understands that modern politics takes place on many dimensions. Just as the TV series Game of Thrones has required its audience follow multiple plot lines over the past 7 seasons, in order to reach the payoff of its upcoming eighth and final season, so to must we follow multiple plot threads to understand how the Game of Brexit is to reach its conclusion. We must also appreciate that some of these threads will appear to be moving in completely different directions if we are to disentangle the complicated web woven by Brexit in British Politics. In my reporting for this newspaper I will endeavour to provide you the reader with a full spectral picture of the pieces on the board and their movements, as well as the undercurrents, of change beneath the surface also affecting their direction of travel. In order to do this properly, it is important that my reporting not be consigned to one lane and that we look at the whole picture and investigate all possible outcomes; to do otherwise would be to do you a grave disservice. Hopefully, I too can draw together all the relevant facts to paint a wholistic picture and save you the time of having to trawl through various news outlets across the spectrum. In a world governed by microtrends whilst the facts of what have happened are written in stone, there is not a single “correct” interpretation of the lessons we should derive from from those facts. Also until events have run their course, and as things remain fluid and in motion, there is no “correct” answer as to what is going to happen. The best this newspaper can do is provide you with all the arguments and all the potential outcomes and when reporting, allow you the reader to decide upon which you think have the most validity. This is an approach familiar to the one used by the think tank I founded Parliament Street. We do not seek to promote one “correct” answer to the policy problems of today and within the organisation's mission statement we make clear that; “We don't have a corporate view, except when we do.” The last part gives us the wriggle room necessary to run campaigns on important issues where consensus can be found, and which transcend party politics, such as, mental health and homelessness. Parliament Street is intended to be a platform for the generation and discussion of ideas. We find that the best ideas are developed in an environment where they can be rigorously challenged. It has been good to learn that even in the cut and thrust of the modern political climate; it is possible to disagree, without being disagreeable. The day-to-day management of the organisation is shared between myself, who has publicly been for leaving the EU since 2002 and who coordinated the Trump Arms celebrations for the President's recent UK visit, which the President himself called “Wonderful” and Clare Ambrosino, an ardent Remainer who had Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan campaign for her when she recently stood for local council in Hammersmith. Clare also organised a Women of Influence conference which just happened to coincide with the Women's March protesting President Trump's inauguration. We agree on very little but work well together mostly because Clare doesn't take me all too seriously and has perfected the “what has he done/said now” roll of eyes. We also have separate policy groups within the think tank to allow for party political discussion. Elizabeth Anderson, an environmentalist Conservative with whom I disagree on Fracking and Plastic Straws runs our Tory Democracy policy group and co-edited our 2017 book, True Blue. We also have a Labour policy group, Labour Now run by Dom Sayer with whom I disagree on almost everything except pub banter. This ethos came about before I had ever heard of microtrends and really through a process akin to osmosis; over the course of over 15 years as a background extra in British Politics. I was particularly influenced through my encounters with David Davis (DD), although I doubt he will know who I am. I remember being struck by the ease with which DD was able to engage in friendly banter with ideological opponents. DD seemed to be omnipresent in the early-2000s. I would often seeing him chatting happily away to the likes of Tony Benn during the times I saw him at many of the numerous book launches held after hours, at the fondly remembered, Politicos bookshop on Artillery Row. As a rather precocious schoolboy, with a real love for politics, I felt like I had stumbled upon Aladdin's cave when I found the shop when taking a scenic route home in sixth form. Looking at the second books in the back of shop, and they had some real treasurers, I found myself so total enraptured with some real archival stuff, such as an original 1947 edition of Quintin Hogg's The Case for Conservatism, that it took someone at the front of shop introducing the Hungarian Ambassador for me to realise that I had accidentally crashed the launch of a book report by The Federal Trust, European Futures: Alternative Futures for 2020. I was slightly bemused to have ended up at this event given, to the irritation of my school Economics department, I was already committed to the principle of leaving the EU. This was not the right time for me to get on my soap box so I instead took advantage of a great opportunity to learn and actually see the process of politics in person. I learnt that the shop held book launches roughly once a week, and so for the next two years made sure to regularly attend. Often these events would be a Who's Who? of Westminster and I was certainly the only schoolboy there. I am still very grateful to Iain Dale and the rest of the Politicos team for the indulgence of my interest in politics. David Davis was a regular at Politicos events, which is unsurprising given that the pioneering proprietor of Politicos Iain Dale is a friend of his, and even served as his Chief of Staff in 2005. I would bump into DD quite a bit early in that decade, once when coming home from University in Nottingham I literally walked into DD and the Conservative leader Michael Howard at Kings' Cross and I saw him at more events than I can think to imagine during his 2005 bid for the Tory leadership, where he told the same Oppenheimer diamond joke at every damn function. On each of these occasions I wondered whether I should go up to him with my confession, that I had stolen his book. In 2002 Edwina Currie published her diaries which wouldn't have made that much of a splash except for the fact she revealed she had had an affair with former PM John Major in the 1980s. The image of the two sharing a bathtub amused most of Westminster and with Major, now a former Prime Minister, it was regarded more as a punchline, than a scandal. At around the same time Bob Marshall- Andrews QC MP realised a book of his own, but more safely than Edwina's book, a work of fiction, the novel A Man Without Guilt. Mr. Marshall-Andrews, who has since joined the Liberal Democrats and no longer sits in Parliament, was on the left of the Labour Party but found common cause with David Davison the issue of civil liberties. Unsurprisingly, DD was at this book launch and I was stood next to him at the shop counter at one point in the evening. I had gone on something of a shopping spree at Politicos that evening buying around 5 green plastic bags worth of books. Absent mindedly I picked up 6 plastic bags when I went to leave the store and only when I arrived home to find one of the bags containing a book with an inscription in it beginning Dear David, did I realise I had stolen David Davis' book. I was horrified, not amused, at aged 16 I had managed to steal something belonging to a shadow secretary of state and that was not good. The next evening, well after the store had closed I post the book in the green plastic bag which I had mistakenly taken through the Politicos letterbox with a post-it note I had found rather surreal to right – Hi – I think this book belongs to David Davis. I learnt from DD the importance of being able to work across the aisle and that it was possible to do so without wavering on your principles. I also learnt to be more careful when picking up bags In an age of microtrends, we need a leader who can have strong principles, yet at the same time reach out and find allies in unexpected places. A leader who knows that it is Who Dares Wins but also to keep is eyes open to any potential threats, someone with an SAS background who understands politics is a game of multidimensional brinkmanship. I wonder if the inscription Bob Marshall-Andrews wrote in that book might just have been prophetic; Dear David, I hope one day you can lead the country “Back to Basics” (without guilt) Best Bob Maybe, that DD day will soon be upon us.

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