A tale of two Davids

Cameron is wasting no time. But what can the former shadow home secretary do with his?

In Westminster there may be a feeling of winding down, but with all the doom-laden talk of a credit crunch, David Cameron is wasting no time, and is busy making speeches to the business community ahead of the summer break. The strategy is to get all this out before the financiers go off, worrying about their bonuses, for their family holidays, and the two leaders go off to embrace Britain. (This bothers neither of them; unlike the Blairs, Cameron and Gordon Brown are more than happy with British shores.) While Brown lectures on leftover porridge and powdered egg, Cameron is determined to be heard talking about business and the economy.

Lots of older Tory MPs are impressed by George Osborne, who has managed to be everywhere over the past fortnight - he is growing on the doubters who worried about his age. With an election now less than two years away, ill-feeling of suspicion or of old-fashioned jealousy about Cameron has been put aside. "David is one of us," says a shadow cabinet minister, "but he's also not - he knows that his job is to evaluate us. There has to be a bit of distance, as one day he will pick the final team." Even if many MPs don't get the full strategy, they get that they need him.

The week marked the return of the people's poli tician, the prince of noble endeavours - David Michael Davis. But what to do with him now that he has returned triumphant?

"With DD now there's a distinct feeling that it's like having a small child," says one MP affectionately. "You need to keep him amused, otherwise he'll start prodding the other kids or wee in the sandpit."

One of the earlier ideas that someone came up with was that he could chair a commission on social mobility. What everyone had forgotten is that Davis set up just such a committee last year and is already chairing it. This is what happens when you are predominantly known for your machismo - people forget you do other stuff, too.

Another suggestion was that he could be put in charge of a review to consider all the powers the state has the authority to interfere in. "It would be of little consequence. In opposition, titles rarely matter - they exist for vanity," says a shadow minister. "If he discovers a truly shocking case, it's not as if he can resign again. But he does need something."

A friend thinks that Davis has manoeuvred himself into a tricky situation. "He claims he doesn't want to be a single- issue campaigner, after what's happened to Ken." The reference is to Kenneth Clarke, but also to John Redwood and to some extent Iain Duncan Smith - respected people who sit on the Tory back benches, who say something on their specialist subject once every few months, but have become comment fodder rather than executive material.

Davis had a welcome-back party at the Quirinale restaurant, a Westminster favourite named after Rome's presidential palace. A good choice for this Cassius-like Shakespearean character.

Labour's last hope is that the Tories have no clear thinking or policies. This week Oliver Letwin writes in the New Statesman, claiming that the Conservative Party is the champion of the poor. According to a strategist who agrees with Letwin: "The Tories need to be seen as having solutions to poverty. The challenge is for Cameron to say this without being redistributive. For the able-bodied, welfare should be a casualty clearing station, not a way of life."

People are saying that the Tories are doing well, but what do they stand for? Last summer there was a huge amount of policy work carried out, yet the party suffered under the illusion that everyone was listening to speeches at think-tank events or spring conferences. "We made a few mistakes with timing," admits one senior Tory, "launching interesting policy on a big international news day, or when a Spice Girl got married . . ."

In future, people will say: what Spice Girl? What wedding? Whereas Tory policy . . .

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Tyranny and tourism