You couldn't make her up

The Conservative candidate in Glasgow East is perfect for Dave's new, inclusive party

With Boris's mayoral team having a rough ride, what better time for David Cameron to flee metropolitan London, hit the Glasgow by-election trail and tell a roomful of Scots to lay off the cakes?

There are a few unlikely Tories around now that things are on the up, but the Glasgow East Conservative candidate, Davena Rankin, is almost implausible. Glaswegian-born and bred, she describes herself as "half Scottish, half Caribbean". Mother to a five-year-old, she works at Glasgow Caledonian University and is a branch secretary for Unison.

She grew up in Drumchapel, a rough area known locally as "The Drum", and claims there was no bolt of lightning when she realised that she was a Conservative. (She should get herself an epiphany moment.) Asked about her political beliefs, she uses lots of boring words that young people put in job application forms, such as "facilitate", "develop" and "enterprise".

Old-school Tories will be relieved that Rankin has not been parachuted in because of her sex or colour. She has certainly handed over her pound of flesh to the party. She stood as a candidate for Glasgow Kelvin in the 2001 general election, which was a baptism of fire. "My very first hustings was with George Galloway on asylum," she says. "I was so nervous, a friend had to take me away for a cup of tea."

A ballsy girl, she has also shared a stage with the angry socialist Tommy Sheridan, who is so tough that he has fought two elections in prison. In 2003 she stood in the local government elections for the South Side of Glasgow, another exhausting, pavement-pounding, probably soulless process.

Selected only at the beginning of the month, Rankin is quite laid-back. When we spoke she was feeling very moved because a local florist had just sent her a huge bunch of flowers. Astonishingly, the Conservatives already had a candidate in place; but she decided she didn't have "the time or the energy" to fight this short by-election. Strange - what is it with this seat? The Labour Party has struggled to find a candidate to stand, and anyone it approaches loses the will to live. Do any of you guys want to be an MP or not?

On Cameron, Rankin is predictable: "Met him a few times, he is very nice, I like what he is doing with the party." No surprises there.

Accompanying Rankin and Cameron around the Gallowgate estate was Annabel Goldie, leader of the Scottish Con servatives. Slightly Hattie Jacques in her manner, Goldie is the sort of woman you want patrolling hospital wards. There would be no MRSA if she was in charge of the bleach. Goldie once told a close friend of mine a dirty joke at a wedding. A mild-mannered man, he got a hearty thump on the back as he choked on his cranachan.

Colleagues speak warmly of her, and are generous in crediting her leadership with the rebuilding of Tory recognition in Scotland. One of her aides says quietly: "She beavers away."

Rankin discusses with knowledge the problems of crime and drug abuse; she grew up with them. Glasgow East is no Henley. "The thing is, we all read and hear so many appalling statistics, it's easy to forget the human stories behind them," she says. "The mother who has lost a child, the total breakdown of families. The government's solution is not working. We have to ask, 'What do you need us to do to help you?'"

There is not a chance in hell that this gutsy candidate will win this by-election, which is a shame. But there is sure to be a safer seat coming up between now and whenever Gordon Brown decides an election date. Davena-with-an-E Rankin could be very helpful to David Cameron.

This article first appeared in the 14 July 2008 issue of the New Statesman, ‘I’ll leave when I finish the job’