David Davis is the future, according to The Sun, which reports on how the 68-year-old Brexit secretary’s supporters are lining him up as a Tory granddaddy Prime Minister while the younger generation gets itself into shape for No. 10. At first glance, the plot makes perfect sense. There is indeed, as one of the sources quoted in the article put it, the “smell of death” around a current Prime Minister whose conference speech forced the nation to collectively cringe in a way not seen since Fawlty Towers was on air.
But here’s the thing, there is plenty of excruciating detail – to borrow one of Davis’s own phrases – that shows is Davis is as or more responsible than Theresa May for the rot in Westminster.
Davis was of course once a principled Commons man, who resigned and forced a by-election to protest the Labour government’s erosion of civil liberties. He threw himself behind the Leave campaign before it was a fashionable cause, due to his concerns about an “ever closer union”.
Yet since Brexit, and his elevation to the newly-created post of Brexit secretary (who says Brexit doesn’t create jobs?) he has retreated behind the opacity of government. When he was grilled by the Foreign Affairs select committee in September 2016, after a summer of uncertainty, he refused to answer basic questions on the basis that it could affect negotiations. He repeatedly stalled on the issue of MPs voting on the Brexit deal, until Gina Miller forced the government to concede through the courts.
Then there were the Brexit impact assessments, which Davis now says don’t exist and, by the way, he doesn’t find economic modelling very useful anyway. Yet Davis and his departmental ministers had previously boasted of carrying out 57 “sectoral analyses” which amounted to “analysis of over 50 sectors of the economy”. Asked directly about whether May had seen impact assessments, Davis replied: “She won’t necessarily have read every single one, they are in excruciating detail.”
Davis’s overconfidence on Brexit is mirrored in his judgement of the UK. He is believed to have been the one who talked May into calling an early election, a disastrous decision, at least for May. If he is not the main Brexit hate figure for Remainers, it is only thanks to the presence of Boris Johnson, the man whose blunders may leave a British woman languishing in an Iranian jail, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, who seems to want to turn the clock not back to 1973 but 1773.
There is a final reason why Davis would be distasteful to at least one section of the population. Although never implicated himself in the Pestminster scandal that has groped its way through the corridors of power, he upset Tory women as far back as 2005 (yup, even then some women didn’t find sexism funny) with his campaign slogan, emblazoned on well-endowed women, “It’s DD for me.”
According to the Evening Standard (editor: one George Osborne), Davis hasn’t quite lost his principled stance, in that he is willing to resign on a matter of conscience. It’s just that the matter was whether or not Damian Green, a man who has become embroiled in the Pestminster affair, should be fired (Green denies all allegations) – and not, say, over misleading Parliament over what the UK economy will look like after Brexit.
Theresa May’s problems are to a large of extent of her own making, but she was not the one who argued for taking the UK back to the 1970s without a plan of how to implement it. Nor was she responsible for the impression the government is run by men who still think it IS the 1970s as far as women are concerned. Younger Tory MPs don’t need 20-20 vision to spot there’s a problem with the leadership of their party. Their peers in the country at large have defected to the Labour party in droves. Even among Conservative voters, his net approval score is just 13, according to YouGov. A Davis premiership may not last long enough to nurture the Tory wonderchild needed to revive the party’s spirit. This D Day might not work out as planned.