Westminster v. the World
David Davis announced his little coup de grace on Thursday, and by Sunday the press were performing an almost complete U-turn. The media reaction on Friday - doubtless fuelled by some hefty insider briefing - as almost unremittingly hostile. Davis' main supporter was Simon Heffer in the Telegraph, and he long ago ceased to be a serious commentator. The main message was that this man is a loony, a maverick, completely unpredictable and that this by-election thing was a vanity stunt. Then, by Sunday, polls started to suggest that actually Davis' stand was garnering quite a lot of public support, and media reaction started to change. Most hilariously of all, Rupert Murdoch, the Australian born US citizen who likes to have a say in UK affairs, was backing away from the Kelvin MacKenzie candidacy as fast as his aged legs could carry him.
So what, if any, are our conclusions here? First, the Davis action has certainly divided people, and not along party lines. Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews, for instance, has said he will go and campaign for Davis (although Marshall-Andrews is well known as one of Labour's independent tendency). Second, and much more interestingly, the affair has shown up a genuine Westminster/public divide. It is the Westminster insiders who can't quite fathom what Davis is up to, and the public who admire his apparent spirit and principle. This sheds a revealing picture on the public view of poor, cocooned Westminster. Without wishing to suggest that Davis is in any way a modern hero (see previous post), there is no doubt that so appalling is the image of the modern MP, driven in part by their monumental mediocrity and absolute unwillingness to mark out anything like an independent line when representing their constituents, that a gimic like Davis' immediately appeals to the public mind as something refreshingly new. If nothing else, this should be a wake-up call to all those time-serving backbenchers to start doing the job for which they were elected - to represent the public interest and make life difficult for established power in both parties.
Third, the ludicrous Kelvin MacKenzie intervention has shown just how much the Westminster media is in bed with the political class (a point emphasised repeatedly by Peter Oborne in 'The Triumph of the Political Class'). MacKenzie may have once invented himself as a man of the people, but he is no better at perceiving the public view than anyone else - ridiculing Davis on Friday, he found himself being ridiculed, and significantly out of step with public opinion, by Sunday.
This entertaining little Whitehall farce could throw up more vignettes and surprises yet. Meanwhile, of the acres of print dedicated to analysing this over the weekend, Andrew Rawnsley's Observer piece here is the one that I think is most balanced and perceptive.