As published in the Hull Daily Mail:
In the second part of her interview, the Mail’s Parliamentary Correspondent Soraya Kishtwari chats to Haltemprice and Howden MP David Davis about Ed Miliband’s prospects at the general election, being a “northerner” and what the future holds for Britain.
Labour leader Ed Miliband may have a perceived image problem, but Tories who dismiss him do so at their own peril, says David Davis.
The Haltemprice and Howden MP may seem like an unlikely cheerleader for the man who, at the end of July, admitted he was “not from central casting”.
But according to Mr Davis, the political classes are wrong to compare Mr Miliband with Prime Minister David Cameron.
“The media don’t like him and that translates into people picking up the same attitude. But I’m not as disparaging about Miliband as some,” he says.
“The way to think of this is not to compare him with Cameron; Cameron clearly fills the job well – he sounds like a Prime Minister, he looks like a Prime Minister. He’s an asset.
“The comparison I make is not with Cameron, but with (former Labour leader Gordon) Brown. Who is a better leader for the Labour Party, Miliband or Brown?
“I think Miliband is better than Brown, so we should be a bit wary of just relying on Miliband simply not being good enough.”
And then, perhaps, the most surprising comparison still: “I’m old enough to remember that when Margaret Thatcher was leader of the opposition she wasn’t very well regarded either – not at all,” says 65-year-old Mr Davis.
He was speaking shortly before Mr Miliband tried to deal head-on with ongoing comments about his appearance and manner.
In a speech kicking off his party’s summer strategy, Mr Miliband said that he was “not going to be able to compete” with Mr Cameron on style, while simultaneously taking a side- swipe at his opponent for lacking substance.
He told an audience in London: “David Cameron is a very sophisticated and successful exponent of a politics based purely on image.
“I am not going to be able to compete with that and I don’t intend to. I want to offer something different. “I am not from central casting. You can find people who are more square-jawed, more chiseled – look less like Wallace. “You could probably even find people who look better eating a bacon sandwich. “If you want the politician from central casting, it’s just not me, it’s the other guy.”
Mr Miliband was recently at the centre of a number of PR gaffes, which saw him holding up a copy of The Sun – after Labour MPs criticised the paper for its reporting of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster – and struggling to eat a bacon sandwich. The Labour leader is also often caricatured as Wallace from the Wallace and Gromit animations.
Despite the blunders and claims that he comes across as “weird”, Mr Davis thinks there is every possibility that voters will look past Mr Miliband’s image once election day arrives.
In the meantime, the Tories have their own image problem to contend with and one that is particularly acute in the North.
The North-South divide rumbles on, with Tories bracing themselves for the potential political fallout of policies like the controversial bedroom tax.
If the economy continues with its upwards trajectory, York-born Mr Davis believes the Conservative case will be made, although a few concerns remain.
“The economy is getting better and it does appear to be percolating up to the North,” he says. “If you had asked me six months ago, I would have been a bit disparaging about the nature of the recovery: it’s very credit card-based and it also tended to be very southern, very London- oriented. But that’s ceasing to be true, so if it keeps going and percolating outwards then that will help our cause in the North.”
Mr Davis, incidentally, describes himself as a “northerner” first and foremost, but also a Yorkshire man.
“It’s a mindset thing, not an accent thing,” he says. “I’m not a professional Yorkshireman, though. I just think of myself as one, that’s my home.”
With a majority of 11,600 (23.8 per cent) and 30 years representing his constituency, Mr Davis has little to worry about personally – not even UKIP seem able to cause him any sleepless nights.
While it is hard to imagine him losing sleep over anything, he does worry on behalf of his children and grandchildren.
With four grandchildren aged between nine months and 12 years, he describes himself as a “doting grandad – I spoil them”.
Were it not for his wife, Doreen, whom he met at Warwick University, the workaholic politician admits he would not go on holiday of his own accord. This year, it’s a short climbing break in the Lake District with his daughters’ children.
Asked if he worries about what the future holds for them, he says: “Yes, of course.”
His son Alexander is in his late twenties.
“He’s determined to find his own way, without any help from me,” says Mr Davis, beaming with pride.
But the smile soon fades.
“That generation really have a hard time.
“When I was his age things were so much easier; you completed your degree, you found yourself an apprenticeship of some kind and in many cases you came out of that with a permanent job offer.
“The same opportunities just aren’t available nowadays.”
Mr Davis, who has grave doubts over Europe, believes exit from the EU could be beneficial for Britain’s youngsters.
“One of the reasons why I’m transited towards the Brexit line is, if we get it right – and that’s not a certainty – there will be more opportunities for our youngsters.”
It’s partly for his EU convictions that many observers have suggested he would prove an effective opponent for Nigel Farage, if only he was offered a return to front-bench politics. Others have gone as far as to suggest they could even work well together, but that’s something Mr Davis rules out.
“It’s not going to happen,” he says.
“I was elected a Tory and I’ll die a Tory.”