David Davis invokes the spirit of Margaret Thatcher as he sends a stirring message to the Tory faithful that the party CAN beat Labour as voters prepare to go to the polls this year
As published in the Daily Mail
In a stirring New Year message sent to every Tory MP last night, former Brexit Secretary Sir David Davis spelt out how the Conservatives can still win the next general election and urged his colleagues not to give up hope.
Despite a Labour poll lead of 20 per cent, the Tory grandee says the party can prevail by invoking the spirit of Margaret Thatcher, with the Iron Lady winning the 1987 election by a landslide despite appearing down and out the previous year.
The appeal for unity in the letter is primarily aimed at the 38 MPs who abstained in last month’s vote on the revised Rwanda migrant scheme. They include members of the European Research Group, who had their moment in the sun in the Brexit civil war that engulfed the Tories under Theresa May.
Sir David says many of the MPs are ‘fatalistic’, already convinced the next election is lost. ‘They seem to think that electoral wipeout is already set in stone. My experience – some 36 years in the House – suggests that they could not be more wrong,’ he writes.
His intervention will hearten Downing Street, as the independent-minded former minister could never be described as a cheerleader for Rishi Sunak. ‘He’s too much his own man,’ said one ministerial source.
The letter points to 1986, when Mrs Thatcher became the first prime minister with a large majority to lose legislation at the first hurdle – over Sunday trading.
In the same year, Michael Heseltine quit as defence secretary in the row over the future of the Westland helicopter company.
At one point Mrs Thatcher felt so vulnerable she told a lunchtime meeting of Tory MPs she might be out of No 10 by the end of the day.Her poll ratings slumped further after allowing America to use British air bases to bomb Libya after an attack on a German nightclub used by US servicemen.
The result of this chaos? ‘Within a year, we won the next general election with a landslide majority of over 100. A key element of this was that Michael Heseltine, despite wanting to be prime minister, did not start a Tory civil war. Instead, we all played as a team – and won,’ writes Sir David.
In 1991 it was even more bleak, and Labour had enjoyed a lead of 28 per cent over the Tories, who had been in power for 12 years.
But prime minister John Major rallied the Tories, dispelling the idea his government was running out of steam, and secured victory.
Sir David says: ‘We went into the election with everybody expecting us to lose, including ourselves.’
Now many Tory MPs are asking whether they are facing the 1992 or the 1997 election, which Tony Blair won with a majority of 179. ‘My answer is that it depends on them. In 1992, the Conservative Party fought as a team, where the only opponent was the Opposition. In 1997, the Tories fought each other,’ Sir David says.
If the Rwanda plan becomes law, he adds, and hundreds of migrants are sent to Africa, it would be a game changer. Predicting other European countries would copy the plan, he says: ‘All of a sudden this goes from a problematic policy to a Europe-leading one.’
A tax-cutting Budget in March would also put the Tories on course for victory in the London mayoral election in May, he says.
Current London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s extension of the ultra-low emission zone, a tax on older polluting cars, has provoked anger. Sir David says there’s no enthusiasm either for Sir Keir Starmer, ‘so we just need to give the electorate a reason to support us’. He concludes: ‘Rwanda can be accelerated by party discipline; the Budget can be made truly Conservative by a low-tax strategy from the Treasury; and the result in London will require a professional party operation.
‘All of those are in our grasp, and so is another Conservative victory at the next general election.’