Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Smoke and mirrors hide Basher's desperation


Two days ago, I wrote off David "Basher" Davis's chances of becoming the next Tory leader. Now, a Populus poll for the Times (more on Populus in another post) puts Davis ahead by 13 percentage points over David "Charlie" Cameron. Crikey! Is the race to be Tory leader now wide open again?

Not quite. With my background in market research, I've learned not to trust opinion polls. Let's look at the sample first. It's a decent size: 1,512 - enough to draw inferential conclusions. But wait a minute - the poll is of Tory supporters, not Tory members. What's more, even among these people, Charlie is seen as the most likely candidate to win an election, unite the party and get in touch with ordinary voters.

What this boils down to is that Basher is the candidate most Tories would like to be leader, if electoral fortunes were not at stake. But Charlie is the one they know they have to have, just for to give them the opportunity to be back in power (I bet that in 1994 a lot of Labour members would rather have seen Prescott win the leadership than Blair, but backed Blair because they were so desperate for another victory. Think they're sorry now? I was one of them and, Jesus, am I sorry...).

Where did this poll come from? Was it Davis's camp, desperately trying to show the man's appeal, even with the aid of the sleight-of-hand technique of asking the voters, rather than the real voters (if you follow me)? Was it even Cameron's camp, trying to avoid the charge that this is just another Tory coronation? Or was it just something thought up by the Times, which has been subtly backing Basher all the way through?

In any case, a lot of Tory members - being the industrious, committed, efficient people that they are - will already have put their ballot papers in the post, with a big X next to Charlie's name. Even so, this poll adds some weight to the charge that his support is based largely on expediency rather than passion. Bet he's wishing he'd waited another couple of weeks before proposing the downgrading of ecstasy.

[POSTSCRIPT: Guido has some faintly interesting stuff about which Tory think-tanks are backing which candidate.]


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