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David Davis should be in Cabinet – or at least in government

17 March 2014

10:21 AM

17 March 2014

10:21 AM

Class never quite goes away as an issue for the Tories, for the simple and sufficient reason that it matters. Lately it was Michael Gove stating the obvious, that the Prime Minister mixes mostly with people with backgrounds like his own…a perfectly human impulse, but not a good look, the Old Etonian coterie. Now David Davis has observed (on the radio) over the weekend, as John Major did last year, that it’s much harder than it was when he was growing up for a working class boy to get ahead in the world. Mr Davis is a product of a Tooting grammar school, a route that’s now closed, but it wasn’t just grammars that he was talking about, but social mobility generally.

It’s not the first time he’s given the government the benefit of his views on class. Last year, similarly, he observed after the local elections:

‘The fact is that if we want to win the next election, we have to break this impression of being privileged and out of touch. The British public are neither snobs nor inverted snobs, but they do expect the government to understand their problems and do something about it.

‘That means more straight talking and fewer focus groups: more conventional Tory policies, not because they are Tory, but because they work: less pandering to metropolitan interest groups: and please, please, no more Old Etonian advisers.’


Well, fair enough.

You know, I’ve never quite understood why David Davis’s quixotic and romantic gesture, in resigning his Haltemprice and Howden seat in 2008 in protest at the threats to civil liberties, should have disqualified him for the next six years from the Tory front bench. But whenever I’ve raised the possibility that Mr Davis should return to the party’s front line with anyone close to ministers, I’ve been told, with a touch of impatience, that he’s yesterday’s man.

But I’m not sure that Mr Cameron is so richly blessed with working class talent around him that he can afford to ignore Mr Davis. The PM visits council estates; he didn’t grow up on one as David Davis did. That’s hardly a fault, but it would be culpable if he didn’t try to compensate by including in his cabinet rather more people who know what it was like to struggle to make ends meet; I’m not sure that Patrick McLoughlin is enough to go round. And while it’s true that both William Hague and Michael Gove didn’t go to Eton or St Paul’s, David Davis is still the nearest the Tories get to Alan Johnson, which is, I may say, a good thing.

Background matters. One reason why John Major was so emphatic in government about the importance of containing inflation was that he knew from his own family background how terrifying rising prices are to people on a limited income.
Mr Cameron always sounds as though he’s making an effort of imagination to conjure up what people of normal means might think and feel. David Davis would usefully help rebalance the Cabinet. He’d be an excellent immigration minister, if the job weren’t too lowly. And if he, like James Brokenshire, (the new, rather admirable incumbent) were to have a go at the metropolitan elite, it wouldn’t sound quite as much as if he were criticising his own.

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Show comments
  • Sean L

    Isn’t Eton one of the best schools? Is it not reasonable to expect the best schools to produce the best people? It ought to be a good thing therefore that its alumni are represented in government. Otherwise it would signal that the best were shunning public service. But the real issue is with the very idea of excellence or “the best”. At least in political discourse. In every other sphere of existence, business, sport, technology, art, it goes unquestioned. It would be considered perverse to settle for less than the best. Yet in public life this entirely normal system of valuing is inverted, the standard being set by the lowest rather than the hiighest.

    • Kitty MLB

      You have very perceptively hit the nail on the head.
      We now live in a country that is suffering from the consequences of
      13 years of labour. The diminishment of the intellectual level of
      education , aspiration and freedom.
      As you say in normal life, you would aim for the best, especially when
      you employ someone to serve you, and yet for those who have the very
      important job of governing our country, some people perversely want far less
      as long as the politician seems like us.

  • In2minds

    Davis is excellent and not in the cabinet because he’s honest.

  • swatnan

    Agree. DD could do a jobshare with Theresa May, and help her out a bit when shes gets stuck. True, he’s not an intellectual, but he’s straightforward and honest about things.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Would you remind me of the intellectuals on the front benches. I seem to have had a senior moment about this.

  • mikewaller

    David Davis is not in the cabinet because whenever he is offered the possibility of power, an internal demon somehow blows it. My guess is that his willingness to eulogise that other great principled poseur, Weggie-Benn, was routed in this personal defect. Like Benn on his occasional good days, he can cut through to the fundamentals; but he lacks the staying power for a high-powered ministerial job.

    • Makroon

      The best profile of Benn that I’ve read in the past week, was (highly surprisingly) that written by Adam Boulton in yesterday’s Sunday Times.

  • MirthaTidville

    Davis isnt in, and wont be, because he is regarded as somewhat unhinged…Would you want him in yours??????

    • Ed_Burroughs


    • Kitty MLB

      Most certainly yes.

  • sfin

    It has nothing to do with class.

    The reason why David Davies isn’t in the cabinet (and one can say the same for another big political thinker – John Redwood) is that he is a conservative politician – not a social democratic one.

    David ‘heir to Blair’ Cameron has sought, all along, to mould a social democratic government, like his hero, Blair. The fact that Davies and Redwood are in the wilderness, and yet Cameron found room for that buffoon, Kenneth Clarke, tells you all you need to know about the political mindset of the party which still calls itself ‘conservative’.

    The result, of course, has been a haemorrhaging of party membership and the total loss of support from, at least, this voter.

  • Kitty MLB

    Eton is being demolished again I see, its so easy to pander to the lowest
    common denominator and a little bit of class envy, get the caterwauling seals flapping their hands ! some of our best leaders
    came from Eton- I assume one would prefer those who run their country to be well
    educated. Politicians have never been like us, I blame Tony Blair for wanting to be everyone’s friend, to be just like you and ‘ feel your pain’ and were Labour ‘ in touch’
    with the working classes when they wrecked this country knowing everything they
    purposely did would have a detrimental affect on their own voter more that anyone else.
    These are the same shoeless souls who ‘ slummed it’
    at that Leftie paradise Oxford ( Cambridge is so much better at boat races and more Conservative ) There is nothing wrong with the much maligned private
    school and I also fully support our excellent grammar schools its could choice.
    Also there is far more of an issue with the fact that excellent Conservative MP’s
    are being wasted on the back benches to make room for the Ed Davey
    then them not being ‘ working class’ it should be about suitability and not
    pandering to the PC obsessives.
    I do agree though, we need more like the charming David Davis and the very
    handsome and capable John Redwood on the front benches- I am surprised to read
    that he’s 62 years of age- still a fine figure of a man and with all his hair !

    • willshome

      “Some of our best leaders came from Eton.” When it has produced 19 out of 54 Prime Ministers one would certainly hope so. The point is it should not have produced 19 out of 54 Prime Ministers. Ironically, if the grammar schools had not been scrapped, the stranglehold of the public schoolboys on all three parties would be a thing of the past by now.

      • Makroon

        It is not much to do with how many PMs went to Eton.
        It’s about why Cameron insists on surrounding himself with a clutch of dim and talentless old Etonians.
        Why is he so desperately insecure ?
        He should be surrounding himself with the brightest and best from all backgrounds.

    • BarkingAtTreehuggers

      No, luv – Eton is a metaphor. It stands for something else. Will you guess what it stands for?

      • Kitty MLB

        Don’t know, please educate me, my ears are sticking up
        in anticipation.

  • Frank

    Class only comes into the political debate when you want to attack MPs for being useless Ruperts. If they were competent and experienced, where they went to school / university would not matter (this is why Farage doesn’t get attacked on class).
    Yes, we probably need David Davis in Cabinet, not for his class origins, but because he would be far tougher on the Lib-Dems than either Dave, or Gideon, have shown themselves capable of being.
    Leaving this aside for a moment, I am astonished that the CPS is not prosecuting the gardener who stole £200K from the old lady with dementia, after persuading her to sign a power of attorney. It is wonderful that prosecuting theft is now an optional matter!

    • Colonel Mustard

      A sad consequence of Starmer turning the CPS into the prosecution wing of the Labour party. Property rights and the notion of thieving do not arise with the Left, as you can tell whenever they are in government and connive to rob you blind.

  • monty61

    I have some sympathy with this (frankly, the Old Etonian club that Cameron runs is all but indefensible) but Davis did show himself to be a bit of a flake. That’s why he was cut out – regardless of his origins, he showed himself to be unreliable.

    • willshome

      His decision to take the civil liberties issue directly to the public is the only truly honourable action I can recall from a politician in the last 30 years.

      • monty61

        I don’t necessarily disagree, but from Cameron’s perspective, Davis showed himself to be a flake, a resignation waiting to happen over some issue or other. Why invite that? Best just to leave him on the back benches.

  • rtj1211

    Look, you don’t need to go to grammar school to rise socially. You need to have that sort of education if you want to work in politics, the media or the law. It’s all bookwork at grammar school and huge amounts of life don’t require that. A lot of great scientists and engineers aren’t very literate you know. Paul Nurse was such crap at languages that he nearly didn’t go to University, despite subsequently winning a Nobel Prize.

    I worked on a govt project once with a working class Bristolian who left school at 16 and was a Professor in his 40s courtesy of his brilliance at materials engineering after taking an apprenticeship at British Aerospace.

    Plenty of working class people who left school at 16 or 18 who made money in the City, as an entrepreneur or working in construction. All rose to the middle-, upper-middle classes or the seriously rich in some cases.

    Sport is a great way for the kinaesthetically gifted to rise up now. Masses of money for the Wayne Rooneys, the Steven Gerrards, the Rio Ferdinands, the John Terrys. All are working class backgrounds, all are now multimillionaires. I’m sure Mr Terry would be the first to admit that his language isn’t particularly close to the fruity old Etonian twang, particularly when engaged in crossfire with opponents……

    Loads of money to be made in construction if you work hard and then become a property developer. Never seen a barrier to entry to start off as a bricky, a plumber, an electrician or a plasterer. Do that for 8 years and you could be ready to set up on your own by 25. How much good is a grammar school education for that?

    Running a business is about understanding people and servicing their needs. How do learn about that studying Shakespeare, Dickens or Hardy, eh?? Nothing wrong with studying that, mind you, but it doesn’t teach you how to be an entrepreneur. Does it??

    If people can’t rise up in traditional ways now, it’s because the upper classes are using ‘degrees’ as a worthless entry requirement, using unpaid internships as a barrier to entry in various professions and the like.

    But there are other ways and the simplest way to succeed is to avoid those areas where you are not welcome and embrace those where your skills and hard work are appreciated.