The three most magnetic politicians at this year’s Tory party conference are the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party. I never thought I’d write this sentence but Ruth Davidson’s rise has been quite extraordinary. She has been campaigning for three years now: the Scottish referendum, the general election and Brexit. Now she doesn’t have a big fight planned, but she does still have plenty of energy.
I just interviewed her during a fringe meeting to a packed room, and you could see the extent of her appeal. ‘The selfie queen’, quipped one Cabinet member earlier: she’s the type of politician that gets stopped by people who want their picture with her. Not all of Mrs May’s Cabinet have that effect on Tory activists. Like Boris Johnson, she makes Conservatives feel good about themselves. She can talk with energy and authenticity about why she became a Conservative, about her belief in the party’s essentially progressive nature – and a belief that Conservatism is a cause, worth giving your time and effort to. (I’m not sure that many people would have been so persuaded listening to Philip Hammond yesterday). We’ll post the audio of the interview later.
The last question was about those articles about ‘childless politicians’ and she gave a striking answer that I thought worth noting here. She was always openly gay, and never thought much about it when becoming Scottish Tory leader. But she always thought that she would, when asked about her private life, give an honest answer. This was tough for her, she said, as her instinct was to protect her private life, and her partner, from media intrusion. Nor did she want to be defined by her sexuality, to be seen as Ruth Davidson, the Tory Lesbian.
But if she dodged the question, or played the privacy card, she said, she’d be shrinking from her duty to take the flak, to normalise being gay and leading a party. So in being open, she likes to think that she is making it that bit easier for those who come after her: it might not, in future, be so unusual to be gay and in a position of political leadership. She talks about her personal life not because she has an urge to over-share (on the contrary, her instinct is to keep things quiet) but because if she does, then the next person won’t be asked so many questions.