The Ruth Davidson delusion
Following Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson’s gains north of the border, picking up 12 new MPs at last week’s General Election, she’s once again being talked up as a future Tory Party leader. She’s seen as the down-to-earth solution to the party’s ‘nasty party’ image problem, and, in the wake of May’s crushing defeat, the kind of centrist, pro-EU Tory it needs to rebuild itself.
While Davidson didn’t stand for a Westminster seat, and considering her recent successes is unlikely to seek one any time soon, the Ruth for Leader fantasy is once again being indulged.
Davidson has ‘normal person’ credentials. She came from a working-class background, was the youngest ever party leader (at 37), and is openly gay – bucking the pale, male and stale Tory stereotype. She’s built a reputation as a straight-talking Scot. ‘I’ve never been a forelock-tugger’, she told The Times last year.
The pro-Ruth chatter hasn’t stopped since the shock election result on Friday morning. Former chancellor and Evening Standard editor George Osborne said Davidson was the ‘heroine of the party’ for saving the Tories from defeat with a more ‘open and optimistic campaign’ than Theresa May’s.
She has since used her newfound clout to send a message to May. When the PM announced that she would be going into talks with the anti-gay-marriage Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Davidson tweeted an old speech she’d given in Belfast on LGBT rights, in a less-than-subtle swipe at May. Cue applause on Twitter.
Now, there’s no doubting that Davidson pulled off a coup. Prior to the election, the Tories had just one Scottish MP, and the party has been toxic in Scotland since Thatcher. That May was effectively saved by Scottish Tory MPs is pretty remarkable. Running on a pro-Union ticket, the Scottish Tories galvanised support among Unionists who are fed-up with Sturgeon’s calls for another independence referendum.
But the idea that Davidson is therefore in line to take the reins is ridiculous. Not least because this supposed woman of the people is wildly out-of-touch with the rest of the UK on one particular issue: Brexit. Her suggestion after the election that Theresa May ‘rethink’ her Brexit strategy was a barely veiled call to soften up Brexit, echoing anti-democratic Tories like Anna Soubry, who said the election result had made clear that ‘the country did not vote for a hard Brexit’.
Of course, as a Scottish politician, hoping one day to lead a nation which voted by a majority to Remain, Davidson’s status as an unwavering ‘inner’ is necessary. But while she might be a straight-talking, sweary breath of fresh air for some, her refusal to get behind the Brexit vote puts her squarely against the UK majority, and on the side of the Remainer anti-democrats.
The enthusiasm for her seems fuelled by the unending political-class delusion that in these times of public revolt against the centrist, technocratic status quo, what people are really longing for is a centrist, technocratic, status-quo politician.
What would really make a change would be a political leader prepared to make a no-holds-barred defence of the Brexit vote, someone willing to truly stand up for the people’s will. ‘Normal person’ points would mean little if our political leaders could simply stick to some democratic principles.
Ella Whelan is assistant editor at spiked. Follow her on Twitter: @Ella_M_Whelan