Senior Tories cook up ‘Save Dave’ plan at whips dinner

PM arrives in Doha, Qatar

Put it this way. When was the last time an Old Etonian actually won a general election?” a not particularly disgruntled, middle-class Tory MP asked the other day.

He knew the answer, of course. Harold Macmillan in 1959 after succeeding Sir Anthony Eden, another Etonian winner (1955) who quickly ruined his premiership at Suez.

Since when both Alec Douglas-Home (1964) and David Cameron (2010) were OEs who narrowly failed, in contrast to Ted Heath (1970), Margaret Thatcher (1979-83-87) and John Major (1992), three grammar school oiks who won. So rusty rightwing knives will be out for Cameron if he doesn’t do better on 7 May, which electoral maths makes unlikely. To True Believers, Dave is a snooty loser as well as a wishy-washy agnostic.

Hence the belated emergence at the weekend of Westminster’s version of snappy “Save Dave” media campaigns that seem to spring up whenever a David gets into trouble. It’s not so much a campaign, more of an idea, a theory even. If Cameron wins most seats (or is it votes?) but falls short of a majority again, his allies must keep him in No 10 and stave off a damaging, quickie leadership challenge from the usual suspects. Sit right where you are, Boris and Theresa.

Chief whip, Michael Gove, is telling colleagues that the expression “Save Dave” has never been used in his hearing and that all efforts are focused on the election. Yet it emerged from a whips dinner during which options were discussed with Cameron’s strategist and chancellor, George Osborne. Rare between tenants of No 10 and 11, the pair are also intimate friends (or cronies, as the disgruntled put it). The shock is not so much that what-if conversations take place, but that a whips dinner leaked. Obviously, someone didn’t go to Eton.

No one has a clue what voters will produce on 7 May, or if any combination of parties can produce a second (surprisingly stable) coalition, as distinct from hand-to-mouth minority rule leading to votes of no confidence and a second election, as in 1974. Plenty of MPs who dislike Osborne (“control freak”) and Cameron can see it might not be smart to eject such an established leader, PM for five years, in such a fluid crisis. Remember, the alternative is Ed.

But the Tory party is prone to bouts of madness (John Redwood’s 1995 challenge, anyone?) and believes in leadership, or fuhrerprinzip, as Germans put it. There will be a new intake after 7 May and a two-week plotting interval before the Commons sits and some one (but who?) tries to present a Queen’s Speech programme. By then Dave may be beyond saving.

Powered by article was written by Michael White, for The Guardian on Monday 2nd March 2015 16.57 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010