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Another fascinating insight into Mrs May and her disastrous election campaign

September 10th, 2017

Listening to David Davis and ignoring what made David Cameron a success at general elections helped contribute to Mrs May’s calamitous election result.

This morning The Mail on Sunday have an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Tim Ross and Tom McTague about the Tory election campaign. They have some great snippets, the first one that stood out is that David Davis persuaded Mrs May to hold a snap election.

Few have won the PM’s trust as quickly in government as her buccaneering Brexit Secretary, David Davis. A former SAS reservist, Davis is nothing if not self-assured. He is known for always having a ready smile and a cocksure confidence. He has been described as a rare example of someone who can swagger sitting down.

Davis wanted an early Election. As he war-gamed the next two years of Brexit talks, he was sure a vote now rather than in 2020 would deny his European adversaries the chance to pressure Britain into accepting a poor deal in 2019, on the brink of an Election the following year.

Call a snap Election, thump Corbyn’s Labour Party and then thump the EU in the Brexit talks, was his argument. Davis wanted an Election and set about getting one.

Three weeks before Easter, he called Crosby, telling him: ‘No-one is closer to Theresa May than I and I, Philip Hammond and Theresa May really run the country.’

Then he startled Crosby.

‘I’m urging her to have an Election as early as possible. We’re well ahead in the polls and we’ll win.’ The Australian wasn’t convinced. ‘Support is broad but shallow,’ he replied. ‘Polls in this climate are superficial. They sort of say what’s going on but are not stress-tested to the impact of a campaign.’

But Davis had made up his mind and was determined to make up May’s and Crosby’s too. ‘I’m persuading her and I just wanted you to think about it,’ he said.

Crosby declined to engage in a discussion.

The other thing that struck me was how Mrs May and her team loathed David Cameron and wanted to be the antithesis of him, she did achieve that as she oversaw a net loss in seats. If she had been a bit more like David Cameron, such as relishing debates and being at ease with voters she could have won a stonking majority.

Here’s an example of that desire to not be David Cameron.

Theresa May was working late in No 10 on May 22 when she heard about the terror attack on a pop concert at the Manchester Arena that killed 23 people.

For her advisers, thoughts turned to what she would say to the country. The priority was to act responsibly. They did not want to mislead the public or say anything that would stoke fears.

Their approach came at a cost. It took almost four hours before the first official statement from Downing Street emerged – at 2.20am.

Jeremy Corbyn had tweeted his condolences at six minutes past midnight.

In the intervening time, senior officials in the Conservative campaign grew increasingly exasperated. How could the Prime Minister sit in silence at a time like this?

They were desperate for May to make a short, strong statement on Twitter, setting out what she was doing to get a grip on the crisis. The public needed to be reassured.

May’s team refused. ‘There was a huge row,’ reveals a senior Tory strategist.

‘There were things they said they wouldn’t do because “that’s what David Cameron did” – and reacting quickly on Twitter was one of them.’

May’s inner circle was adamant. ‘We’re not going to tweet, we’re not going to put anything up on Facebook. We do things differently. This is a serious event.’

The position infuriated officials inside CCHQ and frustrations boiled over. ‘There was an exchange of views,’ another Tory official admits. ‘Yes, it was a serious event but it was also happening now and the public were looking for it.

‘I just thought, “For f***’s sake.” Everything became, “the playbook is not Dave”

And much like her spiteful way of sacking George Osborne, hubris came back to haunt them.

When May returned from her Welsh walking trip, she called [Nick] Timothy and [Fiona] Hill. She had made her mind up [to hold an early election.]

Timothy was elated. ‘Nick was saying, it took David Cameron and George Osborne four years to change the face of the Conservative Party and we’ve done it in nine months,’ according to one insider.

That David Davis has such influence on Mrs May is useful to know when it comes to predicting and viewing how our Brexit negotiations will turn out, and it confirms my own view that David David would make a reasonably competent head of a Wolverhampton Social Security office, and that’s about it. But when Mrs May is replaced I do hope her successor doesn’t replicate her mistakes nor do they freeze out the cabinet from important election planning and campaigning.

TSE