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EDITIONS
Friday, 26 July, 2002, 06:37 GMT 07:37 UK
Davis returns to face 'dark forces'
David Davis
Mr Davis was 'astounded' at briefings against him
The chairman of David Davis's constituency party has launched a scathing attack against those who briefed against the frontbencher while he was away on a family holiday in Florida.

David Whincup said Mr Davis, who returns to the UK on Friday, was "disappointed" about his sacking as Conservative Party chairman.


I think that's the sad part, that they couldn't stand face to face with him

David Whincup
But Mr Whincup, chairman of his Haltemprice and Howden constituency, said it was "sad" that party apparatchiks had been unable to tell Mr Davis of his demise "face to face".

His defence of the one-time leadership contender comes as newspaper reports claim Mr Davis had to be talked out of resigning from the shadow cabinet.

One friend, Eric Forth, shadow leader of the House, accused "dark forces" of taking advantage of Mr Davis's absence to sack him, reviving concerns that his demotion would reopen splits within the party.

Lost favour

According to a variety of newspapers Mr Forth persuaded Mr Davis to remain on the front benches as a way of safeguarding his position as a future Conservative leader.

Iain Duncan Smith sacked Mr Davis on Tuesday and gave him a new role shadowing Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

Eric Forth
Forth: Persuaded Mr Davis to stay on the frontbench
There had been reports that Mr Davis lost favour because he had failed to drive through reforms to ensure the party had greater numbers of women and ethnic minority candidates.

Some people questioned the timing of Mr Davis's break, ahead of the MPs' long summer recess which started on Wednesday.

'Disappointed'

But Mr Whincup told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We should make clear that it wasn't an ill-timed holiday.

"This was by agreement with Iain Duncan Smith because David was covering from August while Iain Duncan Smith was away on holiday."

But Mr Whincup stressed: "It was also ill-timing by those who brief against David, both within and without the party that they left it until he went on holiday and I think that's the sad part, that they couldn't stand face to face with him."

Asked how Mr Davis felt about losing his job, Mr Whincup replied: "He is obviously disappointed, but at the same time... he's looking to the challenge of the new job and taking on John Prescott.

Theresa May, after she was appointed as Tory chairman
Theresa May is the Conservative's first woman chairman
"And I know who will be the winner in that battle."

Mr Forth spoke out at Mr Duncan Smith's treatment of Mr Davis to stress: "The frustrating thing for him is he has been so far away throughout all of this that he has been at a terrific disadvantage.

"It's pretty obvious that there have been dark forces at work taking advantage of his absence," he told the Financial Times.

Davis supporters

A number of Tory MPs, who are close to Mr Davis, have indicated that they are prepared to work on his behalf, the Telegraph said.

"We will help him make his role against Prescott a success, so that people can see how valuable he could be as leader," one was reported to have said.

"If there is a big game afoot for David then the worst thing he can do is flounce off to the back benches.

"He is temperamentally very proud and wanted to walk out, but we've persuaded him to play a longer game."

Meanwhile, Michael Normington, chairman of the Charter Movement which represents grassroots Tories, said it was clear there was no love lost between the former party chairman and Mr Duncan Smith.

Separate roles

It was time for the chairman to be elected from outside the party, he said.

"Here again we have an incident where the party chairman and the leader seem to be quite some way apart," he said.

"We have always been told that its so important that they are so close that you cannot fit a cigarette paper between them.

"Here you seem to have been able to have fit a battalion of tanks and this leads further weight to our call that the post should be split.

"You should have somebody going round the country making speeches on behalf of the leader and we should have somebody else who is responsible for running the party organisation, who infact does not need to be an MP.

"We need someone who is prepared to listen to what the members of the constituencies actually want, which I'm afraid David Davis and most of his predecessors, have not done," Mr Normington told Today.

Mr Davis was said to be "astounded" by the ferocity of briefings against him.

He was replaced by Theresa May, making her the party's first woman chairman.

See also:

24 Jul 02 | Politics
19 Jun 01 | Politics
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08 May 02 | Politics
23 Jul 02 | Politics
23 Jul 02 | Politics
24 Jul 02 | Politics
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