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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 October 2005, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Did Davis do enough?
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News Website in Blackpool

David Davis
Mr Davis drew on his background as the son of a single mother

It is probably fair to say that even some of David Davis' supporters did not have terribly high expectations of his conference leadership speech.

They know he is not the best set-piece speech-maker amongst the candidates seeking to replace Michael Howard.

And if the instant reaction from representatives in the hall was anything to go by, he did not dispel the image.

He came to the platform with warnings from pundits and colleagues ringing in his ears that the leadership was his to lose.

Background

So, after some personal best performances from the contenders who have already spoken, he moved to solidify his position as the toughest, yet most unifying; the most unapologetically Tory yet outward looking and inclusive of the lot.

To that end he delighted the audience with talk of the need to lock up more wrongdoers while also pledging to see a Britain "utterly blind to race, or colour".

Similarly he drew on his background as the child of a single mum to declare he was the last to judge anyone.

But he added: "It is in all our interests, single, married, black, white, young, old, gay or straight - to keep the family strong."

He also offered some of the most direct attacks yet on his opponents - specifically Ken Clarke, the man seen as his most likely rival.

"The issue of Europe hasn't gone away and it is not about to," he declared. "The drive to deeper integration never rests, so ask yourselves this. If the Conservative Party doesn't speak up for British interests, then who will?"

Reagan

That seemed designed to sting Europhile Clarke who has suggested the issue is dead for a decade.

He also appeared to turn his fire on David Cameron, who has been quoted as claiming he is a natural heir to Tony Blair and who has called for "fundamental change" in the party.

"I will not concede defeat to Gordon Brown or Tony Blair. Yes we need to debate our future, yes we need to agree on change, but we don't need a collective nervous breakdown. So let's stop apologising and get on with the job."

In the next sentence he quoted one of his political heroes Ronald Reagan, declaring: "Thou shalt never speak ill of a fellow conservative".

As a whole, it was probably the hard edge, the tough ex-SAS man that was most on show.

And that is rarely a bad route to take with this audience of party activists. Yet the response from the hall was uncertain.

Probably uncertain enough to raise the first real question over whether he remains the front runner.



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