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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005, 15:27 GMT
The best form of opposition is...
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Hug Tony Blair close or give him a good kicking - that is the question facing the two Tory leadership contenders.

David Cameron and David Davis
Two Davids differ on how to tackle Blair
And, probably true to character, the two Davids have chosen different paths.

Moderniser David Cameron claims he is turning his back on the "Punch and Judy" politics which, he believes, turns voters off.

If Tony Blair has a policy Mr Cameron believes is right, he will support it, with education reform offering a good example.

In his own words: "If the Labour Party puts forward proposals which we agree with, then we should support them and not just oppose for opposition's sake. That is the sort of Punch and Judy politics that people in Britain are tired of and which we must end."

Mr Davis, on the other hand, believes the job of the Opposition leader is to "take the government apart" by attempting to defeat it whenever possible, not prop it up.

Centre ground

It is a difference that has seen some of the sharpest debate between the two leadership candidates.

Mr Davis points out: "We have defeated this government once in eight years, that was under my leadership last week.

"We will have to do that again and again. This government will have to be taken apart, it will not fall apart."

David Cameron
Cameron wants to end Punch and Judy politics
But there is more to it than that. The Cameron camp believe their man's approach is the more subtle way of undermining the government while making him look consensual and reasonable and, most importantly, firmly in the centre ground.

By supporting Blair's agenda where there is common ground, they believe it will have the added advantage of further isolating the prime minister from his rebellious backbenchers and even some cabinet ministers.

They point to the recent Commons performance when Tory backbenchers cheered the government's education reforms, claiming Mr Blair had adopted former Conservative Party policy.

The faces of many Labour MPs during that incident said all Mr Cameron needed to know about this tactic

The slogan "if you want Tory policies, vote for the real thing" leaps to mind as a possibility.

Yah boo

By taking this approach it also makes it easier when, in government, the new leader ends up trying to push through similar policies.

Yet previous leaders, including William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, claimed at one time or another that they wanted to end "yah boo" politics because voters were fed up with it.

David Davis
Davis is looking to defeat government
There was little evidence to support that case when it came to votes, however.

Mr Davis is, true to form, much more straightforward. Keep kicking chunks out of the government in an attempt to bring it down or destroy the prime minister.

He witnessed that happen to John Major when he was defeated four times - admittedly with the help of his own backbenchers, and usually over Europe - but at a time when a Labour opposition that ran an almost daily campaign of attack.

It also helps that the first issue on which the government was defeat was on his patch and under his direction.

That is what oppositions are supposed to do and any downside of appearing opportunistic would soon by overwhelmed by the euphoria of victory.

And, come the election, voters would probably only remember that he had been the man who did for Tony Blair.

Another defeat like that over terror laws would almost certainly be the end of Tony Blair, presumably the ultimate aim of both contenders.

But that raises another imponderable. Do the Tories want to get rid of the prime minister soon and end up challenging a new Labour leader at the next election who has had time to re-vamp the party.

Or do they want to keep a wounded and isolated premier in post as long as possible to cause the maximum corrosion of Labour's support and give his successor little time to prepare for the election?

That is another question.

What local Tories thought about the first debate

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