Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 15:49 UK

Martha Kearney's week

By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One


David Davis and Martha Kearney in 2005
Martha's hike with David Davis gave her some insight into his character

One beautiful summer's day I went hiking in the Yorkshire Wolds with David Davis. We strolled through ancient glades dappled with sunshine.

No, I am not about to reveal a spicy new twist to the DD Drama.

We were suitably chaperoned by a cameraman and producer as we were all making a film about his life during the Conservative leadership contest.

I learned a lot about David Davis that summer which I think gives some insight into his shock decision to resign and hold a by-election.

Pugnacity

His character is one of a rebellious outsider who relishes kicking against the traces.

In the course of our filming David Davis took me back to the council estate in south London where he had been brought up by a single mother.

When a stepfather appeared on the scene, the relationship became very troubled - so much so that David Davis left home in the final year of school and supported himself before going to Warwick University.

Once the party went into opposition, there were many stories of his short fuse, for example calling Michael Howard late at night and threatening to resign over ID cards.

A sign of a certain pugnacity in his nature is the fact that the young Davis had his nose broken four times.

Despite a troubled home life, he achieved a great deal. The ultimate goal was always politics but Davis decided to make some money first and had a successful career at Tate and Lyle before entering Parliament.

In the Commons as chair of the public accounts committee he made his name, the scourge of wasteful government departments, before becoming a minister himself.

Boxers or briefs?

Once the party went into opposition, there were many stories of his short fuse, for example calling Michael Howard late at night and threatening to resign over ID cards.

That traditional Tory phrase - "not a team player" - was often used. When a vacancy came up for Tory leader after the 2005 election, David Davis was the front runner.

I invited both candidates onto Woman's Hour and at the end of a worthy half hour on issues like childcare and equal pay, we decided to have some fun with a quick fire round.

The by election in Haltemprice and Howden will keep the issue of 42 days in the headlines but it will also fuel stories about Conservative disarray at a time when the party is forging ahead in the polls

Which TV show did they prefer - Pop idol or the X Factor? Florida or Umbria for holidays? And then (notoriously) boxers or briefs? To my surprise, David Cameron actually answered the question immediately - boxers, leaving David Davis to reply - briefs.

Some commentators seized upon this as the quintessential moderniser/traditional divide between the two.

All I know is that for weeks afterwards I was plagued by Tory MPs revealing their underwear of choice. "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins" said the American Brooks Newmark. Even Iain Duncan Smith sidled up (boxers).

Hoodie hugging

I don't think the Great Underwear Debate did play a part in the final result but there's no doubt that David Davis was shaken by his failure to become leader.

But once made shadow home secretary he was loyal in public and in private, to my knowledge. On occasion the tensions between himself and Cameron showed.

A joke he planned for Tory conference was banned by the leader's aides: "I also would like to hug a hoodie but for rather longer and harder". Davis burst into Cameron's office and won the right to mock his leader in front of the party grassroots.

Now the divisions are beyond a joke. The by-election in Haltemprice and Howden will keep the issue of 42 days in the headlines but it will also fuel stories about Conservative disarray at a time when the party is forging ahead in the polls.

Back to backbenches?

If re-elected there is the high likelihood that David Davis will revert to type on the backbenches and become a thorn in David Cameron's side.

Disagreements within the party over the need for tax cuts, for instance, have been masked to a certain extent by the modernisers' electoral success but in the future more traditional MPs and members who are in the majority will have a new champion.

In the short term David Davis has certainly diverted attention away from Gordon Brown's difficulties, in particular whether a deal was done with the Democratic Unionists and some of the Labour rebels in order to win the vote on 42 days.

In fact on Thursday morning, just before the news broke of David Davis's resignation, I was looking up the origin of the phrase pork-barrel politics.

One version is that it comes from a period early in American history, when slaves were sometimes given a barrel of salt pork as a reward and had to compete to get their share of the handout. Hence it is used when politicians hand out cash or favours.

I found this in the Oxford English Dictionary: W. MCNALLY Evils & Abuses in Naval & Merchant Service xvii. 162 "The sailors in the navy are allowed salt beef... From this provision, when cooked..nearly all the fat boils off; this is carefully skimmed and put into empty beef or pork barrels, and sold, and the money so received is called the slush fund".

The government is adamant in its denial that a deal was done but it will be interesting to see what happens with water rates in Northern Ireland and former army bases.

But for the next few days the media focus will be on the Conservative Party and the East Riding. For all those journalists heading up to Haltemprice and Howden, I can recommend some lovely walks in the Yorkshire Wolds.

Here is a selection of your comments:

How much will this exercise cost? If someone resigns perhaps they shouldn't be allowed to stand for the same seat. It is a very expensive stunt which we are going to have to pay for, once again. Nice to see that the Tories will still have him as their candidate - or will they?
Martin Hunn, Bath

Up to now I have been a New Labour voter but I have really been impressed with David Davis's passion and although I am still pretty far from being a Conservative I have huge respect for what he has done and wish there was someone in the Labour party standing up for what they believe in with the same integrity.
Andrew Veitch, Edinburgh, Uk

I have the greatest admiration for David Davis, and all commentators and political colleagues of his, who think that he has made a mistake, will eat their words. If only more politicians were like this.
Lisa Valder, Kent, Uk

Mr Davis has never been loyal enough to work the Tory group team ethic. He needs to cool off on the back benches. I can't see the issue staying in the public domain for him. He will however have raised principles in politics - something lacking in the public's view.
Ronald Wheeler, Plymouth

This man is arrogant. Since his resignation causes such expense then he should not be allowed to stand in the by-election. Otherwise there are probably a few others daft enough to do the same.
Ken Davies, Kenilworth

David Davis has restored my faith in UK politics. Finally we have a politician willing to stand up for what is right when others abandon 800 years of our traditional freedom for false promises and political showmanship
Mike, Cardiff

I hope David Davis is not re-elected because he is meant to abide by the democratic majority in any vote in the House of Commons , or should every MP go for a by-election every time the vote want the opposing way. It shows how selfish our elected MPs are
Rod Newton, West Yorkshire

I think just the fact the ex editor of the Sun is the only person mouthing off about opposing him is a good enough reason to agree that Davis is clearly in the right here. He's fighting for the country's freedom, fighting to make this a country people are proud to live in.
Tom Baker, Greyside, Berkshire

David Davis may not have made the wisest of decisions by resigning, but at least he has acted in good faith. Sadly Gordon Brown appears to have grovelled and schemed in order, primarily, to save face. Whereas he should be focused on safeguarding future energy supplies and protecting us from floods, instead of eroding our ancient liberties.
D. A. Hannigan, London, UK




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