6 May 2016

Ruth Davidson’s rise could help Stephen Crabb become Tory leader


Ruth Davidson is obviously the big Tory winner from yesterday’s elections. Conservatives in London had more or less given up on any hope of ever making progress in Scotland but Ms Davidson – with a little help from Labour’s implosion – has delivered the best result for Scottish Tories since 1992. The Tories won seven constituencies outright – four more than the last time MSPs were elected. The overall number of Conservatives at Holyrood soars from 15 to 31. ConservativeHome readers were on to something earlier this week when they put her ahead of any Cabinet minister in a “satisfaction” league table.

If she were an MP, Ms Davidson would obviously be a strong contender to succeed David Cameron, even though she is only aged 37. But now she is emerging as an important player in Conservative politics – winning where it was thought that Tories could not win – she might be an important influence on the succession. It is no secret that she is an admirer of Stephen Crabb, aged 43, and she could help elevate him to the front rank of candidates. The liberal-minded Scot and evangelical Welshman have formed a special political friendship that was launched in this piece for ConHome, last October, just before both reached the higher political status they now enjoy.

The article was very John Major-ish (in the best sense of a man who, it should never be forgotten, won more votes in 1992 than any other party leader before or since). It was about aspiration and a conservatism that helped people who start without privilege, like both of them, to get on. They wrote about “building homes for those who want a foot on the property ladder, by reforming schools so that the poorest children have the same chance as the richest, and by creating a welfare state that promotes work for those who can, and comes to the aid of those who can’t”.

Mr Crabb has only been Work and Pensions Secretary for a few weeks. He’s probably not quite tested enough yet to be a front rank leadership candidate but if he succeeds in this most demanding of Cabinet jobs over the next 12 to 18 months – and if Mr Cameron hangs on for that long – he has the background story, the media skills and the one nation outlook that makes him a very credible candidate.

Mr Crabb might become Mr Cameron’s candidate as much as Ms Davidson’s. He shares his centrism, pragmatism and his support for EU membership but he also has a much more instinctive commitment to tackling social injustice. With it looking increasingly unlikely that the accident-prone George Osborne will even stand for the Tory crown, the council house boy might be the old Etonian’s natural successor and the best weapon against the stubborn idea that the Tories are “the party of the rich”. And the Tories’ new favourite, Ruth Davidson, will probably be his biggest champion.

Tim Montgomerie is a columnist for The Times and Editor of CapX's Portrait of America polling.