Background Image

Dividend Spring 2013 : Page 32

for a general management role at Clarks Shoes (now C&J Clark International) in rural Somerset. It was then that he joined the Labour Party, and as he pondered his next career move, he was asked to stand in a parliamentary election. “I enjoyed my time at Clarks, but I could see it was a glass ceiling,” Davis says, so he agreed to throw his hat into the ring for the 1970 election. He was defeated in the soundly conservative area, but when the MP died the following year, Davis won the resulting by-election. In 1974, he again found himself at the losing end of the ballot, and returned to industry as a manager at British Leyland (which later became Rover). Although stung by the defeat, Davis says it ultimately gave him a political advantage. “I built a lot of relationships with contractors and suppliers, and gained good knowledge of West Midlands industry.” After several early defeats, it would’ve been easy for Davis to give up on politics and turn his attention to business. But a family discussion convinced him to try again. “Many people become politicians because they have a view of the way the world should be,” he says. “My family helped me realize I still had that idealism. They knew I had been happier as a full-time politician than I was as a businessman.” In the 1979 election, Davis’ background in industry helped him relate to the people of blue-collar Birmingham. He returned to Parliament, where he remained until 2004. “After the WikiLeaks broke, I received many messages of congratulations for standing up to the Americans. That was never my intention. I was just adhering to what I still think of as American ideals of democracy and human rights.” Davis also served on the Advisory Committee on Public Records, reviewing classified government files for declassification. What he saw in those files solidified his commitment to human rights, as he reviewed 1950s-era records concerning the colonial wars of independence, the Korean War, and death-row cases. It also reinforced his anti-war stance — Davis voted against participation in the 1990 Gulf War, as well as the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “[2003] was a difficult time,” Davis says. “We were told there was incontrovertible evidence of weapons of mass destruction, but I was very suspicious. I feel sorry now for my colleagues who feel they were misled.” In 1992, Davis’ interest in human rights gained a Europeanwide perspective. He was elected to the United Kingdom’s delegation to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. Like his 1960 arrival at Michigan, Europe in the 1990s was entering a period of transition as the fledgling democracies that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union sought to strengthen ties with the West. The Council of Europe’s membership surged as a result. “It was an exciting time to be part of an organization committed to spreading democracy and securing human rights,” says Davis. He became increasingly prominent in the Strasbourg, France-based organization and eventually was nominated by the British government to be a candidate in an election for secretary-general. The seasoned politician employed an American-style whistle-stop campaign, visiting 43 member countries in a few months. “My opponents, who came from European political systems, weren’t used to that,” he says. Davis was elected in a landslide. On his first day in office, Chechen rebels took more than 1,000 hostages as part of their separatist movement from Russia, and Davis dealt with separatist movements and ethnic tensions throughout his tenure. Today, he points to human trafficking, ongoing intolerance of ethnic minorities, and the rise of the extreme right as problem areas in Europe. But extraordinary rendition remains his primary concern. “If we behave like terrorists, we will destroy our own credibility, we will descend to their level, and we will increase support for them,” he said in a 2004 speech before the United Nations General Assembly. Davis cautions Americans that while Europeans are allies in many ways, there are key differences. “Too often, the British are seen as being too compliant with American policies that are unpopular in the rest of Europe, and this damages Britain’s image in Europe,” he says. “After the WikiLeaks broke, I received many messages of congratulations for standing up to the Americans. That was never my intention. I was just adhering to what I still think of as American ideals of democracy and human rights.” London Calling Davis successfully made the leap from business to politics because he says the keys to success are the same. “To paraphrase Thomas Edison , success is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. But we should remember Edison also said he’d never done a day’s work in his life. It was all fun.” An atypical source of fun for Davis was his tenure on the Public Accounts Committee, the most senior committee in the House of Commons. Reviewing accounting reports of various government departments intimidated some of his colleagues, but it allowed Davis to shine. “Lawyers in Parliament are 10 a penny, but few have training in accounting. I was able to make a mark on the committee because I was not afraid of the numbers,” he says. “I would pick up on things that had been buried in reports with the hope that no one would find them.” His time spent observing American congressional and senate committees had helped him hone his “forensic” style. “That’s the way I thought committees in Parliament should operate.” 32 DIVIDEND SPRING 2013

Previous Page  Next Page

Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here