Archive for the 'CON Leadership' Category


Changing the Prime Minister might be the only way

Monday, September 9th, 2019

One thing the existing House of Commons can agree on (it can’t on anything else) is that it doesn’t want No Deal. It’s now voted several times to this effect and, in fact, it’s as determined to prevent No Deal as the Government is to deliver Brexit by 31st October at all costs. It has been trying to do everything it can to stop it: delaying a General Election, challenging the proroguing of Parliament, and, now, passing the Hillary Benn Bill into law.

Equally, the present Government is equally clear it will test this law to the extremes – everything short of breaking the law. There have even been suggestions of invoking the Civil Contingencies Act over the weekend. It might also yet find allies within the EU on scuppering yet another delay, including President Macron. The House of Commons therefore has no reason to trust the present administration that it will honour their wishes.

However, two things remain true: this current Government doesn’t have a majority (or anything close) for its policy and, whilst Parliament will be prorogued on Thursday, it will come back on 14th October. The Queen will then make her speech and – usually – there will be six days of debate assigned to each policy area within it followed by a vote in the Commons on whether to accept it. The European Council meeting takes place right in the middle of this: on 17th and 18th October.

If by this date there is no deal agreed or no extension secured to Brexit (either by obfuscation by the Government or through European Council exasperation or a mixture of both) then the House of Commons is staring into the abyss. They will be out of options, except one: to strip control from the Executive, and form an alternative administration. That administration will be left with two choices: to either pass whatever is on the table from the EU, at that stage, or to revoke A50.

Whether this occurs through some procedural chicanery facilitated by the Speaker during the Queen’s Speech debates (which I don’t rule out) or shortly after will be interesting to see but matters will come to a head during the week commencing Monday 21st October, which will be Parliament’s last chance and a matter of days away from the Article 50 termination date.

There has been lots of focus recently on the FTPA and that a Vote of No Confidence leads to an early general election after fourteen days if no alternative government is formed that the House of Commons subsequently resolves it has confidence in. However, it can happen much faster than that. In this scenario, I expect it would happen inside 24 hours.

It’s my view that the House of Commons would baulk at an outright Revoke, and will be painfully aware of the consequences of doing so, but would want the next ‘least bad’ option. Something that can kicks and mitigates the impact. Parliament would want to ensure the European Parliament had several days to ratify at their end (indeed it’s currently not planning to sit from 28th to 31st October) and, if needs be, prepare any additional emergency legislation in the UK to convert it into law.

There would also be many MPs who’d either baulk at voting for Jeremy Corbyn as PM (why take the risk of his disorganisation and equivocation at this late stage?) or by having “voted for Brexit” on their records, so the majority required to pass the Withdrawal Agreement in my view would drop. I’d expect abstentions from the Liberals Democrats and SNP at the very least. But we’d need someone who could both do the job and carry 280 to 290 MPs in the Commons with.

I think a Conservative (or ex-Conservative) would be an obvious choice. The opposition would love to split the party further, make it own Brexit (at an Executive level) and it’s clear that with the personal animosity many possess toward Boris Johnson, this may influence their choices too. There are also several Conservatives currently on the backbenches who might be sufficiently altruistic to sacrifice themselves in the national interest where they sense the game might be up anyway.

Ken Clarke is flavour of the month but my view is that Jeremy Hunt represents a good choice. If he could command a temporary Government of National Unity to pass the WA there’d be no better way to mitigate Brexit, spite Boris and damage the Conservatives all in one. Hunt would take it in my view because he’ll be very nervous about his Surrey South West seat post No Deal and would relish being the saviour – few people give up the chance to become Prime Minister and lead.

He is currently available at 66/1 with Ladbrokes and William Hill, where I might have him down more at 15/1 or even 12/1. I’m on.

Casino Royale

Casino Royale is a long standing PBer and tweets as CasinoRoyalePB


A Tory is value as Next PM

Saturday, September 7th, 2019

Boris is unlikely to be a 10-year PM but he might well win a GE

This has not been Boris Johnson’s finest week. A series of humiliating defeats in Westminster, an underwhelming PMQs, harangued on the campaign trail, caught out using policemen for partisan ends and left to dangle in Number 10 without either an electoral escape or a means of leaving the EU by the foolishly promised 31 October.

Of course, there may be some great grand plan cooked up by Dominic Cummings’ strategic genius behind these no-doubt tactical defeats. The Tory Party is more united in Westminster, by virtue of having forced out one way or another almost two dozen rebel MPs, albeit that the cost is a government further from a majority than any since 1924.

But for all the problems, the Tories retain a comfortable lead in the polls (7% with Hanbury yesterday, 10% with YouGov on Wednesday, for example): probably enough to secure a majority provided that there isn’t significant tactical voting between Labour and the Remain parties.

I doubt there will be significant tactical voting – or if so, only one way. This occurs where two or more parties are perceived to be close enough that supporters of the third are more motivated to keep the ‘other side’ to tolerate actively letting their second-preferred option in. However, do Labour and the Lib Dems share such a close commonality? I don’t think they do, either in the Brexit stance or on other matters. Granted, the distance to the Tories is even greater but Labour isn’t a Remain party – it’s policy is still to negotiate its own Brexit deal – and on economic matters, the gap is similarly large.

Now, it might well be that Boris Johnson’s abilities as a campaigner are overrated. Yes, he won London in 2012 (against Ken Livingstone but also very much against the national polls, never mind the London trend), and he played a huge part in winning the EU referendum. But are those skills still there? It’s a different business being prime minister when you have a record to defend and detail to master. That he hid away during the Tory leadership campaign was telling. I wonder if he’d try it in a general election, as May did?

But let’s assume he can pull through and secure a second term. He is, after all, up against Jeremy Corbyn and a deeply divided Labour Party on both Brexit and domestic policy. Corbyn had a stormer of an election in 2017 but he was given space and also a campaign that very much played to his strengths. If a 2019 election was all about Brexit, Corbyn might well struggle.

What of Farage and the Brexit Party? Certainly, if Johnson fails to achieve Brexit by Halloween, Farage will attempt to berate the Tories for a broken promise but will that work? Johnson’s defence – “parliament blocked me: I have cleared out the rebels now give me the mandate” could be effective, particularly if combined with a tactical appeal not to split the Leave vote.

None of this is at all guaranteed but it should be taken as a plausible starting point. What then?

If Johnson does win a Tory majority, that might well stick through to 2024 – but would he? The evidence from the last week, combined with the challenges that a No Deal Brexit would bring, have to suggest that whatever the result of the election, Johnson won’t be in Number 10 for the long term.

Which raises an interesting question because the shortest-priced Tories to be next PM, now that Ken Clarke (14/1) is no longer a Tory MP, are Sajid Javid, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove (all 33/1). This is far too long a price for any ‘governing party’ favourite – even co-favourites; all the more so when that party is clear in the polls.

Of the three, Rees-Mogg is once again the least value. His performance this week was once again that of a man out of touch with both Westminster and the wider world. He is more likely to be the first Johnson cabinet resignation than the next leader. On the other hand, both Javid (who could have been the first resignation), and Gove are surely value.

Beyond those two, Dominic Raab and Priti Patel are 50/1 and 66/1 respectively. Had the Tories the Labour election system, both would be very good value given the changing Tory membership, however the MPs still get to pick the final two in any contest. Given the challenges the Home Office is likely to face post-Brexit, and Patel’s not-entirely-empirical approach, I don’t think there’s much value for her even at those prices. Raab, by contrast, may be.

In reality, there is so much uncertainty about when the next Tory leadership election will be, and who the candidates will be, that it’s very much a shot in the dark. There is a fair chance that then next leader isn’t even quoted by bookies. On the other hand, it could be soon. Boris could lose the election or if he wins, may not survive long. If so, the likely successor is someone from the current top table.

David Herdson


Why I’ve resigned from the Conservative Party

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019


From longstanding PBer Richard Nabavi

After five decades of support for the Conservatives, I have now resigned as a party member. Naturally this hasn’t been an easy decision; it has been a pleasure working with my MP Nus Ghani, and before her Charles Hendry, and helping in a small way in various constituencies to achieve six years of sound Conservative-led government under David Cameron, even if the past two years have been increasingly difficult. I shall miss the opportunities to take part and to meet with senior figures in the party, which I’ve always found very interesting.

However, with the election as leader of someone who is, to put it charitably, deeply unserious, and with the descent of the party into what can only be described as a political death-cult untroubled by political and economic reality, obsessed with the arbitrary and unrealistic date of October 31st, and deliberately refusing to listen to multiple well-informed warnings about the dangers of crashing out of the EU in total chaos, I cannot remain as a member any longer.

The party is no longer recognisable as the pragmatic, business-friendly, economically-sound, reality-based party of government which I have supported for decades. It will justifiably get the electoral blame for the consequences of the disastrous course it has chosen, and will probably never be forgiven by younger voters.

The election of Boris Johnson as leader is irresponsible and unworthy in itself: many of those who voted for him are fully aware that he is unfit to be PM. But, worse than that, it is a symptom of a much deeper malaise in the party, one that goes to the very heart of what the Conservative Party should be about. It is a choice of denial as well as of desperation, showing that party members have lost interest in dealing with the world as it is, not as it they would like it to be.

If the Conservative Party no longer wishes to be a serious party of government, living in the real world and striving to act in the interests of the whole United Kingdom, what is the point of it?

I hope that, at some time in the future, the party will come back to its senses, as it did in 2005, and allow some future leader to drag it back into the reality of the 21st century. Unfortunately, it looks as though I will have a very long wait.

Richard Nabavi


Follow the formbook when betting on Boris’s successor and choose an old Etonian

Saturday, July 20th, 2019


Five of the past 7 male Tory PMs were educated there

Within minutes of Boris being declared leader on Tuesday morning expect new betting markets on who will succeed him as CON leader, who’ll be his successor and how long will survive at Number 10.

When considering a factor to remember is that the form book shows us that Tories liked to be led by someone who was educated at Eton.

Going back to 1955 of the seven men who have become Conservative prime ministers five have been old Etonians.

That’s some record. Of these we had Etonians’ Sir Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Alec Douglas Home, then some time later David Cameron and of course Boris Johnson. The only other male Tory Prime Ministers in the intervening period were Edward Heath and John Major both of them were educated at state schools.

William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith did not, of course, ever make it to Number 10. Even if their parents could have afforded it Margaret Thatcher and TMay would have been barred by their gender from getting into Eton.

So in choosing someone to bet on for a possible Boris successor this might be the moment for Rory Stewart who is an old Etonian and certainly has very different qualities than Johnson. He established himself as the surprise of the MP part of last month’s voting getting much further than was predicted.

I’ll be looking out for the early odds and if good enough my money will go on Rory.

Mike Smithson


Boris vacillated on Darroch because he’s weak, not because of Trump

Saturday, July 13th, 2019

His verbal grandiosity is a mask for a lack of self-confidence

Boris Johnson has always had a facility for a briefly memorable turn of phrase. Whether referring to table tennis as, archaically, ‘whiff-whaff’ or describing Brexit talks extending into further rounds beyond October 31 as the ‘hamster wheel of doom’, Johnson’s words have the capacity to amuse and distract. For a politician, that’s a useful skill up to a point.

The problem is that the phrases, like Johnson himself, tend towards daftness and absurdity. They are memorable at the time because while they might pithily sum something up, they also reduce its seriousness. How can a No Deal Brexit really be all that bad if it’s like a hamster? That lack of seriousness is also why the words are ephemeral: the genuinely great quotes of history are anchored to, and enhance, real endeavour – whether that already achieved or that being exhorted.

Johnson has of course played the clown for decades and rarely has it done him harm. Certainly, there’ve been failures – sackings, failed marriages and so on (if he becomes PM, he’ll have been divorced as many times as all previous 54 prime ministers combined once his present marriage is dissolved) – but always he’s bounced back. It’s hard to fall too far if no-one takes you too seriously to begin with, including yourself.

However, here’s an unanswered question: why doesn’t Boris appear to take himself very seriously? Is it all a tactic to slide to the top, under the radar or is there more to it than that? After all, he’s an intellectually capable man. He could have, had he wanted to, pursued a much more conventional route to the top. Granted, it wouldn’t have been as colourful but nor might it have suffered the pratfalls.

The simple answer though is that it would have been too much hard work. Theresa May’s predecessor had something of a reputation of an essay-crisis prime minister but it’s nothing compared to the reputation for disorganisation and lack of respect for expectations and norms of behaviour that her likely successor has amassed over the years; one which goes back to his school days. Far easier to not bother and then claim exemption with a smile, a bon mot and puppy eyes.

Those behaviours might be the result of laziness but they could well be – and I think are – the consequence of something else too. I don’t think that Boris trusts himself (and indeed, why should he?). I don’t think that he has confidence in his judgement and that’s why he tends not to make judgements – or at least, when he does, he does so on whims and without any great forethought.

All of which suggests a different answer to the question as to why he didn’t back up Sir Kim Darroch, after the latter suffered a tirade of abuse from Donald Trump (unlike Jeremy Hunt, who was clear and robust on the matter).

The conspiracy theorists have it that Boris is in Trump’s pocket and failed to back Darroch because he was doing the president’s bidding, presumably in the hope of some trade deal. This misreads the situation, to my mind. If Johnson had wanted to appeal to Trump’s vanity on the issue, he would have called directly for Darroch to be replaced; he didn’t. It would have been easy enough to make the case: ultimately Darroch himself did so. But Boris vacillated and avoided addressing the issue at all. Rather than take a stand on either side, he failed to take a decision or offer a lead. This rather implies that the problem with Johnson here is not that he’s in Trump’s pocket but simply that he’s weak: incapable of assessing the situation, forming a policy and clearly stating it. Make of that what you will as regards any attempt by him to negotiate with the EU.

Quite how Johnson’s inadequacy for the premiership will play out in practice is another matter. For all the talk of proroguing parliament in order to facilitate No Deal, I don’t think he has the spine needed to carry through such a radical action (which, in any case, I expect that parliament would frustrate via a Vote of No Confidence were it to be tried). Perhaps his natural laziness might prove a blessing in disguise, if surrounded by a talented cabinet who could be left to get on with their jobs – a sizable ‘if’. That at least would be a welcome improvement from the hyper-control of the May ministry.

More likely though is that on the crucial issue of the day, the government’s policy will be marked by drift, high-level verbiage without detail, unsubstantiated optimism and an inability to reconcile conflicting promises made without having understood the consequences at the time. Which is to say, it will ultimately be marked – like him – by failure.

David Herdson


What it takes to be a good leader

Thursday, July 11th, 2019

At one of his RoryforLeader rallies, Rory Stewart paid a heartfelt tribute to David Gauke and the three things he learnt about leadership from him. (1) Gauke communicated his values to his team, which they respected him for; (2) he genuinely listened to them and their arguments; and (3) finally, he had courage and was willing to make tough choices.

It is rare to see politicians pay genuine tribute to each other, at least while they are still practising.  Rarer still for politicians to pay tribute to those who work for them while it still matters (as Gauke did last week), let alone to the many public servants, from the most junior to the most senior, in the many different public sector entities providing services to us.

It is these individuals who try to make government work, who enact the policies proclaimed with great fanfare, who do all the (often) unloved, unseen but essential behind-the-scenes work which ensures that politicians can strut on the public stage for the plaudits they feel they deserve. In an age which seems to value charisma, image and personality, it is easy to forget that government is above all a collective endeavour.  Those at the top can achieve nothing without the hard work of the unsung.  It’s a lesson many at the top of companies would do well to learn too.

It is for this reason that those in positions of leadership – or aspiring to them – know (or ought to) that the one thing they need from those they lead is their trust and that to earn that they need to take responsibility.  That is what being a leader, whether it is of a team of 6 or a company employing hundreds or a government, means: “The buck stops here.”  

It is something which politicians of a certain vintage seemed to understand instinctively.  One striking example was Lord Carrington, Foreign Secretary 1979-1982, subsequently Nato Secretary-General and the last politician to have served in Churchill’s post-war Cabinet.

Much of the commentary on him when he died focused on his resignation following the Falklands invasion.  Though absolved of personal blame by the Franks Report, he explained his decision to resign thus: “It did not seem to me a time for self-justification and certainly not to cling to office.  I think the country is more important than oneself.”  In his autobiography he wrote: “The nation feels that there has been a disgrace. Someone must have been to blame. The disgrace must be purged. The person to purge it should be the minister in charge. That was me.”  

Those 7 sentences admirably summarise what it means to be in charge and to take responsibility when something goes wrong on your watch.

It was not the first time Carrington had offered his resignation.  As a very junior minister at the time of the Crichel Down affair in 1954 (a landmark case on the rights of individuals vs the interests of the state and the standards to be expected of Ministers) he had offered to resign but had been refused.  It was the senior Minister in charge who resigned following findings of severe maladministration in his department, the first such Ministerial resignation since 1917.  The civil servants got it wrong; but it was the politicians who took responsibility.

Most surprisingly of all, despite being awarded the Military Cross in 1945, Carrington never mentioned it in his autobiography, stating that he only got it because of the good men he had under him and that it was “all such a rough raffle. Pot luck – nothing to do with me.”  Well, hardly.

Still, that is what marks out leaders: recognising that being senior means taking responsibility even when you are not to blame and having the humility to know that your own achievements rest on the hard work of others (and a fair amount of luck) at least as much as on your own efforts.

And how might trust be earned?  Well, by being trustworthy, by being a person of moral courage, by having a character which inspires confidence, by those working for you, whether directly or indirectly, knowing in their bones that you will have your team’s back.  As General Sir Patrick Howard-Dobson puts it in the Leadership Guide for Sandhurst cadets:

 “Some day you may have to lead men into battle and ask them to do their duty, and you will do it through Love.  You must always put them first……… If you do this you’ll find that you never have to worry about yourself, because as you look after them, so they will look after you.  As they come to know that you love and care for them, so they will love you, and through love for you and for one another they will be the best soldiers the world has seen.”    Easier to describe than do, of course.

Still, it is striking how often in recent years the default reaction of people in positions of responsibility, particularly in politics, is to find someone else to blame. Public servants are expendable or there to be attacked if some greater cause requires it: winning battles with journalists (Dr David Kelly), attacking an unloved agreement (Oliver Robbins), not wishing to hear hard truths (Ivan Rogers), judges ruling that Parliament must be involved before Article 50 is triggered (pushing Brexit through).    This has become more marked as politicians have found it harder to reach decisions on difficult and divisive issues.  As Gauke put it: “Those grappling with complex problems are not viewed as public servants but as engaged in a conspiracy to seek to frustrate the will of the public. They are ‘enemies of the people’.”  

Rather than accept that it is for politicians to find a way through, however hard that may be, the finger is pointed at others, often those who cannot answer back or who have a greater sense of public duty.  Words such as “traitors” and “enemies” and “true believers” are used and poison the national conversation.  So it is not so very surprising that someone might think that the destruction of the career of an experienced, hard-working and distinguished Ambassador is acceptable collateral damage in the greater cause of whatever the leaker and those behind him or her wanted to achieve.  Nor is it very surprising to find politicians mealy-mouthed about supporting those who are doing their job.  

Johnson’s equivocation about Sir Kim Darroch was as contemptible as – and followed in the same dishonourable tradition of – Liz Truss’s failure, despite being Lord Chancellor and having a legal duty to do so, to defend the Court of Appeal  (until far too late and far too feebly) when judges were attacked for making a ruling on Article 50 which some politicians and commentators found inconvenient.  Boris allowed or wanted people to believe that, to him, his friendship with Trump was more important than defending British public servants

What lessons might be learnt?

First, if Boris becomes PM, those who work for him know that they cannot expect him to have their backs if it does not suit him, that he is a politician who does what he wants, not what he ought.  He will have to work hard to earn their trust and loyalty and starts with a considerable deficit.  It may not be just fractious MPs he needs to worry about most but civil servants who know how he has treated one of their own.

Second, there are those who seem to think that the politicisation of certain parts of the civil service is necessary, that rather than have civil servants serving the government, whatever its political flavour, certain roles should be filled by those who explicitly support the government’s political aims, not as professionals doing their jobs but as political partisans.  This necessarily downgrades the importance of independent advice and speaking truth to power.  Those who push this agenda seem not to care whether this will serve the country well.

Third, one policy (Brexit, enacted in one particular way) is seen as so important that virtually anything is acceptable to achieve it, including proroguing Parliament.  That this might undermine the very institutions and conventions which any democratic and stable society requires to function, especially if in the hands of political opponents, seems irrelevant.  No-one seems to ask themselves the question: “Would I want my opponent to have this power?  If no, I should not have it either.”

And finally the EU knows that, for all Boris’s talk about wanting the EU to see the whites of his eyes on a No Deal exit, he is a politician who caves in to bullies.    In seeking to enhance his personal relationship with a US President, Boris has made Britain, if led by him, appear weak.  Other countries too will have noted this, China and the US above all.  Rather than ape Churchill, Boris would do better to reflect on Carrington’s words: “the country is more important than oneself.”




A 16/1 tip to start off your Sunday morning

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

Graphics: top one is from Paddy Power, the bottom one is from Ladbrokes

Why I’m backing Boris Johnson to receive between 80% to 89.99% of the vote.

If the YouGov polling is accurate then Boris Johnson is going to win a landslide in the leadership contest, yesterday’s poll had him winning 74% to 26%.

My view is that polling for these leadership elections is a lot easier for YouGov than most of the other political polling they carry out. The electorate for leadership elections are much more homogenous and smaller than for national elections. With only two candidates there’s less need for adjustment for things like tactical voting. YouGov’s very large panel has managed to get the 2005 Tory leadership contest right, as they did more recently with Labour’s leadership elections in 2015 and 2017.

With most of the ballot papers being sent back I think the result has been already decided so it only takes a little bit of overperformance by Boris Johnson and a little bit of underperformance by Jeremy Hunt coupled with a minor sampling error for Boris Johnson to receive 80% to 89.99% of the vote which makes the 16/1 Paddy Power offer very attractive.

The only thing that might make me nervous is if Boris Johnson starts tacking away from the Jonestown Brexit at all costs wing of Tory membership. His comments over the weekend might see a few Tory members who prioritise Brexit over the Union decide Boris Johnson isn’t the man for them.



Johnson looks a certainty as YouGov CON members’ poll has him leading 74-26

Friday, July 5th, 2019

Get ready for PM Johnson

One thing that we’ve learned over the last two decades is that we can rely of YouGov CON members’ polling to give a pretty accurate picture of the outcome of a leadership ballot. Before IDS and Cameron’s victories in the postal ballots the firm had the final outcomes to within a point both times.

So tonight’s news in the Times that Johnson is ahead by 74-26 leaves us in little doubt about the outcome. That margin is overwhelming.

A new question might be whether he actually gets the keys of Number 10 if his election actually leads to a few prominent CON MPs quitting the party and threatening to vote against him in a Commons no confidence move.

The betting is swinging even further to the ex-Mayor.

Mike Smithson