Archive for the 'CON Leadership' Category


Every day Mrs May remains PM she’s buying the Tories at least one week in opposition.

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

If Mrs May loved her country and party she’d go now, by staying she’s making Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister inevitable. The last time I saw a Prime Minister’s rating collapse like this was with Gordon Brown, Labour haven’t been in power since.

Things can only get better for Labour whilst Mrs May remains Prime Minister, to paraphrase the only Tory to win a majority in the last quarter of a century, for heaven’s sake woman, go!



The Strange Rise of Jacob Rees-Mogg

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

David Herdson on the man who opposes abortion & gay marriage

Of all the odd stories to have infected the Silly Season, none has been odder than the promotion of Jacob Rees-Mogg to be the next Leader of the Conservatives and, quite possibly along with it, Prime Minister. The oddness is not so much the story itself but the crossover into the betting markets. He is widely quoted at about 8/1 for the premiership, with only Paddy Power out on a limb at 18/1. Several firms have him as third favourite behind only Jeremy Corbyn and David Davis.

This is, we should remember, for a man who has never held ministerial office, whose views on social issues such as abortion or gay marriage put him well out of the mainstream of the Conservative Party, never mind the country, who has never shown any interest in running for the leadership, who has no obvious factional support in the Commons and whose whole demeanour could have been designed to look fifty years out of date – or, in naming his most recent child Sixtus, five hundred years.

    Why are so many people willing to put good money against his name? Part of the answer is probably a misguided attempt to find a Tory equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders: someone from the fringes of the movement who could yet serve as the conduit for a rebellion against the establishment. I am surely not alone in finding JRM an improbable anti-establishment rebel.

Those grassroots movements happened because the candidates associated with them energised their base with a vision – something only possible if there is in fact a vision to be bought in to and a large number of people willing to do so. Neither is the case with Mogg (though there is an important point touched on here, which we’ll come back to).

What he does have are values, which is not the same as a vision but is not unrelated and that confusion may be at the heart of the odd momentum behind his rise up the list of potential successors to May. I very much doubt that those values would be an asset in a leadership election. Yes, his Euroscepticism would be an asset but he’s unlikely to be the only candidate who could claim purity on that question.

All the same, there is a reason why people are looking to the likes of Mogg that goes beyond just the general trend of outsiders, mavericks and values politics. In fact, there are two related ones. The first is the complete absence of any kind of program or ideology coming from May herself. When she was elected, she gave an excellent One Nation speech which seemed to set for herself and her government a framework of objectives and intentions but very little if anything has flowed from it. The manifesto, which should have been about the practical application of the solutions to the problems identified in that speech, was a hotch-potch of unrelated unpopular ideas. There was no central theme to it (and if there had been, no-one was following it anyway).

As then, so now. Her government trundles on but without any burning sense of mission. Even Brexit, which will dominate politics for years, is for her nothing more than the pragmatic application of a policy she campaigned against. Her answer to this was that it was a virtue to be unideological and to be simply delivering good, competent, strong and stable government: a line which worked until May and hasn’t worked since.

The second reason is that if people are looking for potential successors to May, then the cabinet is itself struggling for obvious candidates. Too many are too compromised by one thing or another, while others are simply too junior or too grey. In the absence of clear candidates in the obvious place, it’s unsurprising that people turn to less obvious places, particularly when that has proven a route to power elsewhere.

The comparisons, however, are wrong. Apart from the differences already mentioned, the parties also differ. The Conservatives have caught ideology in the past and there’s no guarantee that they won’t do so again, particularly at a time when such big issues are at stake. But they’ve never chosen such an outsider and the party’s election process is designed against it.

It follows that the odds offered for Rees-Mogg are ludicrously short. There may be merit in the conclusion that the winner will come from outside the usual suspects at the very top of the party but if we’re looking to current outsiders, someone like Dominic Raab – a member of the government and a good possibility for promotion to the cabinet, priced at 66/1 with SkyBet – would be a better bet.

David Herdson


ConHome members’ survey finds just 36% wanting TMay to lead party at next election

Monday, September 4th, 2017

The build up to the Tory conference

In the six days since TMay’s “not a quitter” assertion there have been several different surveys of different groups as to how they view the woman who lost the party its majority carrying on in the job right up to the next general election.

The latest from CONHome of party members will offer little comfort to Downing Street with just 36% saying she should carry on till the election.

It is party members, of course, who are the final arbiter of who leads the party if the process goes through to a members’ ballot. In July last year they were denied that choice after the number 2 in the MP part of the selection, Andrea Leadsom, pulled out after her controversial “I’m a mother” comment to the Times.

Since the current Conservative leader election system was brought in by William Hague in the 1997-2001 parliament members have only been troubled for their preference twice. First was after GE2001 when IDS beat Ken Clarke in the run off and 2005 which saw Cameron beat the current betting favourite David Davis, by a margin of two to one.

It is hard to see anything other than a proper leadership election whenever TMay decides to call it a day or gets pushed.

The latest rumblings suggest the PM is planning a reshuffle in order to assert her authority. The problem here is that such a process inevitably means some will lose their jobs and there’s a chance that they could become dissidents within the Party. The manner of her July 2016 ministerial appointments and the sacking of George Osborne highlight the challenges.

A big issue is what she does with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who has been widely criticised and is thought to be vulnerable.

If the ex-mayor thinks that he is under threat then his supporters could trigger a challenge. The Populus survey of MPs last week had him being rated by his colleagues as the one most likely to succeed Mrs May.

For all TMay tries to assert herself she cannot negate the fact that she called an unnecessary election three years earlier that saw the party lose its majority.

Mike Smithson


May’s comments on retirement are more about 2019 than 2022

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

Her party will give her Brexit but not another election

Theresa May might be on the other side of the world but she can no doubt still hear the cacophony of silence from her cabinet colleagues in support of her comment stating her desire to lead the Conservatives into the next election. As so often, what is not said is more revealing than what is.

To be fair, the question of whether a leader intends to stand down within a specified timeframe is always a difficult one. Say yes and you make yourself a lame duck; say no and it not only looks like hubris and entitlement but can also focus opposition as MPs see both their personal and their party’s futures being damaged; dodge the question and you risk the worst of both worlds.

In this case, however, there was an additional factor in play: the speculation that she would stand down in 2019. That was something that she clearly, and rightly, wanted to squash. Not only would such an expectation undermine her own position in her party but it’d undermine her position in the EU negotiations, which must ultimately come to European Council level.

And Europe, as so often, holds the key to the party’s immediate future. Later this month, we will be one-quarter of the way through the Article 50 period. Talks are, unsurprisingly, making little progress with both sides struggling to understand the language the other is speaking (and often, not really trying). The clock is indeed ticking and a timescale already tight may now already be unachievable.

This kicks off two games, in addition to the one already underway in the talks. The first is about a deferral of Brexit Day. This is a touchy subject because the one really clear way to actually prevent Brexit at all is an indefinite deferral of the Day (or, at least, a deferral to such a distant point that it allows a treaty revision to permit the UK to stay in). Tories and the DUP will also be well aware that the longer a deferral, the closer the negotiations run to the next election and the greater the risk of Labour taking over and completing them. The EU will also be aware of this. Consequently, while the government might agree to a short extension of 12-18 months, it’s unlikely to request or accept anything longer.

The second, related game is about blame. Who gets it if talks should break down or run out of time. On that score, British media, politicians and public will inevitably revert to their default prejudices unless there’s strong evidence to the contrary. In essence, the default majority position will be that it’s unreasonable foreigner to blame unless the government has clearly screwed it up (there will of course be a sizable and no doubt vocal minority for whom a Tory government could do no right but this isn’t about them; it’s about those whose votes are up for grabs).

The one thing that could demonstrate to the public more than anything that a breakdown or a bad deal was the government’s fault would be infighting either within the cabinet or within the wider parliamentary Conservative Party. It is perhaps in the awareness of this that despite indifferent polling and slow going in Brussels, there’s been a marked lack of sounding off, either from disgruntled backbenchers or from ‘friends’ of ministers. That’s not to say there hasn’t been anything of the sort but the level’s been far lower than might have been expected. After all, this is a story the media knows well, and knows who to go to for a juicy quote.

Can that discipline hold as negotiations get more intense? Can it stick to its red lines and compromise enough elsewhere to deliver a deal? That remains to be seen, though it’s extremely likely that there won’t be any big bust-up at this year’s Tory conference and quite possibly not next year’s either. Crunch time will come between October 2018 and March 2019 – which is why it was so essential for May to retain such authority as she has.

    That authority though was deeply damaged by the election and although she’s recovered somewhat since – not least because although she’s a rotten election campaigner, she’s a capable prime minister – she remains damaged goods.

Events may yet turn something up to give her a genuine second chance but as things stand, once the hard work of Brexit is done (and when it is done, it will be at best a tolerable deal, at worst an intolerable one and just possibly, no deal at all; what it won’t be is a triumph), she’ll have served her purpose.

The Tory Party is sentimental but what it doesn’t do (or only rarely, when its judgement is off), is allow sentiment to get in the way of winning. By 2020 or 2021 (depending on Brexit extensions), minds will be turning to the next election and to the next chapter for the UK. There may well be a Brexit-related economic downturn to navigate. That will be the time to hand over the reins, either voluntarily or in a forced election. Events could easily throw that expectation off course but for now, it should be our default assumption.

David Herdson


TMay’s desire to fight the next election makes a challenge this autumn more likely

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

Maybe the plan is to bring things to a head

By announcing overnight her desire to carry on as CON leader and Prime Minister until the next general election Mrs May has effectively changed the terms of trade with her party following the disappointing outcome to the general election.

The widespread view that she would depart after Brexit sometime in 2019 had been broadly bought by the parliamentary party and had made a challenge this year less likely.

Now she has upset that balance and we could see some sort of move in the period after the Party Conference in the first week of October.

For a challenge to take place at least 15% of Tory MPs (48) have to write to the chairman of the 1922 committee requesting such a move. It was reported during the summer that the Committee chair, Graham Brady has had about 15 such letters already.

TMay’s major problem is that she called an unnecessary election which saw the end of the small majority that her predecessor, David Cameron, had managed to achieve. The campaign which focused very much on herself exposed her personally even more when things did not quite work out as was planned.

All this was not helped by the expectations of a big majority fueled by many of the pollsters overstating the Conservative position in relation to Labour.

When pressed on her ambitions in the interview yesterday Theresa May could easily have by-passed the point by saying that the big thing for her and the government at the moment was focusing on successful outcome to the Brexit negotiations.

    I just wonder whether all this was pre-planned and that the Prime Minister would rather like to bring this to a head earlier rather than later.

Certainly if there was a move against her in the next few weeks which she was able to survive then her position would undoubtedly be much stronger. Clearly this is a gamble but one, perhaps, that is worth taking.

Ladbrokes has been offering 5/1 that she’ll still be PM in 2020 which seems a good bet. I’ve had a punt.

Mike Smithson


Punters make it a 77% chance that TMay’ll make it to the end of the year which seems about right

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

Will the PM face a challenge or not?

In the immediate aftermath of the disappointing general election for the Conservatives George Osborne suggested that the the Prime Minister was “a dead woman walking” a view that was shared by many who expected an early resignation.

The Tories, after all, are the party that is said to be most ruthless with a failing leader and in those few days after the election she was at her most vulnerable. Yet she didn’t going to the backbench 1922 committee saying that she was the one who had got the party into the situation where it had lost its majority and she was the one who would get the party out. Brave words and, as it turned out, ones that resonated.

Coming up though she has to face her party conference in early October and there’s been speculation over whether she’ll make an apology or not.

Perhaps more difficult is whether a challenge will be forthcoming. We all remember IDS in 2003 securing 13 standing ovations in his conference speech and the longest ever ovation any leader has ever enjoyed at the end. Within less than a month, however, he was out and Michael Howard got the leadership with a coronation.

Could the same happen this autumn with TMay? The big difference between her situation and IDS is that the latter was never able to fight an election as leader. TMay has and she lost the CON majority with a a net loss of 25 seats in England & Wales ameliorated by Ruth Davidson’s 12 Scots CON gains in Scotland.

The real issue is whether there will be a challenge and if so will it succeed?

Surprisingly the bookies have really not picked up on this and the only market I can find is the Q4 exit date betting on Betfair which prices her going as a 23% chance.

Her great strength is that there is not a unified view on who would be the successor.

Mike Smithson


From Core TV – focus on PB, Brexit, the “Democrats”, the Tory leadership and more

Saturday, August 19th, 2017

No David Herdson with his usual Saturday morning post this morning but instead this TV feature on PB and many of the issues we’ve been discussing on the site over the past few weeks.

This interview, by Rob Double, was recorded yesterday afternoon for Core TV the new online news and politics channel.

My views and assessments won’t be unfamiliar to regular PBers.

Mike Smithson


Johnson the big loser – Rees-Mogg the big winner in the CON leadership betting since the election

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Given that the loss of the CON overall majority at general election happened less than ten weeks it is quite extraordinary to look back at the change in TMay replacement betting since then.

In the aftermath of TMay’s failure to retain a majority the general assumption was that she’d quit within days and we’d be into to another leadership contest. The other assumption was that if Johnson could get through to the final round of voting, which is amongst the membership, then he would sweep in.

The Tory system, of course, involves the parliamentary party holding a series of ballots until a short-list of two is agreed to go to the membership which makes the final choice. Johnson had long been seen as the members’ favourite and this was reflected in his then 30%+ betting price.

The following weeks have seen the ex-Mayor and foreign secretary slip further and further in the betting and as I write he’s now fourth favourite rated by punters as just a 9% chance.

At the moment there is no clear from runner and we have the rise of Rees-Mogg who is not even a minister.

What we don’t know is whether there is going to be a contest at all. Could it be that TMay’s extended summer holiday, means that she’s been giving a lot of consideration to what happens next?

My guess is that I’ll be still writing “Next CON leader betting posts” for the next three or four years.

Mike Smithson