Archive for the 'CON Leadership' Category


CON members’ polling with Davis ahead, plots to get TMay to quit, and how the Great Repeal Bill could be scuppered

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

The main political stories this Sunday morning

Mike Smithson


The betting sentiment is moving away from David Davis for next CON leader but he’s still favourite

Thursday, July 20th, 2017


In Tory leadership races the assassin rarely becomes the replacement

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

There’s almost a story a day running on who’ll be TMay’s successor although she’s given no indication other than that she’s staying put at Number 10 and would probably like to remain to beyond Brexit and beyond.

But the PM’s personal authority was badly dented by the shock outcome to GE17 and, of course, her parliamentary position is neither strong nor stable. Her party, of course, has been riven with divisions on Europe for decades and arguably it brought the three previous CON PM’s down.

As in the previous thread Andrea Leadsom has hinted strongly in the Commons that she’s considering running again and, of course, Davis, Hammond and BoJo also have a strong interest.

The surprise in the betting in recent days has been the interest in Jacob Rees Mogg who earlier in the week became the second favourite behind David Davis. His price slipped back after making it clear that he wasn’t interested.

The real problem for the party is that there are no obvious alternatives to May and all the potential replacements have big question marks over them. Who would dare to make the first move against TMay? We all know how it was John Major who picked up the prize in 1990 after Mrs. T was ousted not Michael Heseltine.

    The more I have watched him the more convinced I am that the best choice for the party would be the current First Minister, the articulate and intelligent Damian Green, who was relatively unknown until a month or so ago and has a lot of John Major about him.

A friend who was active in the Oxford University Tories in the late 1970s tells me that Green and May were the dominant figures of his era and that the former was always seen as the one most likely to succeed. I’m on at 70/1.

Mike Smithson


The size of her majority will determine the sort of PM Theresa May can be and what sort of Brexit and other radicalism we might see, or not see from her

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

Shortly there will be an election, in which the Tories will win a majority

Despite all the light and heat generated with recent polling, I still expect the Tories to win a majority, unless Nick Timothy decides to add another Nimitz class sized barnacle to the Tory boat between now and June 8th

The Tories still lead in the polls, the leadership and economic polling also favour the blue team, but the size of the majority will determine how her government can and will operate for the next five years, and will also determine when Mrs May will depart as Prime Minister and will it be at a time of her own choosing. So I’m going to look at what different sized majorities might mean for, inter alia, Mrs May, the Tory Party. the country, and of course Brexit.

A majority of 0-24 seats

This would be frankly embarrassing for Mrs May, given her opponent, the size of the leads she and the party enjoyed at the start of the general election campaign. It would be the nemesis that follows the hubris of trying to take the seats of Tom Watson, Richard Burgon, Dennis Skinner, Tim Farron, Angus Robertson, and Pete Wishart and to end up with a majority similar or smaller than David Cameron achieved in 2015.

As the climb down on national insurance increases and the unprecedented u-turn on her manifesto, Mrs May isn’t strong and stable, but weak and wobbly, this does not bodes well for her Brexit negotiations or for her to pursue any radical reform during the next parliament.

As we saw when with the proposed changes to family tax credits and national insurance, a majority of this size is no majority at all.

She will become a very diminished figure, trashing her reputation, a bad Brexit outcome and Labour consistently leading in the polls would mean she’s ditched as leader, because unlike the Labour party, the Tory party don’t fanny about when it comes to toppling their leaders. She maybe also forced out by the most passionate Leavers who want a hard Brexit whilst Mrs May tries to be pragmatic with a softer Brexit.

I would expect her to be forced out within 18 months if this result happens.

A majority of 26-50 seats

This would be a tepid result for Mrs May, as the old adage goes, success equals performance minus anticipation, the anticipation when she called the election was the Tories would absolutely shellack Labour back into 1983 result or a 1997 in reverse result.

Like winning a majority of 24 seats it will feel a bit of an anti-climax, but the closer to 50 the majority, the safer she will feel, but consistent Labour poll leads will probably see her forced out in around three or four years. I’d expect a lot of Tory rebellions over the social care changes and resistance from the free market Thatcherite wing if she tries to introduce her Ed Miliband lite policies on energy prices and racial pay audits.

A majority of 52-98 seats

An 80 seat majority is what Tory MPs reportedly consider as par, this is the sort of result that should make governing easy for Mrs May, it would take a substantial rebellion for her to lose any votes in the Commons and see off the awkward squad that every Prime Minister has to deal with. It allows her to get rid of poorly performing ministers without having to worry about them causing trouble on the back benches. It does give her some scope for being bold and radical.

A majority of 100-198 seats

Now we’re in landslide territory, not only will Mrs May become unassailable she’ll have a majority to be radical in all things from Brexit to social care and all things in between like involving the government in energy prices.

Mayism will be a word that will soon be added to the OED, as she is spoken in the same breath as Thatcher and Blair, majorities of this magnitude lead the PM to be bold. It also means Mrs May can say she’s a bona fide election winner when difficult times come up during the next Parliament, again she will be safe and secure as Tory Leader during the next Parliament.

A majority of 200 seats or more

Now a 200 seat majority is the ceiling/best case scenario for many in the Tory party, if she achieves it, she might well claim to be, with some justification, the Tory party’s most electorally successful leader since Stanley Baldwin and his 324 seat majority in 1931, even outdoing Margaret Thatcher in scorching socialism from the face of the Earth. I do not expect this outcome, and merely add it for the sake of completeness.


PS – If the Tories fail to win a majority, I will accept this is my Sion Simon moment


Time to put UK primaries to bed

Saturday, July 30th, 2016

Big Ben

Elitism has a rightful place in politics

A colleague told me this week that she felt let down that she couldn’t vote in the Conservative leadership contest. Never mind that her politics are somewhere between Jeremy Corbyn and Natalie Bennett, or that I – like the rest of the voluntary section of the Conservative Party – didn’t get a vote in the leadership contest, she’s of the opinion that everyone should be entitled to have a say in the internal democracy of political parties. She is of course wrong, though it’s interesting that the notion has built up that the right not only should exist but does do so.

Allowing anyone to participate in something which they’re likely to want to sabotage is obviously foolhardy and even Labour, in opening its leadership contest to self-defined ‘supporters’, does at least reserve the right to deny the vote to those it believes don’t support its objectives.

That’s not the only reason why it’s a mistake to spread the franchise too far though. Democracy can be a very imperfect system when the electorate is large but the voting pool is small – that is, when the turnout is very low. Jeremy Corbyn’s election and likely re-election is the clearest example of how a well-motivated minority can overwhelm an ambivalent majority but hardly the only one.

From the union leaders dancing to their left-wing executives’ tunes, to Trump winning his nomination despite – like Corbyn – very poor overall approval ratings, to Sanders running Hillary close, an excess of democracy has frequently undermined its own purpose.

Hardly surprising then that faced with the unknowns of a membership vote, the Conservative MPs managed to keep the process in-house for a second time in the last three leadership elections. We don’t know of course how much internal pressure, if any, was put on Leadsom to withdraw before she reached her decision to stand back but the simple fact that she did act in that way is telling.

What was also telling was the almost complete acceptance of that decision by the Conservative Party. Perhaps the lack of an embedded tradition of membership leadership votes helped there: it’s doubtful that the Labour membership of 2015, never mind that which they have now, would have been quite so sanguine about an outcome decided solely by MPs.

And yet the contrast is clear. The Conservatives replaced their leader with little fuss and selected an obviously capable individual to the role, while Labour is engaging in a contest where none of the most qualified candidates are even standing.

So, whither democracy? Should we just leave things to an elite? No. It’s not as simple as that either.

Firstly, that elite has to be a meritocracy. It may well be fine to leave things up to MPs providing that the MPs themselves are accountable, though this may be where things become difficult because if they’re too accountable to a party base which is unrepresentative of the party’s support then the system still breaks down – and given the lack of interest shown by the general public in joining political parties, their membership may always be unrepresentative of their voting base. On the other hand, without a meaningful system of entry to and removal from that elite, it ceases to operate in the wider interest. Ultimately, it’s a balance that can only hold with a sizable degree of self-restraint on both sides.

Also, that elite has to be representative: one problem with any party leaving matters to its MPs is that large parts of the country won’t be represented in the decision making process, and those will be parts which share social and/or geographic similarities.

Finally, but crucially, we should remember that the system does work if enough people become engaged. Vocal minorities can be rejected (or supported, as the case may be) by the majority when that majority’s mobilised – but that only happens when they see good reason to be involved.

Which brings us to primaries. Trump was elected through primaries and though he won more primary votes than any previous Republican, he’ll need more than four times as many in November. Likewise, Corbyn may well win 300,000 votes in the leadership contest but that’s still less than one in thirty of what Labour will need come the general election. The views of the other 29 are just as important.

The Conservatives also trialled primaries in several constituency selections prior to the 2015 election, as well as on a few earlier occasions. I suspect we might hear little more of the idea. Apart from being expensive and of unproven utility for the local campaign, they come with the quite real risk of the poll being subverted by those who wish the party selecting ill.

The public are happy to engage at general and local elections and, within reason, at referendums. But where the whole electorate cannot be engaged then decisions are best left to a small elite who are best placed to decide. The experiment of wider internal democracy has been tried and has failed. For the good of all involved, it would be best to let it quietly expire.

David Herdson


The Leadsom candidacy is a reminder that those seeking high office must expect the highest levels of scrutiny

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016


And you need very good media advisors who you take notice of

In the end I was rather disappointed that Andrea Leadsom pulled out because I could have seen her performing much better than expected.

Her views on social issues might not be mainstream but could well have appealed to large parts of the older middle class men who make up much of the party membership base. She’s also personable and quite a good communicator.

Importantly Leadsom was the one Brexiter left standing after the second round of MP voting and this itself had the potential to make her very competitive with a membership that on June 23rd had split 65-35 to LEAVE. In the 2001 the vastly more experienced Ken Clarke lost badly to IDS in the membership round because of his views on the EU.

A self selecting survey of members at CONHome carried out eight days ago had had Leadsom beating May by 1% when the choice of the initial five was put.

So by the time we got to the second MP round results last Thursday evening Leadsom was in a strong position after dealing successfully with the much better known Brexiter Michael Gove.

    She had a fighting chance of becoming the next prime minister and it was inevitable that every aspect of her life was going to be subject to the most intense media scrutiny before the membership ballots went out.

The starting point for examination was what she had said about herself in her CV. When aspects of this started to unravel this simply encouraged further examination and research. To state that she had had a particular job title that was not correct was very damaging.

Then came the motherhood story in the Times and Leadsom’s initial reaction to it casting doubt on its veracity in Tweets. This all fell apart when an audio recording had her saying the words that the Times had splashed. What this highlighted was that she didn’t have a skilled media manager who would be calling the shots and seeking to put out fires.

I thought her pull out yesterday lunchtime was highly dignified and will hold her in good stead in the future.

No doubt the affair sent out messages to others who high ambitions to be extra careful with their published biogs and what they have in their Who’s Who entries. Inflation of their roles could have a devastating impact later in their careers.

Mike Smithson


Leadsom quits the race. Big question now is whether May is declared winner

Monday, July 11th, 2016


It has to be May

Monday, July 11th, 2016


And the polls and history suggest it will be

When Theresa May pitches her bid for the leadership of the Conservative Party to its members, she will do so with unprecedented support from MPs. More than half voted for her in the first round – the highest total since 1965 in a contested election without an incumbent – and more than 60% backed her in the final MPs’ round: well above the comparable figures for Cameron or IDS at the equivalent stage.

By contrast, were Andrea Leadsom to win, she’d be taking on the job with less positive support than any Tory leader since the party introduced elections. That record’s currently held by IDS who won just 23.5% in the first round of the 2001 contest and was subsequently no-confidenced by his MPs the same parliament; Leadsom took only 20.1%.

Of course, the decision isn’t down to MPs; it’ll be decided by the rank and file membership, although the members will be well aware that MPs can in effect veto their choice in time as they did with Duncan Smith. Not that they should need to. The YouGov poll for The Times this week gave May a 67-33 lead over Leadsom (excluding refusals, don’t knows and the like), and the Survation poll of Conservative councillors found an almost identical split.

That’s not to say it’s all over before it’s begun – a lot can happen in the two months until the members’ vote closes – but May starts with a formidable advantage. In reality, Leadsom can only win if May makes a horrible error or Leadsom can capture the popular imagination. Neither is likely.

Theresa May has built her career on not being seen to make mistakes. At a time when the country needs a steady hand on the tiller and the Conservative Party will be more than happy to contrast Jeremy Corbyn’s protest politics with her own understated competence, her advocates have an easy sell. We can leave the debate as to the extent of her competence aside: if it is Corbyn vs May, that will be the Tories’ pitch to the public. Her biggest failing in government – the inability to reduce net immigration – can hardly be placed entirely at her door, though it remains a negative.

Not half as big as the election negatives Leadsom has built up in the space of only a couple of weeks for inaccuracy and poor judgement though. Those problems are compounded by two more things. Firstly, because she’s so new to the big time, they’re two of very few things that anyone does know about her, and secondly, they tie in to the nature of her bid. It takes an extraordinary degree of self-confidence for a minister not even in the cabinet to believe that they could take on the job of PM today (or at least, in two months). Overstating the importance of one’s jobs in the past and grossly overrating one’s current ability are not dissimilar and both may be revealing of a mind-set of which MPs and party alike should be extremely wary.

Leadsom’s pitch is based on a couple of decent TV debates for Leave in the referendum campaign but that is a far from sufficient basis on which to elect someone to Number Ten. More than 16 million people voted Leave but only a handful could do a tolerable job as PM; Leadsom isn’t one of them. In fact, having voted Leave isn’t even a necessary qualification. Other things being equal, it would be an advantage but other things are very far from equal.

The crucial question though is whether Tory members will see it that way. And the answer is almost certainly ‘yes’. Not only does May outpoll Leadsom 2:1 but the two most important factors to the membership in choosing their preferred candidate are competence as a potential PM and ability to unite the party: both areas where May should – and does – score heavily (from YouGov, 1-4 July). Interestingly, Leadsom’s supporters disagree on those priorities, putting ‘having voted Leave’ top, which suggests that she’s fishing in a shallow pond.

What of history though? Doesn’t that suggest that the membership always goes for the most Eurosceptic candidate? I don’t believe so. That was the case in 2001 and, arguably, in 2005 when Cameron promised to bring the Conservatives out of the EPP, but a sample of two is tiny and hence unreliable, and there were many other reasons the party chose who it did.

Most important, then as now, was the ability to be an effective leader: to unite and to deliver electoral success. Some would undoubtedly question associating IDS with such attributes but that decision has to be seen in the context of the time. Had the Conservatives been in government, the choice might have been different but they were not. Clarke’s stance on the Euro was intolerable to the membership in opposition in a way that it would not necessarily have been in government. As PM, he would have been constrained by cabinet and his MPs; by contrast, Clarke as LotO would have provided an enormous temptation to Blair to simultaneously seek Euro entry and split the Tories. And in opposition, if IDS proved a failure then he could always be replaced before it really mattered.

That’s not the case now. May will never win over the Brexit irreconcilables but she doesn’t need to; she simply has to reassure – as she is doing – that she’ll carry out the electorate’s will. Leadsom is a long way out of her depth and, worryingly, doesn’t seem to know it. That ought to become increasingly apparent to Conservative Party members as the weeks wear on and the media focus on the two women. If backing the favourite isn’t a very exciting option, more value might be found in Ladbrokes market that Leadsom will withdraw from the race before the end of the month at 7/1 (previously tipped on Twitter at 10/1). Given her interview in the Times yesterday and given that ballots won’t go out to members until August, it’s very far from impossible that she might find herself in an irrecoverable position before July’s out.

David Herdson