Archive for the 'CON Leadership' Category


Why I think it will be Gove & Sajid in a CON members’ ballot not Moggsy or BoJo

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

Being seen to be successful ministers will be crucial

Ever since last June when Theresa May lost the Conservative Party its majority there has always been a chance of a leadership contest. We have had repeated stories about MPs being ready to send letters to the chairman of the 1922 committee seeking a confidence vote. The fact that this has not materialised so far doesn’t mean it is not going to happen.

In view of the febrile state of the party caused by the splits on Brexit we have to recognise that a contest could happen at any time so we need to keep an eye on the betting markets on who will replace her.

The critical thing to remember about the Conservative leadership is that the election process is of two stages. The first is a series of ballots of the parliamentary party to decide which two should go to the membership. The second and final round is the mass mailing to members which makes the final decision.

The top of the betting for nine months have been Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Currently the former is rated as a 18% chance with the latter a 9% one on Betfair.

My view is that neither will make it to the final round. Rees-mogg is certainly popular amongst a part of the party but it is hard to see him securing the votes of more than 100 MPs in the leadership contest secret ballot of MPs. He’ll need more than that to get to the members ballot. He also suffers from not being a minister which could be key given that that the election could be about choosing a prime minister.

Boris’s big negative is being Boris. He’s never really looked like a serious Foreign Secretary and there is plenty to use against him in the dirt that’s likely to be flung about in a leadership contest. Just remember what happened to Andrea leadsom last time.

My current view is that the final two to go to the Ballot will be the current Environment secretary, Michael Gove, abd Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary who replaced Amber Rudd a month or so ago.

Both look as though they are on top of their ministerial briefs and appear confident in themselves.

Mike Smithson


Leave till last. Identifying the next Conservative leader

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018



Considering how fondly it is remembered as a children’s book, The Hobbit has a lot of gore in it.  (The alert will already have figured out that I’m going to be talking about Conservative leadership manoeuvrings.)  Bilbo Baggins is threatened with imminent devourment on five separate occasions, which would make even the most gung-ho adventurer feel put out. 

On the first of these occasions, he has been captured by trolls.  They quiz him about whether there are others like him around.  “Lots”, he replies before realising that was not particularly smart, “No, none at all”.

Since the inglorious general election last year, the Conservative party has suffered a lot of trolling too.  The question of its leadership has been near the forefront of political discussion more or less constantly ever since.  Every time Theresa May looks to have got on the front foot, she steps on a rake in the grass.

So what changes have there been since the last time we looked at the Conservative leadership race?  Lots and none at all.  Theresa May still looks uneasy in her seat, her credibility scarcely improved since she threw away a majority in pursuit of an unobtained mandate.  She continues to struggle to balance the competing groupings in the Conservative party and the House of Commons, while carrying out an unequal negotiation with the EU.  The absence of an alternative acceptable to a large enough group of Conservatives has kept her in situ.  An uneasy equilibrium is maintained.

However, the competing groupings have changed considerably.  Immediately after the general election, three big beasts circled her, holding each other at bay: Philip Hammond, David Davis and Boris Johnson.  All three are still in government but only Boris Johnson is still seen at present by the betting markets to be in even outside contention for the top job.  Philip Hammond has upset too many Leave supporters with his candour and David Davis looks too worn down by the demands of his job.  Boris Johnson’s star has also waned with a series of gaffes and displays of disloyalty.

The gap has not been filled by any single candidate.  Theresa May has been careful not to create new contenders, in general bringing dutiful plodders rather than sparky highfliers into the Cabinet.  So all the stars that have twinkled have been little ones.  The competing groupings within the Conservative party now look like collectives rather than packs led by big beasts.

And time has taken its toll.  Damian Green, Michael Fallon and now Amber Rudd, all of whom were fancied contenders at one stage, have all been captured by spiders.  All this leads to an unusually open contest.

So what of the contenders?  As previously, I start from the viewpoint that the most important question is not who but when: when will Theresa May be replaced?  If she is replaced otherwise than at an election, the replacement will almost certainly be a Conservative with experience of government at the highest level: Conservative MPs will be loth to put forward to the membership a candidate to run the country on day one who might be out of his or her depth.

How likely is Theresa May to make the next election?  She benefits enormously from inertia.  For her to go, enough people need to decide that her time is up.  In the absence of a clear alternative and with the risks of a leadership election opening up faultlines all over the place, that is going to take some doing.  However, her performance in the last year has been lamentable in the main, with no obvious signs of improvement.   She has not recovered her authority and looks incapable of doing so.  I therefore expect her to be deposed or step down before the next election and possibly much sooner than most people anticipate.  Brexit is unlikely to be seen as completed before she goes.

To the betting markets.  The first thing that stands out is that Jacob Rees-Mogg is absurdly short.  You can lay him on Betfair for next leader at 5.8, as I write.  Theresa May has had yet another reshuffle – the third since the election – where she has overlooked his talents.  One can make the strong negative inference that Theresa May is not a fan. 

His USP is as a fluent and steely advocate for Brexit. The oddity is that this USP is most attractive before Brexit takes place but he would look more credible as a candidate if the Conservatives are replacing Theresa May in opposition or if he has gained more experience, either of which would imply that Brexit has taken place, making his USP that much less compelling.  In the absence of even the most junior ministerial experience it is going to take the most monomaniac focus on Brexit for him even to be considered by his fellow MPs.  Jacob Rees-Mogg as next Conservative leader is conceivable but it surely isn’t a 4/1 shot (20/1 sounds about right to me at present).  Every failure for him to receive advancement is a further weakening of his chances. 

You might simply lay him, and I would regard that as sound at present prices.  His price is so short that it is distorting the rest of the market, meaning that there must be value out there all over the place.  But who to pick?

Many Conservatives see Brexit as Thorin regarded the Arkenstone – the heart of the mountain, a jewel with value beyond measure.  Some Conservatives see Brexit as Gollum regarded the ring – their precioussss, something that bewitches them and corrupts them, even if they have no real idea what to do with it.  This tendency has only intensified since the referendum vote.  In this environment, any attempt to replace Theresa May before Brexit is completely out of the way will mean that many electors will be applying loyalty tests of varying degrees of stringency. 

Any candidate who backed Remain is going to need to be pretty damn convincing in their conversion before gaining the trust of those voters.  Most are going to fail that test if it is still relevant, and even if it isn’t there’s going to be a residual distrust among ardent Leavers towards people who, as they saw it, were on the wrong side of the defining dividing line of the age.  As Bilbo could have told you, skin-changers are discomfiting even if they ultimately turn out to be on your side.

So, putting the pieces together, I’m looking for MPs of fairly senior Cabinet rank who have some presentational skills, who have not become soiled goods and who are not anathema to Leave supporters.  Michael Gove at 11 (10/1) is a decent bet, in my view.  Sajid Javid’s price has shortened to 16.5 with his promotion to Home Secretary but still looks too long to me, though his Brexit vacillations did him no good at all.  Jeremy Hunt at 16 (15/1) looks very good value too – his recantation of Remain seems to have satisfied the backwoodsmen. 

But what of Esther McVey?  She’s an experienced minister in a senior role who backed Leave.  She has the huge potential advantage (in an internal Conservative party election) of being viscerally hated by Labour supporters for reasons that have nothing to do with Brexit.  She is an experienced presenter: her first career was in television.  I got on her at 75 (74/1) and she’s still available at 65 (64/1).  Worth a flutter, I think.

Alastair Meeks


Amber warning: Rudd is safe – for now

Saturday, April 28th, 2018

Labour’s front-bench inexperience has been shown up as much as Rudd’s errors

Politics is not just showbiz for ugly people; it’s also sport for the energetic, enthusiastic, passionate but physically average. Although virtually all politicians go into it because they believe strongly in at least some aspects of what their party stands for and because they want to see the reforms they champion implemented, most also simply enjoy practising politics – the camaraderie of (and rivalry within) the teams, the somewhat artificial opposition, the set-piece challenges, the games within the game. They almost have to enjoy it: it’s so intrinsic to the process that it’d be deadly to go into unless you did (this testosterone-filled fact of itself goes some way to explain both the male preponderance of politicians).

Of those games, the Ministerial Resignation Chase has its own rhythms, rules, tactics and culture – as Amber Rudd is currently demonstrating. What are they?

The unveiling

The chase begins with the uncovering of some error, wrongdoing or gaffe. The minister might or might not be personally responsible (it’s a lot easier for the opposition if they are) but they are at least accountable. Getting on top of the story here – i.e. defining what the scandal is about – is key to both sides: that definition will to a large extent drive the later narrative and set the measure the minister will be judged against. In addition, the media is the third player in the game and will also be looking for scoops; something an effective politician on either side will use.

The response

The minister will invariably be caught off-guard by the unveiling. If the ambush was sufficiently intense and the scandal sufficiently potent, they’ll already be out. If not, the natural swing of the story allows them to put their case and deflect the attack. They can counterattack, throw up chaff, blame others, issue a partial apology or some or all of the above. Judge the tone of the response and the story will die; get it wrong and you make it worse.

The secondary action

The initial allegation can only go so far. If a minister can ride out two or three days, they will usually be OK because by that point the momentum will start to go out of the story. However, if they’ve misplayed the response and so given the opposition the chance to add an attack on that to their original one or – worse for the minister – if there’s a second aspect to pile on top of the first, we’ll begin to hear the dread word ‘beleaguered’; if there’s a third, it’s almost certainly game over. A wise opposition will aim for a drip-drip effect, which is likely to undermine support on the minister’s own benches.

The wildcard

The Resignation Chase isn’t a board game. There might be rules, conventions and rhythms but it doesn’t take place in isolation. The wildcard of events can easily intercede either way. To make the pressure tell usually needs at least a week. If a different big story breaks in that time, the minister is likely to get away with it providing that they can keep their head down for a while afterwards.

Denouement or fizzle

If the minister isn’t felled by the initial allegation then it becomes a trial of strength: either the cumulative pressure becomes too great and the minister falls, or else the momentum goes out of the story and he or she survives. Alastair Campbell had a ’13-day rule’, which said that if a negative story stayed in the media for that long, it would begin to impact on polling – and implicitly, where the story is focussed on an individual, if it goes on that long, resignation or dismissal is almost inevitable – but making it last that long means at least three or four cycles to the story.

Which brings us to Amber Rudd. In her case, not only did she fluff her response but she then created her own secondary action by unnecessarily upsetting Number Ten with misjudged comments on Brexit at a journalists’ lunch. An adept opposite number would have exploited both errors to the extent that she’d be reeling, if not already gone. The likes of Robin Cook in the 1990s or David Davis in the later Blair-Brown years were highly skilled in keeping the media and political focus on the questions that caused most discomfort. Dianne Abbott is not.

But the then both Dianne Abbott and most of the Labour front bench made the leap straight into the cabinet (including the leadership) without going through the on-the-job training of junior office. At times like this, it shows.

There is a final stage to the Chase, which is ‘the coda’. Having bagged one minister, the multiplying bonus is to the get another. That’s when the government itself looks shaky and the PM comes under direct pressure. But to get a second, first you must get a first. And for the moment, that doesn’t look particularly likely.

David Herdson


Michael Gove looks as though he has his eye on Theresa’s job

Friday, April 27th, 2018

Now a clear third in the betting behind Moggsy & BoJo

The machinations in the Conservative Party about Brexit and Windrush has set off a little bit of a flurry of betting on the next party leader market which is currently the busiest UK politics market on Betfair.

The beleaguered Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has now slipped down to be a 3% chance. Meanwhile Michael Gove has edged up to a clear 3rd place on a 7% chance. He’s behind the old-Etonian pair of BoJo (9%) and Moggsy (185).

    Among the things that Gove offers is that he appears to be everything that the incumbent isn’t. He’s confident, fluent, can think on his feet, and is far more liberal than Mrs May – something that might become increasingly important as we have seen the mood change with the Windrush discussions.

If it wasn’t for Labour and Mr Corbyn’s problems with anti-semitism then we might have had the Windrush issue impacting on the state of the parties poll ratings. That’s not happened but it may do.

Mrs May’s efforts while HomeSec and PM to curb illegal immigration through measures which at same time makes life very uncomfortable for many of those those who are in the country legally hasn’t gone down well. That should have been sorted. Her response has been pedestrian and she’d have appeared much worse if she’d been facing a LOTO other than Corbyn.

What has sparked off some of the betting has been the Sun report that Govey, Rudd and Gavin Willanmson appear to be building up campaign funds.

I’ve not bet on Gove because we have no idea when there will be a vacancy and I’m reluctant to tie up cash for what could be years at shortish odds.

Mike Smithson


Polling analysis: Corbyn is a liability to Labour while TMay has returned to being an asset to the Tories

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

The YouGov favourability trackers are just about the only polling where we can compare leaders with their parties on the same basis. The same question is asked in exactly the same form to the same sample whether people have a favourable or unfavourable opinion of CON/LAB/TMay/Corbyn.

It is also a tracker which is asked in the same form at regular intervals which means there are enough data points to examine trends.

The movement in the leader and party ratings since the general election was called just over a year ago is shown in the chart above. As can be seen Theresa May was doing better than her party but went behind after the election. Only in the past few weeks is she doing better again

    The Corbyn and Labour party figures have been consistent over the time period. Labour Party has always been viewed more favourably than its leader a situation that remains.

In the chart the unfavourable figure is subtracted from the favourable figure to give a net number in each case for each data point.

All this rather undermines the notion that is often heard by his supporters that it was Mr Corbyn rather than the party that gave the red team a better than expected result last June.

Mike Smithson


Why the threat of a confidence vote on TMay has far less potency than it appears

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

Talk of letters to Graham Brady is probably just talk

It has been reported over the weekend that Mrs May could possibly face a challenge over the issue of whether Britain remains in a Customs Union after Brexit.

Hardline Brexiteers are absolutely resolute that this should not happen and have been making vibes that should Mrs May concede what seems to be the position of Brussels then she could face a confidence vote.

There are warnings about that in order to make the PM more resolved in her stance then letters are ready to go to Mr Graham Brady, pictured above, the chairman of the 1922 Committee demanding an immediate vote of no confidence in her leadership.

Brady is required under the party’s rules to hold an immediate secret ballot of CON MPs should he receive 48 such letters.

But the letters are not the end of the matter. If there was such a ballot Mrs May would have to be defeated and that would open the way for a new Conservative leadership election which could take weeks or even months to complete.

    But would Mrs May be defeated? Isn’t it likely that loyalists who fear an alternative leader or the turmoil of a prolonged contest might garner round the incumbent to ensure that she stays in power?

In that situation a victory by Mrs May would enhance her position and make it stronger. The party rules make it clear that she would then have a year’s immunity from a further challenge and that would take her through to Brexit and beyond.

It should be noted that the rules of the party have changed since 1990 when Mrs Thatcher faced a direct leadership challenge. Now to get rid of a leader a confidence vote, like that which happened with IDS in 2003, has to be taken first. The loser of a confidence vote is barred from competing in the following leadership contest.

A failed coup against the PM would create stability and underpin Mrs May’s position. This is, of course, why the hardliners cannot risk it.

Mike Smithson


Just under nine months to go for Toby Young to win his £15,000 “Boris will be CON leader by 2018” wager

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

My money’s on Nigella Lawson, who accepted the bet, winning

Fifteen years ago Toby Young had a bet of £15,000 with Nigella Lawson that Boris Johnson would become Tory leader by 2018.

Well the days are ticking away and there are just eight months and 26 days to go for the event to happen and Young to pick up his winnings.

In 2011 Tim Montgomerie wrote about the bet on ConHome quoting an article by Young in the Spectator:-

Since Salisbury Mrs. May has looked even more secure and it is becoming harder to see a vacancy occurring.

Mike Smithson


Theresa May may well yet achieve her ambition of leading her party at the next election

Friday, March 16th, 2018

There’s no talk now of letters calling for a confidence vote

One of the features about the current Russia crisis is what it is doing to perceptions of Theresa May. The latest polling overnight showing her getting huge backing from voters for the way she is handling things reflect how her approach is very much resonating with the public mood.

I thought yesterday her walk-about in Salisbury contrasted so much with some of the awful public appearances at the general election campaign less than a year ago when her discomfort with people became so clear and was almost certainly a factor in why she didn’t win a majority.

She’s helped, of course, by the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is having a bad crisis having got the public mood wrong and looking isolated even within the parliamentary Labour Party.

    It has become just a touch harder to see Labour, under Corbyn, winning the next general election and him becoming Prime Minister.

When the overnight YouGov/Times poll asked about the response of the party leaders, 53% think TMay has responded well to the incident, 23% badly; 18% think Corbyn has responded well, 39% badly with saying 43% don’t know.

If it continues in this vein then this is only going to reinforce Theresa Mays position even more. In a sense she has looked even more prime ministerial well Corbyn has looked less.

To think that only a few weeks ago there was renewed speculation about the number of CON MP letters calling for a confidence vote in Mrs May going to the 1922 committee chairman Graham Brady.

This could all carry Theresa May through unchallenged as Conservative leader to way beyond Brexit and who knows she might even now make it to the next general election.

  • The YouGov the voting intention figures were CON 42%(+1), LAB 39%(-4), LD 7(=).
  • Mike Smithson