Archive for the 'CON Leadership' Category

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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





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

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

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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




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

Monday, July 11th, 2016



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It has to be May

Monday, July 11th, 2016

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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





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From Ladbrokes and ConHome two factors that should raise a doubt amongst Theresa May backers

Friday, July 8th, 2016

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According to the betting markets this is a much tighter race than at the start of previous CON membership ballots

Friday, July 8th, 2016

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The Tory leadership battle: A lot can happen over the next 8 weeks

Until the 2001 CON leadership race the final decision was taken by MPs and there was no role for the members. So if the current battle had been held under pre-2001 rules Theresa May would now be moving into Downing Street.

Under William Hague’s 1997-2001 leadership the party rules were changed so that members could be involved for the first time. Since then three leaders have been elected but in 2003 no other contenders put their names forward and Michael Howard took over without having the inconvenience of a leadership election.

So we have only two previous CON elections to compare with – 2001 when it was Kenneth Clarke v IDS and the 2005 contest between David Cameron and David Davis.

In the former Clarke, an indefatigable pro European, never looked like a winner and IDS became a 1/10 odds on favourite after the final MP ballot had been staged.

In the 2005 contest Cameron was perceived as being even stronger and at this stage was a 92% chance on Betfair.

So Theresa May’s current betting position is good but nothing like as strong. In my betting I make roughly the same amount on both. The 2001 precedent suggests that views of the EU can be a powerful factor.

Mike Smithson




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For Andrea Leadsom the scrutiny has only just started

Friday, July 8th, 2016

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She’s got to be more convincing

There’s such a contrast between the two women who’ll fight it out over the next eight weeks to become prime minister. May is well-known, very experienced and has started her campaign with a confidence that suggests that she’s been planning this career move for years.

During the Cameron years she always maintained a detachment and was often accused of bring on maneuvers. Yet she’s never gone so far that she’s been open to the charge of disloyalty. Her positioning during the referendum looks in retrospect to have been very smart.

Leadsom on the other hand appears to have stumbled into the position of main challenger almost by accident. She got a big role in the referendum and then had the good fortune to benefit from Michael Gove’s destruction of Boris just eight days ago.

The result is that we do not know a lot about her and the media digging into her past has only just started. Her responses, I’d suggest, have been less than self assured. The “bigging up” her CV stories are only just the start and she’s been less than convincing. Either she was in a particular position that she claimed to have and performed a stated role or she didn’t.

In many organisations being found to have lied on your CV is a sacking offence and what we’ve seen so far suggests carelessness.

At some stage in the next few weeks she’ll face a grilling by Paxman or Neill which she could find very uncomfortable. Top interviewers can’t be flammed off.

Her policy positions on a range of issues are going be examined as is the depth of her Euroscepticness.

But she is engaging and can come over well.

The current betting makes her a 28% chance which is about right.

Mike Smithson




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In many ways Andrea Leadsom looks like Britain’s Sarah Palin

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

The similarities with the former Alaska Governor are striking argues Keiran Pedley and therefore Theresa May is surely Britain’s next Prime Minister.

Video has emerged this afternoon of an interview with Conservative candidate for Prime Minister Andrea Leadsom and Sky News Political Editor Faisal Islam. Although it is not as bad as Sarah Palin’s ‘I can see Russia from my house’ interview with Katie Couric is does rather paint the picture of a candidate that is out of her depth. In addition to referring to Sterling having ‘dropped a bit’, Leadsom also tells Faisal Islam that she would ‘absolutely tell [Putin] that he needs to abide by international law’ in the event of a crisis involving Russia.

And here is a clip of Sarah Palin being interviewed back in 2008 by Katie Couric for comparison.

Many will say the comparison is unfair. Perhaps it is (a little). But there is something in it. Both candidates were plucked from relative obscurity, Leadsom (like Palin) seems quite unprepared for ‘prime time’ and both lead a merry band of Conservative activists for whom ideological purity seems more important than being qualified for the job. The Washington Post has already called this morning’s Leadsom for Leader march, ‘Britain’s most awkward rally’. Although it wasn’t really a ‘march’ by most people’s standards.

Theresa May for Number 10?

However, at the risk of quoting polling in the current climate, the early signs are that the Conservative membership as a whole is overwhelmingly with Theresa May.  A recent poll by YouGov shows May leading Leadsom in a runoff among Conservative members by 63 points to 31. May takes virtually all of the Tory ‘Remainers’ in the membership and splits the Leave vote 49 to 45. The reason seems clear. Overwhelmingly Tory Members cite ‘being a competent Prime Minister’ and ‘uniting the Conservative Party’ as the most important factors in deciding how they will vote. May leads Leadsom comprehensively on both of these measures and many others.

Interestingly, backing Leave in the EU referendum ranks in fifth place among the Tory membership as a factor in their vote and only ranks third among those Tory members that actually voted Leave. With such ground to makeup, rows over inflated CVs, tax returns and a lack of Cabinet experience leave Leadsom with an awful lot to do to be competitive if she does make the final two. It was always sensible to assume a Leave supporter would inherit Number 10 from David Cameron. However, if Leadsom is the candidate it is hard to see how this happens.

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see if Conservative MPs go through with sending Andrea Leadsom to the final two once the votes are counted later today.

Keiran Pedley

You can follow Keiran on twitter at @keiranpedley