Archive for the 'CON Leadership' Category


Outsiders have rarely become PM – but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have done

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

By Photo: Sergeant Tom Robinson

Besides, the ‘rules’ might be changing

TSE wrote last week that “on all seven occasions since World War II when parties have changed PM mid-term, the new PM has always been an incumbent of a great office of state”. He might have gone further. Other than in war-time, with two exceptions, every prime minister between Palmerston and May who succeeded a member of their own party or coalition, had either been Chancellor or Foreign Secretary immediately before.

The exceptions – Balfour in 1902 and Baldwin in 1935 – were both men who were not just de facto Deputy PMs but almost joint-PMs: Balfour was the leader of the government in the Commons, while Baldwin led the Tories who made up almost 90% of the MPs supporting the National Government. Obviously, there is no current equivalent politician.

So, clear then? Assuming that May steps down or is forced out before 2022, the next PM will be Hammond or Hunt, or a successor to them in their role? Not necessarily, for two reasons.

Firstly, the rules are changing. May is herself just about an example of that – the first Home Secretary to become PM since 1855 – though she was still the holder of a Great Office of State, so it’s only a fractional extension. More meaningfully, both in the UK and beyond, parties and movements seem much more prepared to look beyond their charmed inner-circles for new leaders. The prominence of Jacob Rees-Mogg in the betting, while overdone to my mind, is nonetheless testimony to people’s perceptions of his chances.

But secondly, the ‘rule’ was never all that strong in the first place.

To test that, we should look not just at the politicians who actually became PM but also those who might credibly have done so had events taken a different turn. The natural objection to this counterfactualising is “yes, but they didn’t become PM”, which is of course true but to test the rule we need to understand why they failed.

Most recently, in 2016, Theresa May’s final opponent was Andrea Leadsom, from outside the cabinet. Could Leadsom have won? I’d say not: she made consistent errors and didn’t (doesn’t) have the political nous to recover from them. All May had to do, had Leadsom not withdrawn, was sit tight and play it safe. However, a much more serious challenger – Boris Johnson – withdrew before the contest began. He undoubtedly could have won had he properly engaged a campaign team, which is not an unreasonable assumption. Boris had never held government office at all at that time; his most senior post had been mayor of London.

We can skip over 2007, when Gordon Brown really did have the nomination sewn up and head back to 1995. While it might seem implausible that the Tories could have ended up with John Redwood, given his 218-89 defeat to John Major, the fact is that Major said he would have resigned had he won fewer than 215 votes. In an open contest, Redwood might have had the momentum to capture the votes from the centre of the Party as well as the right, against his probable opponents Heseltine and Portillo (none of whom were Chancellor or Foreign Secretary). Heseltine was, of course, a contender in the 1990 contest and would almost certainly have won had Thatcher not withdrawn. At the time, he’d only held middle-ranking cabinet office – and that not for four years.

The only other instance of a leadership election while in government – Labour in 1976 – saw Callaghan defeat Michael Foot, then Secretary of State for Employment. Though the margin was fairly comfortable (176-137), that was perhaps in part due to Foot having recently gone through a bad patch politically. Had Wilson resigned at a different time, or had Foot not made those unforced errors, the result might have been different.

    The reality is that in none of the elections, bar that of 2007, was there anything like certainty that a holder of one of the most senior offices would win. The involvement of party members, with their different priorities to MPs, makes that even less likely for future contests.

None of which is to say that the next PM won’t hold a Great Office. People tend to get appointed to those positions because they are either perceived by the PM as capable, or because the PM needs to appease a powerful rival – though that independent power base can only come about because of the belief of others in that individual. Those twin reasons of ability and/or support place the holders at a great advantage – and of course, doing well in such a senior role reinforces their standing.

However, these reasons are Westminster-centric in a world that’s becoming less so. I agree with TSE’s assessment that Gove stands a very realistic chance, despite the hostility with which Boris-backers view him, though the dynamics of the Brexiteer vote among Con MPs needs to be gamed carefully: there aren’t all that many out-and-out Con leavers and with, say, Gove, Boris and JRM all in the contest, votes would be needed from well beyond for a candidate to survive and prosper. But Gove’s record at Justice and Environment should help him there.

Unfortunately, such rules-of-thumb as we once had were never all that valuable and are even less so. Still, that uncertainty does make for more betting opportunities.

David Herdson


Numerology. The next Conservative leader

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Let me let you in on a dirty secret.  An awful lot of lawyers are terrified of maths.  They can make words sit up and beg, but put them in front of a formula and they quiver.  When the rate of VAT rose to 20%, many lawyers were privately delighted because the calculation was so much easier to do.  Nevertheless, I have maths ahead.  You have been warned.

The Conservative party leadership race is conducted under unusual rules.  The Parliamentary party conducts an exhaustive ballot – a game of musical chairs where another seat is taken away each round – until only two candidates are left (the losers hope for party bags later).  The last two candidates then face off in a head to head with an entirely different electorate: the Conservative party membership.

In reality this election process is two different contests.  Since the final arbiters are the Conservative party members, they may or may not view things similarly to the Parliamentary Conservative party.  The Labour party experience in 2015 is instructive, where a candidate who only scrambled to make the cut with the Parliamentary party stormed to victory with the membership.

The consequence of this is that the order in which the last two candidates finish in the penultimate round doesn’t matter all that much.  Getting into the last two is all that matters.  In 2001 Iain Duncan Smith got into the last two by one vote.  He then beat Kenneth Clarke decisively among the members. A candidate doesn’t need to worry about winning the majority of his fellow MPs’ support.  He or she just needs enough Parliamentary support to be able to display his or her charms to the membership.

What this means is that any aspiring party leader wants to get into the last two against an opponent who the membership can be expected to like less.  Most candidates will be focussing on the first half of that sentence: getting into the last two.  The frontrunner might well be focussing on the second half: engineering an opponent who they can expect to beat when the members have their say. 

Let’s put a name on this problem: Boris Johnson.  The external evidence suggests that many of his fellow MPs would rather gargle glass than see him become party leader.  How many MPs need to be in this group to stop him?

The Conservative party has 316 MPs.  A candidate in the last three can guarantee making the final two by getting the support of more than a third of the MPs.  So the support of 106 MPs in the final round would get any candidate into the last two. 

In practice, fewer MPs will probably suffice unless there’s some finessing.  If the leading candidate gets the support of 150 MPs, you will make the last two with the backing of 84 MPs.  If the leading candidate gets the support of 175 MPs, you will make the last two with the backing of just 71 MPs.  Theresa May picked up the support of 200 MPs in the last round in 2016.  An equally dominant candidate would make second place achievable on just 59 MPs.

So it doesn’t matter if there are over 200 Conservative MPs who cordially loathe Boris Johnson (and there might well be).  What matters is how many either like him or see him as the best of a bad bunch if it comes to the last three.  If he gets through that test, he is going to be considered very seriously by the membership.

Can he be stopped?  Imagine for a moment that at the time of the leadership election you are the Home Secretary.  You have managed to present yourself as a fresh start in a difficult role, offering policy observations on a wide range of public topics.  You have managed to straddle the Leave/Remain divide among MPs, making you hope for some very senior endorsements and confident that you can get into the last two.  If it were down to the MPs, you might well consider yourself home and hosed.

But it isn’t.  The members will have their say and there are plenty of indications that the membership are not looking for nuance or straddling Leave/Remain divides.  They might well prefer a St George to slay Remainian dragons or, failing a knight on a white charger, a mop on a publicity-loving journalist.  The majority of Conservative MPs might have definitively decided that Boris Johnson is not fit to be leader of the Conservative party.  But if he makes the last two, they might find him foisted on them.  You need not one but two stop-Boris candidates. 

How could our putative Home Secretary avoid this personal and party disaster?  If he has enough support at his disposal, he might seek to lend some of it to a more beatable opponent.  If there were a leading Leaver who is not telegenic, widely disliked by the public and now deeply distrusted by the more intense members of the Leave community who nevertheless had a fair support base in the parliamentary party, he might feel confident that the membership would prefer him to such a candidate.

How feasible is this strategy?  Lending support to other candidates is an obviously dangerous game.  No candidate will want to risk missing out completely and so any candidate contemplating such a tactic will want to build in a margin for safety.  Also, any such tactic would almost certainly leak.  That would be unlikely to impress a membership if it thought it was being deprived by jiggery-pokery of a choice that it wanted to make.

For myself, I wouldn’t want to risk going below 130 MPs if I were in pole position, and then only if I really feared one possible opponent.  That would mean that the next candidate would need 94 MPs.  In a last three of Sajid Javid, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, my guess is that Boris Johnson number is likely to get closer to 100 MPs’ support than 50 and that he might well make the last two whatever gaming of the system his opponents try to work out between them. 

There is another way.  To be in the last three, a candidate first needs to get through earlier rounds.  If a steadier hardline Leaver can be persuaded to stand (Andrea Leadsom maybe?), Boris Johnson might fall at an earlier hurdle if he had insufficient first preferences.  Better yet, get three or four to stand and the chances of the most dangerous opponent falling out early are much improved.  It’s not enough to be acceptable to a sufficiently large constituency of Conservative MPs, you have to be actively wanted by enough to get through the early stages. 

So those first few rounds of musical chairs play a purpose too.  It might be rather easier and more effective for a frontrunner discreetly to loan support to an unfeared rival at an early stage to get rid of that inconvenient Mr Johnson.  From the viewpoint of the Conservative establishment, there might well be more than one way to skin a cat.

Alastair Meeks


Betting on will there be a Tory leadership contest in 2018

Sunday, August 12th, 2018

Why I’m betting on no leadership contest in 2018.

Paddy Power’s market on whether there will be a Tory leadership contest in 2018 intrigues me. I’ve confirmed with them the precise terms of this bet. A vote of no confidence being called will not be enough, what needs to happen is for either Mrs May to lose a vote of confidence or resign and the Chairman of the 1922 committee to start accepting nominations for Mrs May’s successor.

After Chequers went pop and we saw DExEU’s midnight runners, David Davis and Steve Baker resigning around midnight, and then Boris Johnson resigning a few hours later it seemed inevitable Mrs May would be ousted this year. But she’s still in place and from that my reading of the situation is that there’s no majority for in the Parliamentary Conservative Party for ousting Mrs May.

If the most recent YouGov poll is a harbinger for the wider polling community then it will be that the Chequers Deal doesn’t mean Corbyn and that will help secure Mrs May for the rest of the year. As Mike observed the other day the prospect of Boris Johnson, the worst Foreign Secretary since Lord Halifax, succeeding Mrs May will likely reduce the chances of a leadership contest in 2018.

The only realistic way I can see a contest this year is if by October/November a no deal cliff edge Brexit is inevitable, that would likely see carnage on the financial markets and the end of Mrs May, if not the government.



The prospect of Johnson as leader should make Theresa’s position a bit more secure

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

How many are going to no confidence her if he’s alternative?

Much has been written about the incredible resilience of Theresa May who has managed to hang on to her job now for well over a year after losing the party it’s majority in the June 2017 general election.

She became a contender in the post referendum Conservative leadership race in July 2016 with her backers arguing that she was the one for the party to get behind in order to stop Johnson.

It was a powerful appeal as we saw with Johnson himself bottling out of the fight on that extraordinary Thursday morning in early July two years ago when he realised his MP support base was nothing like as wide as he thought.

One of the ex-Mayor’s problems has always been his relations with many fellow Conservative MPs. Few appear ready to back him and speak up when required. Also the cack-handed way he dealt with Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom during the last contest caused both to enter the race.

At the moment the one CON MP who seems most ready be interviewed and publicly support him is Nadine Dorries – her of “I’m a celebrity get me out of here” fame. She used to attack Cameron and Osborne for being “posh boys” something she hasn’t raised in relation Johnson in spite of his similar educational background.

The experience of the Conservative leader no confidence procedure is that it has only ever been used once and then there was a degree of unanimity about who should be the successor. That was in 2003 when Iain Duncan Smith was voted out and Michael Howard took over the leadership without there being a members’ ballot.

If when parliament returns 48 CON MPs are bold enough to send letters demanding a confidence vote then you can see ahead of the MP ballot Team Theresa twisting a few arms with the message – “do you really want Boris as PM?” If all MPs voted 155 would have to back a confidence move and Johnson does not have that much support.

The betting has moved away from TMay going this year and if she makes it till 2019 she’s surely going to continue to Brexit and beyond.

Mike Smithson


BoJo’ s controversial burka comments don’t seem to have hurt him in the TMay successor betting

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

But they could make it harder getting on the ballot

With TMay herself now joining those attacking BoJo for his Burka comments the big danger he faces is not being able to get enough fellow CON MPs to support him in the first rounds of voting to get on the ballot.

It is precisely this type of comment that raises big question marks over his judgement. It appears to be attention-seeking.

I’ve little doubt that if he got to the final runoff of two that he’d do well with the membership but it is the parliamentary party that he first has to convince.

Like in many things it is his choice of language that might attract the headlines but undermines him with his colleagues.

Mike Smithson


History suggests one of Philip Hammond, Jeremy Hunt, and Sajid Javid will be Theresa May’s successor if she goes before the next election

Sunday, August 5th, 2018

On all seven occasions since World War II when parties have changed PM mid term the new PM has always been an incumbent of a great office of state.

On three occasions the incumbent Foreign Secretary has taken over, Sir Anthony Eden succeeding Sir Winston Churchill in 1955, Alec Douglas-Home succeeding Harold MacMillan in 1963, and James Callaghan succeeding Harold Wilson in 1976.

On three occasions the incumbent Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken over, in 1957 Harold MacMillan succeeding Sir Anthony Eden, in 1990 John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher, and in 2007 Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair.

Last but not least, in 2016 Home Secretary Theresa May succeeded the only Tory to have won a majority in the last twenty-six years.

I suppose the logic is that you need a heavyweight politician for the occasion and being the current occupant of a great office of state helps and gives gravitas. Just look at the way John Major went from relative obscurity to Prime Minister in sixteen months simply because he occupied two of the great offices of states in those sixteen months.

Previously I had dismissed Philip Hammond’s chances of succeeding Theresa May because he had enraged the hardline Leavers over the difficulty of Brexit. Betfred are offering 66/1 on Hammond succeeding Mrs May, so I’ll have a nibble. No time for a novice might have resonance and Hammond is an experienced politician having served as Foreign and Defence Secretaries.

Now precedents are there to broken, particularly in these paradigm shattering times. I suspect many may cite Boris Johnson as the paradigm shatterer, but I have another suggestion given that there was an abundance of a lack of gravitas with Boris.

I originally wrote this piece on Thursday and thought Michael Gove might break this precedent, given his relative competence and his pragmatism on Brexit.

Overnight it emerged David Cameron regards Michael Gove as a lunatic and that might hinder Gove’s chances. I expect if the choice is a hardline Brexiteer or Michael Gove, who apart from Brexit, is pure Cameroon, the Cameroon wing of the Parliamentary party, which still has substantial numbers in Parliament, will swing behind Gove.

In 2016 Michael Gove torpedoed Boris Johnson’s chances of becoming Prime Minister, he may do so again in the next contest.

There’s also the chance that the incumbents of the great offices of state at the time of the next Tory leadership contest maybe different to today.



If the senior Tory quoted here is right TMay will be out this autumn

Friday, August 3rd, 2018

On Betfair it’s a 38% chance that she’ll be out this year

I’ll believe it when I see it. Tory MPs, surely, will only back a confidence move if they are confident their choice will succeed.

Mike Smithson


BoJo back on top of the ConHome preferred next leader ratings

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

Up from 8% to 29% in a month

Former Mayor of London and former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who quit the cabinet last month over the Chequers deal, has seen a remarkable upsurge in his fortunes in the monthly ConservativeHome survey of preferred next leader survey. He’s now on 29% up from the 8% of a month ago.

These monthly surveys are proving to be hugely volatile but interesting all the same.

Sajid Javid the previous number one dropped two points from 21% to 19% while Jacob Rees-Mogg drops a point to 13%.

    This has had very little impact on the next leader betting where punters rate Johnson at just a 9% chance of getting the top job. Javid and Moggsy remain the favourites in the betting.

I still wonder whether Johnson has what it takes to secure one of the top two places in the MP ballot of the names that shall go to the party membership in the postal election. His time as Foreign Secretary really did him no favours and the party will surely been looking for somebody who appears more statesmanlike.

There’s also a lot of back-story about Johnson which, no doubt, would be raised by those hostile to him should he put his name forward as a contender.

Also it is far from certain that there will be early leadership election and the money is still going on Theresa May surviving this year and to the Brexit date of March 29th. Then, I would suggest, politics will look very different and the question will be how long will Mrs May remain.

Ii is true to say that BoJo generally tops the public polls but then that could mostly be down to much higher name recognition.

Mike Smithson