Archive for the 'CON Leadership' Category


Johnson now evens to succeed TMay as PM

Friday, May 24th, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

But will he suffer the Tory front-runner curse?

This morning’s announcement by Mrs May that she is Stepping down did not come as a surprise and indeed there has been a lot of activity over her replacement over the past few weeks. On Betfair, the betting exchange where it is punters exchanging bets between themselves not the bookmakers who fix the odds, the former Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London is now evens favourite to be Britain’s next PM after a period when his odds have tightened rapidly.

The only problem he faces, of course, is what has become the curse that afflicts the front runners in Tory leadership races. Apart from Michael Howard in 2003 who was given a coronation the front runner in period leading up to the vacancy has never got it in modern times.

The first Tory leadership election after PB had been founded in 2004 was the one that succeeded Michael Howard’s failure to prevent a third Tony Blair workable majority in 2005. All the long-term money had been on David Davis yet suddenly part, apparently out of nowhere, David Cameron emerged as a serious contender then made a big speech at his Party Conference and thereafter the prospects of DDavis declined.

Johnson has of course being the frontrunner before and was very much expected to succeed David Cameron following his resignation immediately after the referendum in June 2016. For whatever reason, and there have been interesting TV dramatisations, Johnson pull himself out of the race after Michael Gove entered it on that amazing Thursday morning three years ago.

The process, as we are all no doubt very familiar, is that there is a series of ballots amongst CON MPs to draw up a shortlist of 2 to go to the membership. It is here that it is thought that Johnson might struggle and his main worry, I’d suggest, is if another prominent pro brexit here emerges and there are several who who you can see moving into the frame.

Johnson’s reputation is based on the untested notion that he reaches voters that other potential leaders are unable to do. But he’s a bit older now and a reputation for playing the fool might not be the best recommendation for his parliamentary colleagues. He’s also known to be not that clubbable with fellow MPs a characteristic that might prove problematical once the voting starts.

This is, I believe, the first time ever that a prime minister will be chosen by the membership of a party. Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair in 2007 without being troubled by a contest and of course 3 years ago Theresa May got the job when Andrea leadsom, who had also made the final two, pulled out following her controversial comments about being a mother.

Mike Smithson



The bets continue to pile on BoJo for next CON leader and PM

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

Although the timing of Theresa May’s departure as prime minister and CON leader has yet to be confirmed there’s little doubt that we are very close to a party leadership election which will be unique. For the first time party members will be deciding on who should be the next Prime Minister.

It should be recalled that previous CON leadership contests which have gone to the membership have been whilst the party has been in opposition.

The current election process involving the membership was brought in during William Hague’s leadership during the 1997-2001 parliament. The first winner under the new process of IDS who not too long afterwards got booted out by his parliamentary colleagues. The next CON leadership election to go to the members was between David Cameron and David Davis in 2005. The former won although the latter had been the long-term favourite.

Mrs May, of course, won the leadership and entered Number 10 without having to trouble the membership. The last two in 2016 were her and Andrea Leadsom but the latter stepped aside a few days afterwards leaving Theresa May with the job as a walk-in.
The biggest challenge for Boris is whether he can get through the first rounds of voting amongst CON MPs, It is they who decide who the two person shortlist should be. The membership polling suggests that the former-Mayor would walk it if he is able to get his name on the members’ ballot.

I’m not convinced that he can because there are widespread doubts about him within the parliamentary party.

Mike Smithson


With a CON leadership contest in the offing a look at what makes a good leader

Sunday, May 19th, 2019

So the race is on, with likely as many contenders as at your average Grand National. Will it be a dyed in the wool Leaver? A born again or a politically convenient one? Blessed by the ERG? A Remainer? Cabinet member or backbencher? And will it even matter given the government’s tiny majority, at the DUP’s pleasure?

Obsessed as they are by Brexit, Tory MPs and members have forgotten that a person’s stance on this perennially neuralgic issue is not necessarily a good guide to whether someone will make a good leader. Traumatised by May’s failings, they are thrashing round desperately looking for a Moses to lead them to the Promised Land. (Only 37 years to go to a final Brexit resolution!)

Perhaps a step back to understand what good leadership consists of might help them when marking their race card. Unlikely as this is to happen, let’s give them some pointers.

The quality of the “primus” is insufficient. Don’t forget the “pares”.

All the focus these days has been on the “primus”. Not surprising, really, given the dominance and longevity of Blair and Thatcher and, before them, Wilson, Attlee and Macmillan. By contrast, recent PMs have struggled: May spectacularly so, her personality utterly devoid of any leadership qualities, Brown – so exhausted by the fight to get what he believed he was entitled to after so long – that when he got there he had no idea what to do (paging Boris) and Major, struggling to control a party so consumed with guilt at its defenestration of Maggie, that it decided to torment her successor by way of expiation. But an individual, however talented, does not a leader make.

The ability to build, develop and lead a team

No one person has everything it takes. Good leaders understand this and surround themselves with strong people, people with skills and qualities they lack, people with more natural feeling for different groups of voters or party members, people with the willingness to challenge the leader. They understand that strong leaders have strong teams around them, other “big beasts”, pulling together, that this makes for strong government. Look at Blair and Prescott. Or the members of Wilson’s various Cabinets: Crossland, Healey, Callaghan, Castle. These were serious, strong, experienced and thoughtful politicians. The same could be said of many post-war Labour and Tory governments.

It is not something we have been blessed with recently. People have been dropped into government with all the care applied by a Project Manager appointing a junior to fill in Excel spreadsheets. Cabinet Ministers have been as interchangeable and bland as slabs of cheese displayed at hotel breakfast counters the world over – and about as effective. At the heart of any strong, competent government is a good relationship between a PM and their Chancellor and a Chancellor with political heft.  Blair and Brown had this, for all their difficulties. So did Thatcher and Howe, then Thatcher and Lawson. Indeed, Thatcher would never have been the political star she became or achieved as much as she did were it not for these relationships and the strength, depth and cohesion it gave to her governments. Cameron and Osborne too were an effective team for a period, if in the end fatally complacent.

May and Hammond, however, give the impression of scarcely knowing each other. At a time when Britain’s economic future is being decided on, the Chancellor is missing in action and sidelined. It is unpardonably negligent and a dangerously frivolous approach to one of the most serious decisions, outside of war, any government has ever had to take.

When choosing a leader, who they are likely to pick as their key advisors/colleagues, how they work with them, their ability and willingness to take responsibility, to have their team’s back, to engender respect, trust and loyalty, to be worthy of that trust (from both colleagues and staff) will be at least as important as the leader’s individual qualities. Arguably more so.

The vision thing

It was Helmut Schmidt who reportedly said: “If you have visions, see a doctor.” Wise words. Nonetheless, a leader needs to have some idea of what they are trying to achieve. And how. Particularly the how, now more than ever. They need to be able to say about themselves and their government: “This is who we are. This is how we behave.  This is where we are going.  And this is how we are going to get there.”  And then be able to follow through and deliver – at all levels of government, and not just on its main policies but in response to events. Any fool can say what it is they want. But being able to deliver this, being able to inspire others to deliver, to communicate and support and defend and fight for what you are trying to achieve, being able to persuade people to support you – or give you the benefit of the doubt – that’s hard.

“Why should I follow you?”

Anyone aspiring to be any sort of leader should be able to answer that in a convincing way. Not just to the small Tory party electorate. But voters too. They need a sense of a leader’s default instincts, their political compass, their judgment, what might be termed as their moral character, the grit and steel behind whatever ability to charm or make people laugh or to look concerned or to make barnstorming speeches they may have.

At this point, the opinion polls showing who is or is not most popular will be waved around. This person can win, can beat the Opposition, can bring all those Brexity sheep back into the fold, they will say. Ignore those polls. Leadership is not about popularity – or not just that. Any leader worth their salt, any leader trying to achieve something worthwhile, trying to effect change will at some point be unpopular, will need to speak truths, hard truths, to their party, to voters, will need to make tough decisions, will need to persuade and sell difficult compromises and bring people with them.  If an evanescent poll lead (that sound you hear is May moaning at the disappearance of her 20% poll leads) is all they bring, what do they fall back on when they are no longer the people’s darling?

Looking at the likely contenders, beautifully pinned and dissected by our political lepidopterist [1], which of them have any or some of these qualities?  Gove can be effective but is not trusted. Boris is entitled and crowd-pleasing though perhaps past his best. (More of an Archie Rice character rehashing old tunes to familiar elderly audiences; out of his depth when asked to perform on a bigger unfamiliar stage.) Raab ran away and has never provided any indication of what he would do or how. But probably has the Boden catalogue vote sewn up. Stewart and Morgan have shown unreciprocated loyalty and some level of thoughtfulness, which will do them no good at all.

And will the Tory electorate care anyway? Panic, a desire for magic, a wish to have their egos stroked and political views reinforced, a belief in ideological purity so intense it is practically Leninist seem to be the deciding factors.

It is surprising anyone wants the role, unlikely as it is to enhance one’s CV: ex-British Prime Ministers are practically two a penny these days and probably not high on international head-hunters’ lists. Whoever gets the job will likely be the fifth Tory Party leader to be tortured then destroyed by the European question.  And could also have the honour of losing to Corbyn, assuming they last until 2022. Or face a reverse takeover by Farage. The one quality they will need above all (and will have little control over) is luck. They’ll certainly need it.

[1] This is in honour of @AlastairMeeks who likes having unusual words by which to remember thread headers.




Boost for Johnson in the first CON membership poll since TMay announced her exit timetable

Friday, May 17th, 2019

His biggest hurdle’s still getting through the MPs round

Quick off the mark we now have the first YouGov poll of CON members following the news that TMay agreed her exit timetable.

The poll was slightly different from the standard. Members who formed the sample were not asked who they would vote for but rather were presented with a list of nine names and asked to rank them. The outcome is in the Times Tweet above.

Sure Johnson is at the top, no surprise there, but quite a significant part of the sample rated him bottom. If the outcome is Boris as CON leader and PM  he’ll be heading a divided party. We haven’t seen the full poll detail yet but I wonder how many would have rated him at the bottom if fellow Etonian, Rory Stewart, had not been on the list.

It does say something about the current party that the two names at the bottom both had the same educational background. 

The first challenge, though, for Mr. Johnson is getting though the MP rounds of voting and here we have little data though I’ve no doubt that will be forthcoming.

In the betting Johnson is still favourite but has edged down a touch.

Mike Smithson




Following the firmer news on TMay’s exit Johnson declares that he’s running and moves to a 27% favourite in the betting

Thursday, May 16th, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

So the CON backbenchers who have been unhappy with Mrs May’s handling of the brexit process have sort of got their way and there is agreed process for how she will go and when. The 1922 Chair Graham Brady summed up things like this:-

“We have agreed to meet to decide the timetable for the election of a new leader of the Conservative party as soon as the second reading has occurred and that will take place regardless of what the vote is on the second reading – whether it passes or whether it fails.”

Already ERG figures are wanting it earlier and Mr Johnson, the former London Mayor and Foreign Secretary, has made that he will be entering the race – developments which have led to more money going on him on the Betfair Exchange.

So the post by Alastair meeks that we published overnight was nicely timed and I think his assessment is good. Because it is not clear cut and there is a lot of anxiety in parts of the Conservative Party about whether Johnson is up to being Prime Minister we’re going to see a whole raft of names, possibly, coming in. Some have declared themselves already and had expect others to follow.

In all of this remember the old matra that the long term favourite for the CON leadership never gets its. Will Johnson be the one to break this “rule”?

Another factor is that we could be heading for a Maidenhead by-election if TMay decides to step aside as an MP once she is no longer PM.

Mike Smithson


The Conservative party sweepstake

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

The last rites have not yet been spoken and already the heirs are gathered around the deathbed and stripping the rings off Theresa May’s fingers. The collective assumption of most Conservative MPs, which may yet be wrong, is that the Conservative role of party leader is shortly to fall vacant. Who might her replacement be?

For all the difficulties that the role has, there is no shortage of volunteers. Many Conservative MPs look in the mirror, straighten themselves up, comb their hair and practise solemn expressions suitable for their eventual anointment.

Some have not bothered for the vacancy to arise before launching campaigns. Some have in practice been campaigning ever since Theresa May was elevated to the position. Some are testing the water now, making wide-ranging speeches and appearing in the Sunday magazines in posed photos with spouses and spice racks. And some are waiting for the call to serve, having first taken the precaution of letting it be known through unattributable briefings that the nation need not feel obliged to overlook them.

Let’s look at the packed field. The price given is in each case the last traded price on the Betfair next Conservative leader market.

Already announced

Esther McVey – the most unreconciled of the prominent Leavers. Spiky, a longterm hate figure for the left for reasons that have nothing to do with Brexit. Unlikely to be a healer. Could be a threat to the complacent male big beast Leavers in any campaign. (59/1)

Dominic Raab – first out of the blocks to declare his candidacy, endorsed by David Davis and Maria Miller. A Leaver who caved into the government on the third meaningful vote. Lacks any notable achievements or personality or any distinctive policy positions. Second favourite perhaps because of this. (7/1)

Rory Stewart – recently given an overdue (in his view) promotion to Cabinet and has immediately declared his candidacy. Wants to move on from Brexit. Almost certainly doomed as a consequence. (16/1)

Highly probable to stand

Michael Gove – the Leaver who has been most loyal to Theresa May (after his knifing of Boris Johnson last time around, perhaps he had to be). Obviously bright and curious, lacks any kind of public warmth or charm. Voter-repellent and does not look the part but possibly the only person acceptable to both wings of the Conservative party. When asked about standing: “No it’s not a no.” The loss of his campaign manager Nick Boles may prove important. Third favourite. (10/1)

Jeremy Hunt – member of the Cabinet since 2010, he has been the minister most effective at dousing fires in that time. A former Remainer who is now open to no deal Brexit. Appears unprincipled, which may be an advantage. Fourth favourite. (11/1)

Sajid Javid – Another former Remainer Cabinet minister who has sought to make his peace with Leavers. A similar candidate to Jeremy Hunt but without either the baggage or the track record. Drifting in the betting but to be watched closely: has potential. (23/1)

Boris Johnson – like the most-photographed barn in America, his longstanding claim to the leadership derives in large part from his longstanding claim to the leadership. Floundered hopelessly as Foreign Secretary and has offered no clear vision of Brexit since. Well-known but not well-liked either within Parliament or outside. Will definitely stand when the moment arises. Favourite. (7/2)


Matthew Hancock – another former Remainer who is looking to move the conversation on from Brexit. He would be a good choice on that basis. Has the air of a trendy vicar. Probably doomed. (16/1)

Liz Truss –an engaging speaker who is a gift to the parodists. Last seen in publicity shots posing like a discarded member of the Spice Girls reflecting on her career, she at least has a personality. The Tories could do a lot worse. They probably will and, as Liz Truss herself would say, That Is A Dis Grace. (69/1)

George Freeman – announced last year that if called upon he would stand. He is not obviously being called upon. (999/1)

Weighing their options

Steve Baker – apparently under the belief that there are not enough Leavers in the field. The equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy. Should be a no-hoper. Probably is a no-hoper.

John Baron – in the habit at the time of leadership contests of weighing his options. Supposedly very clever but apparently unable to appreciate that being unknown is an automatic disqualifier. (999/1)

Sir Graham Brady – head of the 1922 committee and a committed Leaver, well known by backbenchers and enthusiastic Conservatives, unknown by anyone else. Reportedly considering whether to stand, though why exactly is unclear. (84/1)

James Cleverly – youngish MP who has occasionally written something amusing on social media. No other obvious qualifications. (45/1)

Justine Greening – former Cabinet minister, Remain-supporting and in favour of a fresh referendum. Planning to run if no other centrist runs. Given the current Conservative party, that would be quixotic. Surely on defection watch. (499/1)

Mark Harper – former Chief Whip who voted Remain but initially opposed Theresa May’s deal. Couldn’t be picked out of an identity parade by most voters but apparently gathering support among MPs. Possibly a trading bet. (179/1)

Andrea Leadsom – one of a very select group of politicians whose reputation has been enhanced in this government. If she runs she should be a very serious candidate indeed. (27/1)

Johnny Mercer – young and good-looking, whose most notable achievement is starring in a shampoo advert. Currently exiling himself from the Conservative whip over long after-the-fact prosecutions of soldiers in the apparent belief that gives him a USP in the upcoming leadership election. (119/1)

Penny Mordaunt – newly in Cabinet, noted for starring in a TV diving competition and for directly lying in the referendum campaign about whether Britain had a veto over Turkey becoming a member of the EU. Personable and can’t be ruled out if she gets the backing to run. (19/1)

Nicky Morgan – former Cabinet minister who famously fell out with Theresa May over a pair of trousers. She has in return shown Theresa May far more loyalty than she deserved. A firm Remainer, she has sought to broker a compromise over Brexit, an aim as laudable as her solution was impracticable. A plausible unity candidate but the Conservative party does not look to be looking for a unity candidate just now. (469/1)

Priti Patel – steely and fluent former Cabinet minister, a vehement Leaver, most famous for being in favour of capital punishment and being sacked for devising her own foreign policy then lying about that.  A possibility in the same vein as Esther McVey if she chooses to run. (24/1)

Amber Rudd – an able and fluent minister with a personality but a formerly strong Remain supporter who has consistently argued for a softer Brexit, and therefore regarded with deep suspicion by most Leave supporters. As such holed beneath the waterline. Far more able than almost any conceivable winner. (47/1)

Tom Tugendhat – the anonymous Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee who apparently believes that destiny calls. He obviously has better hearing than the rest of us. (84/1)


Steve Barclay – current Brexit Secretary. Has somehow managed to avoid any attention or interest. (979/1)

Geoffrey Cox – capable and an engaging speaker, has demonstrated principles under pressure. Lacks a base but should be watched. (159/1)

Philip Hammond – it is extraordinary that the serving Chancellor of the Exchequer is completely out of contention, but he is. Such is the mania sweeping the Conservative party about Brexit. (109/1)

David Lidington – effectively Deputy Prime Minister at present. Like Philip Hammond, seen as far too pro-Remain to stand a chance with the rank and file. (189/1)

Declared non-runners

David Davis – supporting Dominic Raab despite apparently being better qualified for the job. Who doesn’t dare doesn’t win. (109/1)

David Gauke – has been making wide-ranging speeches but “when it comes to any future leadership election, my position is to resist the clamour to stand. I remain confident that my resistance will be greater than the clamour.” (679/1)

Nick Gibb – though he has found time to make a wide-ranging speech on the crisis of capitalism in which he set out his credo as a socially liberal Conservative. (999/1)

Jacob Rees-Mogg – to be fair, Mr R-M has long stated he was not looking to be next leader, though the betting markets long disbelieved him and he was the longtime favourite. Currently Betfair makes him more likely to be next Prime Minister than next Conservative leader. The course of events that would lead to that outcome takes some imagining. (69/1)


It’s a mess. No candidate stands out, which is why so many are thinking of going for it. As a general rule the able candidates are ruled out by their views on Brexit while the candidates with appropriate views on Brexit are ruled out by their ability.

My working assumption is that there are enough sane Conservative MPs to send at least one competent and experienced candidate to the last two. I therefore expect at least one of Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid to be in the last two, and possibly two. More likely, and especially if Brexit has not taken place by the time of the contest, the other position will be held by an unchallengeable Leaver.  

If you’re looking for a possibility who is favourably priced, look at some of the women in that group. Esther McVey, Priti Patel, Penny Mordaunt and even Nicky Morgan might be worth thinking about. But if she goes for it, Andrea Leadsom might be very hard to stop. If she were to win, the Conservatives might not immediately erupt into civil war. Right now, that’s about as good as they can hope for.

Alastair Meeks


If Graham Brady had acted differently in July 2016 TMay might never have become PM

Monday, May 13th, 2019

And the last three years could have been very different

With the pressure ratcheting up in the Tory party against TMay it is perhaps worth recalling how she got the job in the first place in July 2016. Boris was the longstanding favourite but pulled out following Michael Gove’s surprise entry into the race. In the MP balloting TMay came top with Andrea Leadsom second.

So Leadsom and Theresa May were two names that were to go to the membership. But on the following Monday Leadsom pulled out after a huge furore over her comments in the Times about the fact that she was a mother and Theresa May wasn’t. This was seen as an unfair attack on Theresa May and she eventually stepped aside.

It is at that point, looking back, that the chairman of the 1922 committee, Graham Brady, made a decision that was to change everything. He declared Theresa May the winner without her having to go through the process of facing a leadership ballot of the membership.

There is a strong case for saying that what he should have done was to go to the next in line in the MPs ballot, which happened to be Michael Gove, and these two would have been the choice that went to the membership.

Brady’s move meant that Mrs May, who’s never been known to like being questioned or being accountable, was able to take the job without the scrutiny that such a membership campaign would have inevitably involved. As we saw at GE2017 she isn’t good as an election campaigner

I believe that the whole process of the members ballot with the associated huge media coverage and examination of the contenders would have exposed some of Mrs May’s worst features and that she might not have made it.

Winning a membership ballot would have added to her legitimacy for there has always been a problem that she was a Remainer .

And so she struggles on.

Mike Smithson


The biggest barrier to a Tory Leaver succeeding Mrs May might well be other Tory Leavers

Sunday, May 12th, 2019

If Steve Baker stands he could damage the chances of a Leaver winning or he might just win

My view is that if the Tory Leavers want to ensure of their own succeeds Mrs May then they should have a primary to ensure they have just one chosen candidate when first round of the leadership contest begins.

With several Leaver candidates likely to be on the ballot paper you can see a surprise elimination in the earlier rounds, something Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab fear might happen to them which has increased with today’s news that Steve Baker will stand in the Tory leadership election if the likes of Raab and Johnson back Mrs May’s deal.

Following this story my reaction is to bet on Steve Baker on succeeding Mrs May at the odds listed in the tweet atop this thread. I can see him doing an Iain Duncan Smith and being the last one standing from the Eurosceptic wing of the party and the membership voting for the most Eurosceptic candidate. In 2016 it only took 84 votes for Andrea Leadsom to make the final two, so the threshold can be quite low in these contests.

If Baker does stand at those odds then it has the potential to be a great trading bet, although back in May and June 2015 Jeremy Corbyn was similar odds to succeed Ed Miliband so there is precedent.

The quasi AV voting system the Conservative party uses to elect their leader can help Steve Baker to win but don’t rule out the possibility of the final two candidates presented to the membership being candidates who backed Remain in 2016 thanks to ego and ineptness of the ERG inclined.