Archive for the 'CON Leadership' Category


With his corn field jape Boris seems to be trying to validate the 57% of voters who say would he “make poor leader”

Monday, October 1st, 2018

And latest from the betting markets


The Conservatives must join and win the battle of ideas

Saturday, September 29th, 2018

The Thatcherite consensus is dead; the case for choice, freedom and opportunity is not

In full, the United States’ Declaration of Independence is not a very good document. It bears the classic mark of the composite motion, being too long overall and unbalanced in its structure: very nearly half of it is a list of twenty-seven grievances. Fortunately, for history and for the revolutionaries, it was drafted by someone who knew not only how to turn a phrase but where to place it. There may have been more than a smidgen of dishonesty in Jefferson’s assertion (abridged here) that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, with the unalienable rights of life and liberty; that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; and that it is the Right of the People to abolish unjust forms of government”, but that’s not the point. The point is that he defined what the war was about in words that were inspiring, simple and righteous, and did so at the outset of the document, before people lost interest amid the detail. It is the masterpiece in political framing.

Few political battles have such high stakes but whether physical or electoral, framing the question on which the contest is fought remains critical. In Britain, at the moment, it is Labour who is setting the terms and as such, are gaining for themselves a huge advantage.

The reasons why Labour is evangelising their beliefs and the Conservatives are not aren’t hard to pin down. For one thing, Labour has much more space and time in which to do so. The government is spending a huge amount of time and effort on a policy it doesn’t really want and probably can’t deliver without some – perhaps a great deal of – damage to the country. Domestic politics, where the battle-lines are being drawn, is taking a back-seat. In effect, the Conservatives are still fighting the last war, to a large extent among themselves.

Secondly, there has probably never been as big a gap between the managers at the top of the Tories and the activists at the top of Labour. Governments always tend to grey as their time in office increases, as competent administrators rise and firebrand populists who made their name in opposition fall, but May and Hammond are particularly lacking in any sense of ideological fervour.

By contrast, Corbyn has spent his entire life as an activist: decrying injustices or fighting for (or more often against) some cause or another. These were frequently fringe or unpopular causes – some of his pet topics still are – but allied to the more politically savvy McDonnell, Labour has now put together a superficially plausible critique of society and the economy that appeals to a lot of people because many of the problems he campaigns on, from housing to inequality to funding of public services, have an element of truth in them that resonates with those struggling. And Labour’s the only party proposing change.

And the third part is that the Conservatives have got out of the habit of making the ideological case. Their consensus – the Thatcherite consensus, seemingly cemented in place by New Labour’s conversion to its basic structure – was in place for so long that they have never needed to argue for why the mechanisms that underpin the Conservative model of the economy, public services and society are best. It’s a complacency that can no longer be taken for granted: that consensus is dead.

It wasn’t always like that. In the 1980s, it would be a rare interview when the likes of Thatcher, Tebbit or Lawson wasn’t advocating policy just because it was (in their eyes) effective but also because it was an ethically good thing for people to, for example, own their own homes, keep more of their income or own shares in the nation’s great industries: it gave them both a greater stake in the country and a return on its success. Choice and markets were good because competition drives up choice and quality, and drives down prices (assuming the market works effectively).

In reality, forty years of experience have produced some notorious examples where that model has failed – though usually in implementation rather than concept – and that’s what’s given the Labour left both the opportunity and the confidence to fight back. But without a Conservative leadership ready and able to take to the field on behalf of the moral and practical benefits of individual choice, regulated competition and a smaller state, the argument is in danger of going by default.

    If the Conservatives want to be reasonably confident about their chances in 2022, they need to do a lot more than deliver a satisfactory Brexit and manage the economy effectively. They need to inspire, as Corbyn has inspired.

They need to reconnect with people – particularly the 25-49 age group – whose aspiration and ambition to get on in live is being blocked by structures that the government has the power to reform. Those people need to be able to buy their own house and put down roots; they need to know that their investment in education is worth-while; they need to believe that the thrifty will not be disadvantaged in their old age as against the reckless.

To do that, Theresa May or her successor needs to frame the Conservatives’ own vision of what a fair and successful Britain looks like, what’s preventing that at the moment, how those obstacles will be removed, and – above all – why that journey is worth joining. The Tory top brass might regard those truths to be self-evident but, like Jefferson did, they need to spell them out all the same.

David Herdson


If the current CON leadership rules had been in place in November 1990 Maggie would probably have survived

Monday, September 24th, 2018

November 1990 – Mrs. T leaves Number 10

A CON leader’s position is now much more secure than it was in 1990

One of the things that’s driving me crazy at the moment is the sheer level of of ignorance from parts of the media and even some MPs about how CON leaders can be ousted and the consequencial process for choosing a successor.

So many are familiar with the downfall of Maggie in November 1990 that they are convinced that the same still applies. Well it doesn’t and I’d argue that the arrangements now in place make it much harder to depose a leader and that if the current process had applied in 1990 then the Tories’ most successful general election winner would have survived.

Back in November 1990 Michael Heseltine challenged Mrs Thatcher for the CON leadership by putting himself forward in an election amongst the party’s MPs. She was in France at a summit at the time and Heseltine was seeking to capitalise on the discontent within the party following the resignation of former Chancellor Geoffrey Howe. The rules then required that the incumbent needed to survive the first round by a margin of 15% or more to be safe. This is what happened.

Her winning gap of 14% was just four votes short of the 15% margin and this meant that other contenders could put themselves forward. Eventually she was persuaded by her cabinet colleagues not to participate in the second round. The eventual outcome was that John Major succeeded her.

Compare that with the current process which was brought in by William Hague during the first Blair government. This splits the process up into two distinct phases – the first being a vote of confidence amongst CON MPs and then, if the leader loses, a leadership election in which she/he cannot be a contender.

A big safeguard for the incumbent is that if he/she survives the confidence vote, even by just one vote, then there can be no further challenge for a year an element that adds considerably to the risk of a leadership challenge failing. You can end up with the person you are trying to get out being in a stronger position than before.

    So whereas a winning margin of 52 votes for Mrs Thatcher in 1990 was not enough to save her a confidence vote victory by a single vote for Mrs. May now would be enough for her to keep her job and guarantee it for twelve months. Is it any wonder that in spite all her travails the required 48 MPs demanding a confidence vote has never come forward?

The other factor inhibiting CON MPs from demanding a confidence vote is that they could be triggering a process that could lead to someone they vehemently oppose getting the job.

Mike Smithson


Betfair punters make it about an evens chance that TMay will be out next year – I’m not tempted

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

A no confidence move is highly risky for any plotters

One of the great jobs of returning from a longish holiday is reviewing how things have changed while you’ve been away and the biggest move over the past three weeks is how the Chequers Brexit plan is gathering support. Maybe the Mail was following rather than leading. TMay’s big gamble might just succeed.

What is this going to do to her future career prospects?

It is being widely said within the Conservative Party that after Brexit, March 29th next year, Mrs. May will go and there will be a leadership election. I’m not convinced. She’s mentioned a couple of times that her plan is to stay on and what is the party going to do if the woman who has by then delivered Brexit wants to stay put?

Are we really going to see an attempt to oust her if she makes it clear that she won’t go of her own accord?

To get rid of Mrs May 15% of MPs have to write to the chairman of the 1922 committee demanding a confidence vote. The key number is not the 15% of MPs but whether the desire to oust her is backed by 50% plus one of the Parliamentary party – 158. The downside for ousters is that if there is a confidence vote that she survives, even by just a single vote, Mrs May would be safe in the job for a further year. So those wanting her out could actually be giving her greater job security.

These latest rules were created when William Hague was leader in the first Blair government are totally different from that which is existed in Mrs Thatcher’s time something that many commentators don’t seem to appreciate.

The overwhelming factor in the event of a confidence vote will be who would be the successor and here the party is totally split.

    If ousting May is perceived to increase the chances of Johnson becoming leader that will surely inhibit many CON MPs from voting for TMay to go in a confidence ballot.

The former mayor who uses terms like suicide vests to describe Mrs May’s Brexit approach has far less support amongst his parliamentary colleagues than might be appreciated.

I wonder as well if TMay might be helped by the “time never being ripe” for a leadership contest. If she went soon after March 29th that would conflict with the May locals. It was the “this is not the right time” element in the 2008-2010 period which helped Gordon Brown to struggle on. There was always a reason why a leadership election shouldn’t happen and eventually we got to the election itself.

The need for 158 CON MPs to back it and the consequences of a failed move make the no confidence option unattractive. It is no wonder that it hasn’t happened so far.

I’ve already lost money betting on this market (I was on a 2017 exit) that I’m not going to risk any more.

Mike Smithson


Ruthless People. The Conservatives lose a leadership contender

Monday, September 17th, 2018

I have an announcement to make. Sadly I do not foresee circumstances in which I shall be standing to be leader of the Conservative party. This is no doubt a great loss to them, despite my having no ministerial experience, not being an MP or even being a member of the Conservative party. But they will have to struggle on without me.

The bemusement you are, I expect, feeling was not matched when Ruth Davidson similarly ruled herself out. Perhaps it was because she is a member of the Conservative party. After all, she has the other two disqualifiers, just like me. There are 316 MPs more immediately eligible, of whom at least half will have had more governmental experience. Why should her disavowal attract so much attention?

This can be explained partly, of course, by the basis on which she did so. As has been widely acknowledged, she has been incredibly open about her past struggles with mental health, an openness that will help change attitudes to a set of serious problems that are far too little discussed. She may have helped to save lives with her words. Few politicians achieve as much.

Still, the question can’t be dismissed: why is this major news? The answer is simple, and worrying for the Conservative party: they have a serious lack of talent. A charismatic outsider with a winning track record looks much better than most of the alternatives. Theresa May only remains in office because the alternatives look dire. Unsurprisingly, Conservatives are looking to see whether the grass is greener.

Ruth Davidson’s hypothetical candidacy is symptomatic of that bigger problem. Jacob Rees-Mogg, an MP who has not yet climbed as far as unpaid bag-carrier in government, has been among the favourites for next Prime Minister. He too has disavowed leadership ambitions, so far without harming his betting odds very much.

Others have seen the gap in the market. Last week George Freeman, an MP who had previously served in unblemished obscurity, helpfully announced that if called upon he would stand. The nation no doubt is grateful for his sense of duty.

When Theresa May goes, whether sooner or later, she will in all probability be replaced by a candidate with substantial experience at the highest rank, however lacklustre they might otherwise be. The paucity of quality of the field, however, suggests that the Conservatives will be likely to make heavy weather against Labour.

What of Ms Davidson? Having announced that she does not want to be Prime Minister she has benefited from a wave of sympathy from a public that finds a great renunciation a compelling story. It does raise a further awkward question, however: if she is not up to being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, why does she think she is up to being Scotland’s First Minister? She had better have a clear answer.

Alastair Meeks


Is Ruth Davidson the new Alec Douglas-Home?

Friday, August 31st, 2018

Video: Excerpt from a January 2016 episode of Newsnight

We’ve been here before, the best hope for the Tory party winning the next general election is a Scot that isn’t an MP and yet the Tory Party yet somehow engineers the situation for that non MP to become Tory leader & Prime Minister and an MP shortly thereafter.

Today’s Sun newspaper reports

RUTH Davidson has told friends she may move to Westminster to become a Cabinet minister as a stepping stone for a Tory leadership bid.

Under the fledgling plan, she would abandon Scottish politics and take a peerage instead.

The move could happen as soon as late next year when pregnant Ms Davidson returns from maternity leave after giving birth to her first child.

The surprise move would electrify the mounting scramble among senior Tories over who will succeed struggling Theresa May as PM.

The popular Scottish Tories boss has always insisted she will stay north of the border to fight the 2021 Holyrood elections.

But the party’s rising star has been told by senior Tory pals that she needs to prove her mettle in a big national job like running a government ministry to boost her chances of taking the Tory crown.

A friend of Ms Davidson told The Sun: “Ruth told me that she is having a rethink about the next few years.

“It’s dawning on her that she needs to prove she can run something bigger than just the Scottish Tory party to show members she would be good leader of the party and the country.

“You can renounce peerages these days, so that’s how she’d do it as a stop gap before fighting a Westminster seat at the next general election, whenever it comes.”

I can understand why quite a lot of Tories would like to see Ruth Davidson as Theresa May’s successor. After the revival of the Scottish Tories she’s overseen as no one cracks any panda jokes. Without Ms Davidson’s leadership ad performance last June Jeremy Corbyn might well have become Prime Minister.

Ruth Davidson is a very effective media performer and she’d be able to lay a glove or two on Jeremy Corbyn in a way Mrs May has failed to do so. You’d be willing to bet substantial amounts on Ruth Davidson not chickening out of the debates like Mrs May.

My betting position to date has been not to back Ruth Davidson to be Theresa May’s successor because there’s no realistic way for her to become an MP before the time of the next Tory leadership contest which I expect will be before the next general election.

Normally I’m quite dismissive about the practicability and possibility of having a Prime Minister based in the House of Lords but if it was only a short term fix, say less than 12 months before a general election, it could work as it would allow Ruth Davidson to be selected for a Westminster constituency for the next election.

I’d be much confident on betting on Ruth Davidson on being the next Tory leader but one but right now I’m not prepared to stake much on her being Theresa May’s successor. What would be a game changer is Ruth Davidson winning a Westminster by election.

However if she was to join the cabinet soon via a peerage and does well in her role then I’d expect her to be the favourite to succeed Mrs May, it does speak about the paucity of talent in the Parliamentary Conservative Party that the person many see as the Tories best hope is someone who has never been an MP.

Critics would point out Alec Douglas-Home lost a general election within a year of becoming Prime Minister although, many including myself, say he did well to restrict Labour to a majority of just four seats, considering the position he inherited.



After delivering Brexit TMay’s follow-on objective will be blocking Boris4PM

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018

The Cape Town message is that she’s not going of her own accord

With Mr Corbyn apparently totally secure as Labour leader for as long as he wants the main UK political betting activity, as we get ready for the conference season, is focused on the Tories particularly on Mrs May’s survival.

There was a widespread view following the last general election 15 months ago that she will be “allowed” to stay in the post until Brexit has been achieved and then she will be going. Based on what she has said in Cape Town that does not fit with her own view of her personal situation. This is from the Guardian report link to in the Tweet above:

When asked specifically if she would contest a leadership challenge from Johnson, the former foreign secretary, May said she hoped to fight on as prime minister: “I am in this for the long term. I am in this for delivering for the British people, and that’s what I’m focused on.”

Under current CON leadership rules there can be no “challenge from Boris” only an MP no confidence move to force her out. This is not like it was in Mrs Thatcher’s final days.

Katy Balls in her latest email from the Spectator, the magazine that Johnson used to edit, has this interpretation:

“..A number of May’s inner circle privately concede that her departure is not a matter of if but when. Although most Tory MPs still think that she should steer the party through the final stages of Brexit — if only to ensure Britain does actually leave — there is a growing consensus that her job will then be done. ‘It’s very difficult to justify her existence past March,’ explains a normally loyal MP. Ministers who still stand behind her do so on a number of caveats. ‘If she doesn’t give a resignation timetable after Brexit, there will be moves against her,’ explains one cabinet minister.

Given that there isn’t much of a happy precedent when it comes to prime ministers pre-emptively announcing their exit, perhaps insisting one is in it for ‘the long term’ is the least worst option.”

I’m not convinced because I don’t believe there’s the stomach within the Parliamentary party to oust her. And like Gordon Brown in the years ahead of GE2010 the longer she survives the closer it gets to the next general election and the less the case for a potentially divisive leadership contest.

What really underpins her position is the suggestion that she would be succeeded by the former Mayor of London and ex-Foreign Secretary, Mr Johnson, who is, according to the latest ConHome membership surveys, the top preference for next leader. His challenge is that he’s not popular with fellow party MPs whose votes would be required first to oust her and then to make the top two in the CON MP election to choose the final two to go to the membership.

Betfair has it as a 48% chance that she’ll be out next year. I’m far from convinced.

Mike Smithson


Allies of Boris worried that Tory MPs will practice safe X to avoid waking up with a dumb blonde

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

As long as MPs exclusively control who the final two candidates sent to the members are the leadership ambitions of Boris are set to be unfulfilled.

For me the most interesting political story this week from a British standpoint was the desire of some supporters of Boris wishing to change the Tory leadership rules.

What many of us have been saying for a long time, and has been guiding my betting position, the quasi-AV system the Tory party uses to elect their leader is very unfavourable for someone like Boris Johnson, has been realised by the supporters of Boris.

The Conservative Party leadership election rules should be changed to make it more likely a pro-Brexit candidate succeeds Theresa May, a prominent MP has said.

Andrea Jenkyns, the Tory MP for Morley and Outwood, said as a majority of party members backed Brexit “they should be fully represented in any future leadership elections”.

“So we should be considering reforming the rules to allow for a members’ choice on the ballot, or a third ‘people’s’ candidate to join the two put forward by the parliamentary party,” she wrote in The Daily Telegraph.

“No more betrayal of our supporters,” she added.

Jenkyns is a vocal critic of the prime minister’s Brexit plan and praised Boris Johnson for quitting as foreign secretary over it.

Currently only two leadership candidates chosen by MPs go to a final vote of the membership.

The system is seen as making it harder for Johnson to make it onto the ballot as he is thought to be more popular with the party’s members, than with its MPs.

If you’re wanting to change the voting system then that’s very ominous for your chances of winning under the current rules.

Whilst Boris Johnson as Prime Minister/Tory leader appals enough Tory MPs in the way the prospect of pineapple on pizza appals all right thinking people I’m not expecting him to be Theresa May’s successor under the current rules. We only have to look at his decision not to run in 2016 because he knew he’d be humiliated to see a precedent.

But supporters of Boris Johnson shouldn’t be disheartened if they can’t get the rules changed. Back in 2005 Michael Howard attempted and failed to change the Tory leadership rules. The changes were designed to favour his protégé David Cameron, but Cameron still won a thumping victory under the existing rules.


PS – Imagine you’re one of the Arron Banks entryists and you’re paying £25 a year to vote in the Tory leadership contest and the final two end up being two Remainers such as Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid. How annoyed are you going to be?