Archive for the 'CON Leadership' Category


The harsh facts that the leadership contenders need to face

Friday, July 5th, 2019

Lawyers are rarely regarded with affection.  Lawyers-turned-politicians even less so.  Nonetheless David Gauke’s speech at this week’s Lord Mayor’s banquet is worth a careful read, not least for its defence of the rule of law as a critical element underpinning democracy (a word never off the lips of some politicians wholly ignorant that something more than shouting “The people have voted” repeatedly is needed to sustain a democracy).  Gauke’s quiet praise for the unfashionable virtues of public service, intellectual rigour, a serious determination to grapple with complex problems, the wish to reach “a decision based on what is right and not necessarily what is superficially popular”, for the value of experience and evidence was doubtless welcomed by his audience.   But its applicability is wider, as he recognised.  He cannot be the only person who wishes that politicians would deal “with the world as we find it, not as we imagine or represent it to be.”

 “We must face facts.” he said, calling it his guiding political principle.  Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the two Tory leadership candidates also tried to do so, at least when they pause for air in between breathlessly promising more and more spending, tax cuts and all sorts of other goodies (Cheaper sugar! The freedom to hunt foxes!)? It’s like a political summer sale, each more desperate than the other to get voters to buy their offering.  Johnson channels his inner Labourite, insisting that there is plenty of money for his spending promises.  Hunt too promises more cash for favoured causes.  That is when he’s not saying that bankruptcies and unemployment are the necessary price others must pay for Brexit.  Perhaps he was repurposing Thorpe’s acid comment on Macmillan’s dismissal of Cabinet Ministers (“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his business and job for a no-deal Brexit.”).  Each is delighted to be talking about something other than Brexit. This will be done, without question, they solemnly assert and, on 1 November, all will be for the best in the best of all EU-free worlds.

So here are some facts and one assumption for our leadership candidates.  Let’s assume that it is not possible to agree a different Withdrawal Agreement with the EU and get it passed by Parliament by the witching hour.  On Halloween, Britain’s treat will be to leave the EU without any sort of agreement with the hated colonial oppressor(© Miss Widdecombe MEP).

An end state?

A No Deal exit is not an end state.  The absence of an agreement does not mean that Britain reverts to its original Eden.  It means that Britain moves from what it has been used to (laws, regulations, cases, customs, assumptions about the future) to, well what, exactly?

WTO Rules

Ah yes, those fabled WTO rules. (Let’s set aside the delicious irony of escaping from EU-imposed rules to ones imposed by a world body.)  They too are not a clear option.  Choices have to be made.  Will Britain charge tariffs on imports and, if so, on what and at what level?  What are the consequences of these choices? Low or no tariffs will severely harm a number of sectors, make imports cheap for consumers but provide little incentive for countries to enter into FTAs.  What could Britain offer if access to its markets was already open?  High tariffs increase costs for businesses and consumers here.  How will these costs and trade-offs be explained to voters?  How will they be decided?  How long will Britain be in this WTO state?  Businesses, investors, consumers would like to know.  Plans do, after all, need to be made.  Not everyone has the luxury of making it up as they go along, surprising as this may seem to those used to doing their job at the last possible minute.  After an essay crisis Prime Minister  must we now endure one with the same lax and lazy approach to his columns?

Not Made in Britain

When WTO rules are discussed it is invariably in relation to goods.  And almost invariably tariffs are seen as the only real issue, at least by those keenest on a no deal Brexit.  (Certificates of Origin wave frantically trying to get attention.  Let’s ignore them.  Most Tory politicians have, after all.) But manufacturing is no longer the principal way Britain earns its living.  Services are and here Non-Tariff Barriers matter very much more and are much less amenable to WTO jurisdiction or resolution.  A country which sells services needs to think much harder than Britain has done about how to do so in a world where other countries are able and may – in order to increase their bargaining power vis-à-vis a Britain desperate for FTAs – be very willing to erect NTBs against Britain’s service sectors.

No special status

Being an ex-EU member confers no special status. We won’t get invited to family events for the sake of the children.  Britain will be a third country.  That is a new state, one very different to what we had before 1973.  Whatever the nostalgic impulses of some Brexiteers, there will be no return to the past. No-one aiming for power seems to have thought at all about what being a third country outside of all the agreements it has with the EU and, through it with others, will be like.  Canada’s politely brutal dismissal of Britain’s request to roll over its existing EU-negotiated trade deal is a portent of what trade negotiations will be like.  It would be foolish to assume that Britain will get any favours, whether from the EU or Commonwealth countries.

An FTA with the EU

The EU has often been accused of hiding its true intentions, of lying even.  And yet it has repeatedly made clear that if the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected, the same issues (citizens, money and NI) will need to be addressed before a FTA can be contemplated.  A hard Brexit does not remove these; it merely postpones them to a time and in circumstances considerably less favourable to Britain than now. The EU has also repeatedly said that any short-term agreements to mitigate the effects of a no deal departure will be less favourable to Britain than now.  Why wouldn’t that be so?  A no deal departure will cause disruption to the EU, considerably so in some countries.  Why wouldn’t this lead to annoyance and a desire to recoup the costs from the party causing these problems?

Why would the EU rush to start talks on an FTA or rush to conclude them? It has the luxury of time, a united front and expert knowledge about how to negotiate trade agreements.  Britain does not. 

The EU may even see an opportunity to weaken and take advantage of a country which is now a competitor.  The scoundrels!  As if Britain wouldn’t do exactly the same in the EU’s position.  As if it hasn’t done exactly that in the past.  Ask the Chinese.

There is a curious dissonance about No Deal Brexiteers.  Brexit without any sort of deal is deemed essential even if the costs to the economy are high.  These are costs that absolutely must be borne.  And yet at the same time both Hunt and Johnson blithely assume that Britain’s economy will continue much as now, even as the legal, regulatory and commercial basis on which much of it depends is torn up, and that even following a damaging no deal exit it will be able to support their tax and spending promises. Perhaps unshackled by EU rules Britain’s economy will boom. Perhaps. Just as likely – perhaps more so – is that the costs of change will place an additional burden as the country adjusts to new realities.  (See the early 1980’s for how difficult and divisive such adjustment can be.) It is certainly not safe to assume that tax generating sectors (finance, say) will continue to be as lucrative as before.

Even more curious is the way both candidates offer up their negotiating skills as a selling point as if it weren’t July 2019 but July 2016 or 2017 and there was still time to negotiate an agreement, as if red lines hadn’t been drawn, as if we were starting from scratch.  Maybe either might have been better negotiators than May, though if Johnson has such talents he kept them well hidden while in Cabinet. But we are not starting from scratch; the time provided by Article 50 is nearly at an end; an agreement is on offer; and it is unlikely to be changed in any meaningful way in the time available. It is not negotiating skills that are needed but those of a magician.

Or perhaps if the Lord Chancellor’s words are heeded – “Change comes with urgency sometimes, but must always be approached in a considered way to avoid negative unintended consequences.” we could have an “honest, respectful public debate that lays out all the options and all the consequences” and politicians who “relentlessly focus on reality”.

We could.  But we won’t.  We’re not yet ready to face facts.



A taste of PMQs with PM Johnson? How he handled City Hall question time while London Mayor

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019

And what did over a sugar tax when Mayor

Mike Smithson


Robert Peston suggesting that the battle between Hunt and Johnson much tighter than anybody thought

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019

Johnson supporter: “Right now I would say it is only 60:40 Boris wins”

With voting now taking place amongst CON members ITV’s Politcal Editor, Robert Peston writes on the Coffee House blog

According to one of Johnson’s more senior and respected supporters, the questions raised about whether he treats women with proper respect and has the powers of concentration and grasp of important detail necessary for any PM have been gnawing at the consciences of more Tory members than is evident from the adoration of him they manifest at hustings.

‘Right now I would say it is only 60:40 Boris wins’ says one veteran.

So there is more of a game on than would have been anticipated when Johnson won the backing of more than half of Tory MPs and Hunt fewer than a quarter.”

Clearly this is just based on one person’s impression and we need to see new member polling to get a handle on whether this is on the right lines. Numbers from a CONHome survey put the split at 66% to 30% which is some way off what Peston’s source is telling him.

As well as Brexit the big issue on the minds of members surely is whether their choice would help the party to do best in a general election. At the end of last week YouGov found thst Hunt was rated ahead of Johnson as “Best PM” although CON supporters have the edge to Johnson. But in a general election the blue team need converts.

There’s little doubt that Hunt has far exceeded expectations in the campaign and he seems totally focused on getting the top job. He appears to believe he can snatch a victory.

In the betting Johnson remains the 87% chance favourite to win the leadership and an 84% chance of succeeding TMay as next PM.

Mike Smithson


The looming fork in the road and the path many MPs will have to make

Sunday, June 30th, 2019

You need to watch politics in split-screen at the moment. In both Labour and the Conservatives, a group of politicians has come to a fork in the road. In both cases, there is no shortage of fellow party supporters telling them to fork off.

Conservative Remainers have had a desperate few years. The referendum result was not the start of it. Well before they lost the referendum, they had lost their party. They have spent the last three years seeking to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit and hunkering down until the delirium has abated.

The delirium is not abating: the fever is getting worse. MPs are being threatened with deselection for opposing Brexit despite having voted for the withdrawal agreement three times. During the early stages of the leadership election campaign, there were dark whispers that Michael Gove was the preferred Remain candidate. That’s Michael Gove, leader of Vote Leave.

Both of the leadership candidates to be presented to the membership have committed to a no deal Brexit if necessary and neither has come up with a remotely plausible plan for avoiding that. When Ruth Davidson optimistically praised Jeremy Hunt for putting the Union first, Julia Hartley-Brewer, one of the high priestesses of the Brexit cult, pronounced that: “Any Tory leadership candidate who puts the Union first has absolutely no intention of delivering Brexit”.

Boris Johnson, the runaway favourite, has committed to leaving the EU deal or no deal on 31 October 2019. It does not seem possible either to enter into negotiations with the EU or to pass the relevant legislation by that date, and the warnings about what it might mean in practice continue to pile up. He is not ruling out either ignoring Parliament or proroguing it: democracy itself might be sacrificed to no deal Brexit.

Any Conservative who regards no deal Brexit as disastrous has to accept that he or she is now fighting against mainstream party thinking on what all sides regard as the central question of the age. The party is about to elect a leader and give whoever wins a mandate to force through Brexit by hook or by crook.

There is going to be no place in the Conservative party for MPs who oppose that mandate. Such Conservatives need to decide whether they are going to take arms against a sea of troubles and if so how. Or they can decide to go quietly and acquiesce with a policy that they consider disastrous. A decision to wait and see is a decision to go quietly.

That dilemma is paralleled within the Labour party. The readmission of Chris Williamson to the party so that he can stand for re-election as a Labour MP, against the recommendation on his case at a time when the Labour party is being investigated in relation to anti-Semitism by the EHRC, gives the lie to the idea that the current leadership has the slightest intention of reining in its outriders. Jeremy Corbyn and his coterie have played grandmother’s footsteps with the rest of the party on the subject, creeping back to their own ways the moment they think that backs are turned.  

To be fair, they are right to be confident. Large numbers of MPs who have condemned anti-Semitism in the party campaigned for the Labour candidate in Peterborough who during the campaign had to apologise for her past actions. As with Republican senators after school shootings, it seems that thoughts and prayers are the preferred policy prescription to avoid repeats.

Any Labour MP who is serious about opposing anti-Semitism in the varieties found on the hard left has to accept that the Labour party under its current leadership will not reform on this subject. Either in essence they accept that getting Labour elected is more important than eliminating this anti-Semitism or they leave Labour. Expressions of outrage on Twitter without further actions are simply a decision that Labour getting elected is the most important thing.  Kvetching is just a smokescreen.

Politics is about priorities and both of these groups need to think what their priorities are. Conservative MPs who think a no deal Brexit is going to be bad, maybe even terrible, for the country, might nevertheless conclude that a Conservative government even under someone as unsuitable as Boris Johnson is better than the alternative. But if they do, they have to accept the compromise that they have made, to accept that they have willed what they see as a looming disaster. If they believe that no deal Brexit must be stopped, they must act now. Later is too late.

Labour MPs appalled by the anti-Semitism permeating through the party might similarly conclude that for all its flaws a Labour party committed to redistribution and improving the lot of the poorest in society is better than the alternative. But if they do, they have to accept that they have by necessary implication downgraded the need to oppose racism. If they believe that is a compromise too far, they must act now. There is nothing to wait for.

In both cases, meaningful action is going to require a break with their party. In both cases, this would mean breaking lifelong allegiances with the high probability of ending their political careers sooner rather than later. All of them will look at the unhappy year the TIGgers will have and shudder. But they have to ask themselves, really ask themselves, what they are in politics for. Better to fail with integrity than to fail without even trying to succeed. On that basis, the TIGgers have so far all done better than those who did not follow their lead.

In life, all of us from time to time are faced with times when there is an easy choice and a difficult choice. In the longer term, the difficult choice is almost always the right one. Time for quite a lot of MPs to start making some difficult choices.

Alastair Meeks


The most accurate pollster at the Euros has Hunt rated better than Boris when compared with Corbyn

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

New Ipsos-MORI focuses, inevitably, on the CON leadership race. These are some key findings:

  • Both Hunt and Johnson have improved since May in terms of the proportion of people agreeing they ‘have what it takes to be a good Prime Minister.’
  • 31% agree that Hunt ‘has what it takes’ (+12 points since May) and 34% agree that Johnson ‘has what it takes’ (+9 points).
  • However, more disagree that Johnson has what it takes (53%) than Jeremy Hunt (42%). This means that overall Johnson has a ‘net agree’ score of -19 and Hunt -11. This is because a greater proportion ‘don’t know’ how to rate Hunt (10%) when compared with Johnson (3%).
  • Amongst Conservative supporters, their scores are also similar. 53% of Conservative voters agree Hunt ‘has what it takes’, 24% disagree (net score +29) and for Johnson 59% agree and 28% disagree (net score +31).
  • When asked who would make the most capable Prime Minister, both Hunt and Johnson convincingly lead the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
  • When asked to choose, 51% of Brits choose Johnson and 33% choose Corbyn as the most capable PM. This is a gap of 18 points. Likewise, 52% of Britons choose Hunt as most capable PM and 29% choose Corbyn. This is a gap of 23 points.

On voting intention Tories take the lead, BXP drops 4 to 12% nd LDs up 7 to 22.

CON 26 (+1) LAB 24 (-3) LD 22 (+7) BXP 12 (-4) GRN 8 (-1)

Mike Smithson



The final step. Why the leader of the Conservative party does not automatically become Prime Minister

Monday, June 24th, 2019

Professor Brian Cox was once asked to explain string theory in a sentence. His answer: “It’s probably not true.” The same one sentence explanation could be used to explain the theory that the next Conservative leader might not become Prime Minister. But since it’s being talked about quite a bit, let’s have a look at why.

The current Parliament was elected at a general election held on 8 June 2017. It resulted in a hung Parliament. It is forgotten now, because Theresa May held office both before and after that election, just how precarious her grip on power was. She faced two challenges simultaneously: retaining control of her own party and retaining control of Parliament.  

Theresa May stayed in office as Prime Minister for two reasons. First, as the incumbent, she had the right to try to form a government first, just as Ted Heath had in 1974 and Gordon Brown had in 2010. And secondly, because whether or not she was going to be successful, someone had to fill the role until the successful contender had emerged and that responsibility falls to the incumbent.

During the intervening period, there was some genuine doubt about whether the negotiations with the DUP would reach a successful outcome. Jeremy Corbyn was demanding the right to get the keys of Number 10. It was not until 26 June 2017 that the Conservative party reached agreement with the DUP on a supply and confidence arrangement.  

The last two years have not been kind to the Conservative party. Brexit has acted as a centrifuge on it, its forces pinning its MPs and leaving them feeling dizzy and sick. It has already seen four MPs break away from its Remain wing, further weakening its already-etiolated control of Parliament. Another of their number has just been ejected from Parliament by recall, meaning that a by-election is pending. The Conservatives’ effective majority, with DUP support, is currently just two.

Many remaining Conservative MPs do not trouble to conceal their dismay at the prospect of no deal Brexit and Boris Johnson. Some, such as Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve, have been making public or semi-public their intention to oppose him in the name of Brexit. The continuing complexities of his personal life and his reclusiveness will be doing nothing to deter them. Several of them are being threatened with deselection, giving them little to lose by going rogue.

To date, no one has ever gone broke betting on the Conservative Remainers failing to follow through. So it must remain by some way the likeliest outcome that most of them will go quietly, at least initially, deluding themselves that they should wait and see. You and I might wonder what they would be waiting to see, but they aren’t called wets for nothing.

Numbers are so tight, however, that even a handful might transform the calculation. Lyndon B Johnson reputedly said that the first rule of politics was knowing how to count. Let’s consider that first rule for a while. If Boris Johnson looks unlikely to be able to command the confidence of the House of Commons, what then?

Professor Cox would appreciate that a different first rule, Newton’s First Law of Motion, applies.  Unless and until something happens, the status quo continues. So Theresa May stays in office until she resigns or is ousted. The assumption is that she will speedily resign after the conclusion of the Conservative leadership election campaign. That assumption looks very open to question.

When she resigns, it is her duty (as well as that of other senior statesmen) to recommend to the Queen the person who she believes can be expected to command the confidence of the Commons. If that is not clear to her, she should not make such a recommendation. It is very questionable whether she should resign at all until things become clearer.

Obviously, this would be an extremely unstable equilibrium. Theresa May would have no visible means of support. At any point, she might face a Parliamentary vote of no confidence in her government.  This would presumably pass. We would then enter a period of 14 days to find a government that commanded the confidence of the Commons. Otherwise, a general election is automatically held.

Even after the passing of a vote of no confidence, Theresa May is not obliged to resign as Prime Minister and might well not. After James Callaghan was defeated in a vote of no confidence in 1979, the government continued in office for a further week before Parliament was dissolved. Theresa May might reasonably argue that she should stay in situ until it was clear that a fresh government was capable of being formed that might command the confidence of Parliament.

Political journalists, who have frankly been spoiled in recent years by the speed and variety of political developments, would love the chaos. The rest of us, not so much. Where it would go, goodness only knows. On the track record of recent years, nowhere very good.

In the end, however, Boris Johnson would probably be able to line up enough votes behind him at least to have a shot at proving that he could control a majority. With Labour having lost a more than a dozen MPs from its ranks since 2017, enough independents might abstain or prop him up to justify him being called to kiss hands to test his chances in Parliament, unless rather more Conservative MPs are prepared to take a stand than have already made themselves known – at least half a dozen, I think.  

Even if Boris Johnson tries and fails, a Prime Minister for a few days is still a Prime Minister. At least for betting purposes, anyway.

What might happen after that is still murkier. Perhaps Brian Cox could explain it in 11 dimensions for us. I’m all ears.

Alastair Meeks


If the CON race continues to be about character them it might be a lot closer than anybody thought

Monday, June 24th, 2019

When at the launch of the Boris campaign a fortnight ago the Sky journalist, Beth Rigby, sought to raise the question of character she got loudly booed by many of those attending. It was the same yesterday at the the first hustings in Birmingham when Iain Dale sought to raise the issue that’s been dominating the news with Johnson. This didn’t come over well on TV.

Yet that is now what the campaign is becoming about and it is hard to see how this is beneficial to the ex-Mayor and Foreign Secretary who continues to be an 80% plus chance in the betting.

What we don’t know, of course, is what the mainly male Tory members are going to make of all of this. Certainly Boris is very good at making headlines but the ones today are surely not helping his campaign and are a reminder of the potential risk that there might be in him becoming the next leader and Prime Minister.

I think Johnson has also made the Theresa May mistake in not wanting to take part in the TV debates. We saw just two years ago how totally damaging that was for the Prime Minister and surely the member for Uxbridge must have observed and absorbed.

Even though it is Tory members who make the final decision in this instance there is a public expectation that politicians are going to come under scrutiny at a time when they are seeking to get the job. Judging the the Times this morning Jeremy Hunt sees a way of exploiting Johnson’s approach:

“Mr Hunt says that Tory members want a “fair and open contest, not one that one side is trying to rig to avoid scrutiny”.

“One of the strengths of our system is that we scrutinise our politicians with more intelligent ferocity than anywhere else in the world. But in this case it just isn’t happening,” he writes.

“Nothing could be worse for a new prime minister in these challenging times than to come to power with a fake contest.”

Now the question is whether Boris and his advisers are able to move on and get the focus on things that are more positive to him.


Mike Smithson


Johnson’s position is holding up well on the betting markets where he’s now an 82% chance to succeed TMay

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019 chart of Betfair exchange movements

Political punters, those who risk their cash trying to predict political outcomes, haven’t changed their view of Johnson’s chances of becoming the next CON leader and PM and is still a solid odds-on favourite to succeed TMay. The events of Thursday night and what’s happened since have had an impact, as can be seen by the chart, but not that much. Those gambling on Betfair £11m TMay succession market don’t think it will impact on his chances.

My reading is that the one thing that could change perceptions is polling that suggests that Johnson does not offer the Tories the electoral advantage that earlier polling has shown particularly the ComRes “145 general election” majority survey. So far there has been nothing contradict the broad thrust and he remains the strong front runner.

The hard reason why Boris is rated so highly is that he is seen as having a much greater chance of leading his party to general election success than Hunt.

Fourteen years ago, it will be recalled, the Tories went for David Cameron ahead of the long standing favourite David Davis because they believed the former would take them to a Commons majority after three bruising defeats by Tony Blair. At the end of the day perceived electability is key.

I’m expecting several polls this week and hopefully we will see numbers that will give us a post Camberwell incident snapshot of where things now stand

Mike Smithson