If the parliamentary Tory party had followed the polling in 1990 John Major would not have become PM
Ten days before he became Tory leader, only 5% of voters preferred John Major as Tory leader. Via @majorsrise pic.twitter.com/fEmGNRQmtC
— TSE (@TSEofPB) November 22, 2015
Often winning the Tory leadership is about who you aren’t not about who you are.
Twenty-five years ago today Lady Thatcher announced her decision to resign as Prime Minister, but if the parliamentary Tory party had followed the polling then her successor would not have been John Major but Michael Heseltine. The above polling was not atypical of the time, Michael Heseltine was seen as the best person to revive the Tory party’s electoral fortunes.
So why didn’t Heseltine become Tory leader? Because in the recent past, the winners of Tory leadership elections has often won in part because they weren’t someone else. In 1990 one of the main reasons John Major won was because he wasn’t Michael Heseltine as Lady Thatcher’s supporters couldn’t stomach her assassin succeeding her, taking their cue from her when she said “the Cabinet should unite to back the person most likely to beat Michael Heseltine.”
It can be argued that in 1997 William Hague won because he wasn’t Ken Clarke, that in 2001 Iain Duncan Smith won because he wasn’t Michael Portillo nor was he Ken Clarke.Â With the quasi-AV voting system the Tory party currently uses to select their leader, you can see a Stop-X candidate doing very well in the forthcoming Tory leadership contest.
In the past few days George Osborne has seen some pretty poor personal polling, he nor any other potential contender who is polling badly shouldn’t be too disheartened given what happened in 1990.Â Less than eighteen months after the above poll, John Major led the Tory party to a general election victory and obtained the highest ever number of votes a party has received at a general election, an achievement that hasn’t been bettered since, as we learned in May, opinion polling isn’t infallible. This polling precedent might also give Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters some succour too.
The other factor to remember that this the first time the Tory membership are involved in choosing the leader whilst the party is in government, will the membership go for someone who is seen as the most electable or will they choose by some other metric?