They say that a week is a long time in politics.
This week has certainly proven that dictum true.
Party leader shake-up
Now that we have Brexit, who will see it through?
On July 4, Nigel Farage stood down as UKIP leader, saying he had accomplished his objective of getting us the EU Referendum. He will continue as MEP.
It’s an interesting development. Was family pressure the overriding factor in his decision?
His absence raises the question of who will police the Brexit process from the sidelines and make sure we actually go through with it. Farage is a man with dogged determination and passion for UK independence. Therefore, it is surprising that he is relying on pro-Remain Conservatives to follow through with it.
Labour continue in disarray, although party leader Jeremy Corbyn is still in place, much to the frustration of many of his MPs and party members.
The Conservatives — Tories — held their first rounds of voting to replace outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron.
I still maintain that Cameron resigned in haste early in the morning of June 24 because he was in a fit of pique. Yes, he was also tired and, yes, the PM role was taking its toll on his family, but he had pledged to stay on regardless of the result. The current issue of Private Eye features a little soundbite of his from March 2016. Would he resign if Leave won? ‘No,’ he replied. The problem was that he was quietly certain the result would be Remain. Had the result been Remain, no doubt Cameron would have stayed on as PM until 2020.
I will have another post next week on where this cross-party turmoil is going.
Conservative Party leadership election
For now, I will focus on the election of the next Prime Minister.
Pray God that whoever is elected will stay in until 2020 and win the next general election.
Earlier this week
This week began with five MPs put up for nomination. They were Theresa May, Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove, Liam Fox and Stephen Crabb. Each had a proposer, prominent MPs’ support and a list of other supporting MPs.
Tory MPs except for David Cameron, who wants to remain neutral, voted on Tuesday, July 5, in the first round of candidate eliminations. Liam Fox, despite having been a shadow Cabinet (2005-2010) and Cabinet minister (2010-2011), received the smallest number of votes. His name was eliminated. Stephen Crabb, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, dropped out that night of his own accord. He had the next least number of votes that day.
That left May, Leadsom and Gove in the running for the second round of voting on Thursday, July 7.
Immediately after Brexit, everyone assumed that the Leave campaign’s main man MP and two-term former Mayor of London Boris Johnson would mount a bid to become the next party leader.
Incidentally, Johnson is backing Leadsom.
On Wednesday, July 6, Gove’s campaign manager, MP Nick Boles, urged MPs backing May to block Leadsom winning in the second round of voting on July 7. The Telegraph reported:
Nick Boles, the Justice Secretary’s campaign manager, has sent a text to MPs telling them that it would be in the “national interest” for them to stop Mrs Leadsom getting to the final run-off because she may win the vote of party members.
Mr Boles also claimed that he will “sleep easy at night” if Mrs May becomes the next prime minister, adding that Mr Gove is prepared to spend “two months taking a good thrashing from Theresa, if that’s what it takes”.
In the end, Gove became the next candidate to be eliminated. On July 7, May received 199 votes, Leadsom 84 and Gove a paltry 46.
The Telegraph rounded up reaction to Gove’s loss. Emphases mine below:
Tory backers of the Justice Secretary said his decision to betray the former London Mayor by unexpectedly withdrawing his backing, causing Mr Johnson to pull out of the race, had infuriated MPs.
They also blamed a leaked message showing his campaign was urging MPs to vote Gove to stop Andrea Leadsom had “kiboshed” his chances of becoming Prime Minister.
Critics said his behaviour during the leadership race over the last fortnight has left him “humiliated” in the eyes of colleagues and decreased his chances of winning a cabinet post in the next reshuffle.
Confirmation that he would not be the next prime minister triggered supporters and critics to blame his decision to pull support for Mr Johnson just hours before he formally launched his leadership bid, leading to claims of “back-stabbing” …
A second Tory MP who backed Mr Gove said a candid text message sent by his campaign manager Nick Boles urging people to support him to stop Mrs Leadsom which leaked to the media was “very damaging”.
The MP told The Telegraph: “The Nick Boles text [ha]s kiboshed Gove’s chances. It undermined people’s confidence in him. It made it look as if he’s been conspiring all along. It did more damage to his reputation than anything else.”
There were also suggestions that Mr Gove could struggle to remain in the cabinet given alleged animosity between himself and Mrs May and after his campaign’s attempted to undermine Mrs Leadsom.
Ben Wallace, the Tory MP who managed Mr Johnson’s campaign, told this newspaper on Thursday that it was Mr Gove’s apparent lack of trust that led to his defeat.
“The winning candidate knew that this competition was all about trust. Unfortunately it seemed Michael didn’t.
“The Tory Party and the country want a Prime Minister they will trust to deliver on the referendum result and bring a divided parliamentary party together. You don’t achieve that by playing political parlour games.”
Mr Gove has not yet revealed who he will vote for to become the next Tory leader after dropping out of the race.
Let that be a lesson to future schemers and plotters.
That is a providential development.
Gove’s equally ambitious wife, columnist Sarah Vine, is taking a break from her job at the Daily Mail. The paper has assured The Spectator that she will return in due course.
What happens next for Conservative members
Candidates May and Leadsom will now tour Conservative associations around the country to campaign.
Fully paid-up party members, estimated to be 150,000, will be able to vote for either lady. These members will have also joined the Conservatives three months prior to September 8, when voting ends.
Anyone who bets that May is a dead cert could lose money. The wiser political pundits will say they wouldn’t even begin to predict what the result will be.
Members have voted against MPs’ favourites before. This could be another instance.
We’ll find out who the next Prime Minister and party leader will be on September 9.
MPs’ distrust of party faithful
The number of Conservative Party members has been declining over the past 50 years.
David Cameron’s stances alienated some existing members in the shires. These people view him as living in a London bubble and not in the slightest bit interested in their concerns.
In 2013, Cameron’s close friend Andrew Feldman — Lord Feldman — denied he called the grassroots ‘swivel-eyed loons’. The Guardian reported:
No 10 was particularly sensitive because the alleged remarks revived criticism of the Tory leadership for being aloof and out of touch …
The unease across the party was highlighted yesterday when 35 current or former Conservative associations handed in a letter to Downing Street that accused the prime minister of showing “utter contempt” for the grassroots activists after pressing ahead with legislation for equal marriage. But Cameron came under fire from another wing when Lord Howe of Aberavon, the former chancellor, warned that he was losing control of the party on Europe.
Ben Harris-Quinney, the chairman of the Bow Group and director of Conservative Grassroots, which drummed up support for the letter, said of Feldman’s alleged remarks: “It doesn’t matter who made these comments, the problem is that it comes as no surprise and is representative of a wider malaise in the party – the disconnect between the leadership and the grassroots, between conservatism and the leadership of the Conservative party. The tail cannot continue to wag the dog.”
The Bow Group, which was founded in 1951, intervened in the wake of Feldman’s alleged remarks on Wednesday night, said to have been made shortly after 116 Tory MPs showed their unease with David Cameron over Europe and voted in favour of an amendment regretting the absence of a EU referendum in the Queen’s speech.
On July 5, 2016, the chairman of the Countryside Alliance and serving MP Simon Hart warned that Conservatives in rural areas could upset the Conservative establishment come September 9:
… our own research suggests that there are at least 26,000 Conservative Party members on the Alliance’s database of members and supporters – that’s 20% of the entire Conservative Party. They are politically active, they vote and they are watching this political saga unfold with a keen eye.
These people may not represent a key constituency of swing voters in a General Election, but in a Conservative leadership election they just might …
This huge rural constituency is not swivel-eyed about these things. They know that the country is in flux, pulled in numerous directions in an uncertain world.
Conservative Home bills itself as ‘the home of conservativism’. Yet, in many ways, it is one of the most arrogant, anti-Conservative grassroots sites around. I only started reading it again after six years for additional details on the leadership campaign. Once that is over, I’ll be finished with it for good.
Former MP Paul Goodman wrote two columns there this week which elicited lively comments, not all of which supported his views.
On July 6, he set the torchpaper alight with this provocative title, ‘May has half the vote. If Tory MPs clearly want her, should party members defy them?’
Good grief. The party members serve as a check and balance against party MPs.
Goodman plays the paternalistic role for the good and the great:
Party members have the right to vote for whichever of the two candidates put before them they wish. But what one has a right to do is not necessarily what it is wise to do.
He ends with Tory Leadership Project Fear:
If May emerges during the coming days as the clear choice of a majority of Conservative MPs, should Party members really throw their weight behind another candidate – especially at what is the biggest moment in our national life certainly since Suez, and perhaps since 1940?
This man clearly takes party members for fools.
On July 8, he had another go with ‘For Brexit’s sake and for Britain’s, Theresa May should be the next Prime Minister’.
The man is frightened. After all, look how the people defied the establishment on June 23.
He is scared. The first paragraph states that Brexit must happen because:
if it does not the mainstream parties risk a Italian-style revolt against the entire political class.
Goodman is not wrong. However, he is part of the problem with his fearmongering and condescension:
The British political system is ultimately a Westminster-based one.
He’s not only stating the obvious. He is telling the grassroots to obey their betters! This is why voters are angry. Parliament does not represent them.
Parliament — both houses — represents itself and its own interests. Lady Oona King, a life peeress, said that the public did not understand what they were voting for in the EU Referendum. I can assure her that, to the contrary, we most certainly did.
Again, he says party members should not vote in their own interests, but in MPs’ interests:
Some Party members will doubtless insist that it is their decision, thank you very much, and that if they want Leadsom, then Tory MPs must put up with it. It is their right to do so, and one this site unflichingly supports – and campaigns for. None the less [sic], what one has a right to do is not always what it’s right to do.
Never was this more applicable than now …
Because we are in crisis, man, crisis! Once more, Project Fear has lift off:
The circumstances are unique. The Conservative Party has held leadership elections in government before. But never has it done so with a Prime Minister retiring from office. His replacement will come to office at a supreme national moment.
… the most dramatic, the scale of the challenge is scarcely comprehensible: bigger than that which faced Margaret Thatcher in 1979, almost as great as that which faced Attlee in 1945 – or Churchill six years earlier.
If I were a Conservative Party member and my postal ballot had arrived, I’d be voting for Leadsom after reading that.
Goodman describes May as
honourable if cunning …
An interesting choice of words and one which does not — or should not — inspire confidence that she will do right by voters. However, the campaign is only just starting and we can but see.
The spotlight will be on Leadsom and it may well be that, as May’s 199+ MPs believe, she cannot deliver.
However, scaremongering on the level that the Remain campaign so ably showed so recently will not work.
People rightly vote in their interests just as MPs vote in theirs. Why should the Tory faithful vote to further MPs’ privileged priorities?