Huge YouGov boost for Theresa May on the night before nominations close

June 29th, 2016

The first poll of members has big CON member backing for the Home Secretary

Let us lust remind ourselves how the CON leadership election works. There will be a series of secret ballot of MPs until they get down to a final two – then the choice will be made by party members in a postal ballot.

So of all the polls the ones we should pay most attention are those tonight from YouGov which has very good news for May and disappointing news for the long term front-runner, Mr. Johnson.

Of course it might be that these will not be the final two and in the past the Tory election process has thrown up surprises. In 2001 the big favourite, Michael Portillo, did not make the final cut and the Tories ended up with IDS who was ousted two years later.

I think that Johnson suffers from not having been a cabinet minister and in this election the party is choosing the next PM.

Mike Smithson


Alastair Meeks on the political and economic crises of breathtaking proportions

June 29th, 2016


Where do we go now?

One of the most haunting Arthurian legends concerns Sir Balin.  Merlin had long prophesied that he would “strike a stroke most dolorous that ever man struck”.  Shrugging off this particular instance of Project Fear from an expert, Sir Balin entered into a feud with the family of King Pellam.  Being pursued by the king through his castle, Sir Balin seized “a marvellous spear strangely wrought” and dealt a fierce blow to the king.  The spear turned out to be the spear of destiny that struck Jesus and the blow caused immeasurably wider devastation than Sir Balin could have conceived.  Sir Thomas Malory recorded that: “all that were alive cried, O Balin, thou hast caused great damage in these countries; for the dolorous stroke thou gavest unto King Pellam three countries are destroyed, and doubt not but the vengeance will fall on thee at the last.”

You can probably see where I am going with this.  Since the referendum, we have had concurrent constitutional, political and economic crises of breathtaking proportions.  The position of Scotland and Northern Ireland in the union is now in serious question.  The future direction of the EU has been thrown into complete confusion.  The government is functioning on emergency life support only while the opposition is no longer functioning at all.  In the meantime, Britain’s Standard & Poors credit rating has dropped two notches, the pound has suffered its biggest fall in one day against the dollar ever, markets around the world have crashed and recession is beckoning with a dark cloak, a skeletal finger and a voice that speaks in block capitals.

It is of course far too early to conclude that Brexit is a disaster.  Even the chirpiest Brexiteer, however, would have to concede that the barometer is currently firmly pointing to stormy.  With all of the prominent Leave campaigners queuing up to rat on the Leave campaign promises, it is becoming increasingly unclear what the benefits of Leaving are now supposed to be.  It has reached the point where Leave supporters are angrily blaming the government for not telling them.

What next?  It is important to differentiate between what needs to be done now and what can wait.  This week’s chief task is to stabilise the markets, so far as possible.  George Osborne and Mark Carney have done this to the best of their ability.

And then it is time for great minds to discuss ideas.  The Conservatives are to hold a leadership contest and it is apparent that it will be contested.  The various candidates should be setting out their vision for how to implement the referendum result   The winner is likely to be setting policy that will set the course of the nation for two generations, so this had better be well thought-through.  A newspaper column dashed off carelessly isn’t going to cut it.  For the sake of the nation, the Conservatives need to have a searching examination of the options between the different candidates.  This matters as leadership contests very rarely really matter.

The Lib Dems have already set out their position: to rejoin the EU. UKIP’s position is easy to guess – to prioritise restricting freedom of movement above all else.

But what of Labour?  What indeed.  Right now, their small minds are discussing people.  All discussion is focussed on whether Jeremy Corbyn should remain as leader.  But that is only the immediate problem.  It is likely that there will be a general election later this year in which the main policy topic will be how to negotiate with the EU.  The Lib Dems have a position.  UKIP has a position.  The Conservatives will painstakingly have established a position.  But as of today it is hard to contemplate even the mechanism by which Labour can form a policy position.  The party has effectively ceased to function.

A general election is pending.  Labour is running out of time to form a policy position.  As they argue among themselves about how the party is to be led, their leading figures risk complete irrelevance in the debate that is going to dominate British politics for the foreseeable future.  If Labour is irrelevant in the debate, the likely electoral consequence is obvious.  The most lethal stroke from the referendum result might be to the continued existence of the Labour party itself.

Alastair Meeks


Team Corbyn shouldn’t assume that he’ll get “three quidders” vote like last time

June 29th, 2016

Things have moved on since last September

I’m hearing that plans are afoot by those who want Corbyn out to replicate his very successful campaign a year ago to win the “three quid” vote. These were those who were able to take part in the leadership election by registering as party supporters by paying £3.

Then there was a huge effort by Corbyn backers to get people to sign up and this played a big part in the size of his victory. A year on opponents are planning something similar which could make the election more challenging.

The party’s leadership election rules haven’t changed since last and there will still be provision for people to register and be part of the election. What might change is that the fee could be increased – maybe to £5 or £10.

So far I’ve been unable to establish is whether those who were on the list for the 2015 election will be able to vote in the coming one. One reading, I’m told, is that was a one off list and those three quidders who did not go on to join the party will not automatically be able to do so in the next election.

Overall a new leadership election is going do be nothing like as easy for Corbyn as it was last time. If his opponents do manage to get organised, and they seem highly motivated, then he could have a fight on his hands.

Mike Smithson


An SDP Mark 2 is now a real possibility within 4 months

June 29th, 2016


It’s war within Labour and one side must lose

To have publicly lost the confidence of three-quarters of your MPs would normally be regarded as a resigning matter. In 1995, John Major set himself the private target in his party’s leadership election of 65% of his MPs, aware that without a substantial lead his authority would be terminally damaged. Indeed, the Tory leadership election rules at the time required a 15% lead in the first round in order to ensure that no other candidate with substantial support was passed over without at least a second thought.

Such practical considerations are clearly not of concern to Jeremy Corbyn. In defiance of all the usual principles of parliamentary party democracy, his argument is that MPs should respect the independent mandate their party handed him; that MPs cannot override or veto the decision of the Labour electorate at large.

That’s all very well but the Labour whip is now practically meaningless. A whip only works through a circular flow of power whereby everyone gains from the discipline it brings. But when discipline breaks down to the extent that the leadership cannot fill its own front bench because so many MPs refuse to serve on it, how can the Labour Party have a policy on anything in anything other than a theoretical sense?

In fact, there is a danger that it goes one stage further, and that the rebels – which comprises the great majority of the PLP – organise their own whip. If that happened, it could easily become the embryo for a whole new party.

But that is to get slightly ahead of ourselves. Before then, there is almost certain to be a Labour leadership election. Angela Eagle is widely reported as being willing to be the one to raise the standard against Corbyn. The three immediately important questions are, firstly, is that report right, secondly, if she does stand, will it drag a second challenger out, and thirdly, can she – or someone else – defeat Corbyn?

I’m not sure that Eagle is an ideal candidate. She voted for military action in Syria last year, for example, which is surely running against the grain of Labour opinion. If members are willing to accept someone with such views, they’d be much better off going for Hilary Benn who has shown much more talent for leadership. She only finished fourth in last year’s deputy leadership contest; a better candidate would be the one who won it. However, if they’re not prepared to wield the knife then the next leader will have to be someone who is.

If, that is, they win. The experience of his leadership over the past nine months means that Corbyn can never again be the candidate he was last summer. All the same, he retains the support of the big unions and Labour’s membership base has shifted left since last year’s election. He would have to be in with a fighting chance of winning again.

At this point, there is the question of whether he’d be on the ballot. Having been mad to put him on last time, Labour MPs would be mad to keep him off now, if it’s decided that he even needs nominating (the rules are unclear but I’d take the view that he’d automatically be on). The Labour mainstream can only win back control of their party if they are seen to do it democratically, and that means defeating the left head-on in a proper contest.

If they fail, they will have run out of options. At that point, having deployed the nuclear option and missed, the left would surely feel entitled to retaliate. Even if they didn’t, they couldn’t go back to the status quo ante. The letters written this week cannot be unpublished, the resignations undone and the vote of no confidence unheld. We are now at a point where either the leadership must go or the MPs must. Put simply, if Corbyn is still in place come October, SDP2 is almost inevitable.

Almost but not quite. The one thing that could prevent it is an early election. If a new Conservative leader chose to go to the country for a mandate for his or her Brexit plan (officially – unofficially it would be to capitalise on Labour’s travails), the Labour Party would have no option but to muddle on. There would be time neither for deselections nor the setting up of a new party and it’d be a new world after polling day. This assumes that a Tory PM could finesse an early election through the mechanisms within the FTPA but it’s not an unreasonable assumption.

But absent that scenario, a split by Christmas is inevitable if the Eagle fails to land her prey. I very much doubt it’d be an option that many within Labour would look on with relish: too many will remember the fate of both SDP1 and Labour during the 1980s. But what option would there be?

David Herdson


The Conservatives’ paradoxical leadership contest

June 28th, 2016


Both Theresa and Boris wanted to lose the referendum

If Leave had gone down to a narrow defeat, Boris Johnson would have had all the power with none of the responsibility. He would also have had a senior Cabinet role for a year or two, and a chance to prove himself at that level. There’d be no immediate crisis to manage, and any trouble from Europe – and there would surely have been some – would play to his advantage.

With a narrow Remain win, Theresa May would probably have stayed at the Home Office (though there was a chance she’d have moved sideways to the Treasury or Foreign Office). George Osborne’s hopes would have been fatally wounded by the referendum, but other Remainers such as Stephen Crabb would have been well positioned to eclipse her. Turning 60 in October, it would have been easy to conclude that her time had passed.

The seismic Brexit vote and its aftermath changes everything. This is now extraordinarily close and it may be that the desire for stability and unity trumps the logic of letting a “Leaver” lead.

Tissue Price


Corbyn loses the confidence vote by a huge margin

June 28th, 2016

What a devastating indictment from his colleagues


The big question is what now? What will happen over PMQs tomorrow. Is he going to soldier on?


Team Corbyn says he’ll carry on if the confidence motion goes against him but it will surely be the start of the end

June 28th, 2016


Labour MPs at Westminster are currently voting on the no confidence motion that was tabled last night. Voting finishes at 4pm and it’s expected that the result will be announced by 5pm.

The assumption is that he’s going to lose and the question will be what happens next. The motion itself is only advisory and Corbyn can just remain if he wants to.

The message from his team is that if his MPs want to oust him then then it will have to go to a new leadership election. That’s what they are saying now but it’s hard to see that being carried through for the next two months at such a critical time in British politics.

Just imagine the fun that Cameron will have at PMQ? How will Labour MPs react? We saw yesterday Corbyn being booed in the Commons by some of his own MPs.

Carrying on in such circumstance is going to be very difficult. In the end this is about perceptions of competence within the party and the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush is saying that this is not what it was. He highlights the recent Vice News which Bush says seems to have caused more damage than anything else.

Update from my Twitter feed

Mike Smithson


Don’t write off Mr. Johnson just yet – there are many twists and turns to come in the CON leadership race

June 28th, 2016

I must say that I am a fan of the Conservative party leadership selection process. It has been designed to give a proper role to Tory MPs while leaving the final choice to the postal ballot of party members. It is the system that saw IDS win in 2001 and, of course, Mr. Cameron in December 2005. It would not have allowed a hapless no-hoper like Labour’s Corbyn who only got into the members’ ballot because because some non-supporters decided to nominate him.

At the moment we are in the nomination stage. These open today and close on Thursday. The list will be announced on Thursday with the secret ballot of MPs taking place a week today. Bottom in that vote then drops out and we have further ballots every Tuesday and Thursday until the final two have been chosen. This short-list then goes to the membership.

So the latest YouGov polling which the Times is leading on this morning is really not that much of a guide. It was a standard poll with the preferred CON leader numbers showing the totals from all sampled and those who are Tory voters. The latter cannot be said to represent the membership.

The most striking feature was that Tory voters put May in the lead not the ex-mayor. Whether similar considerations will apply amongst MPs we don’t know. Johnson’s biggest weaknesses amongst them, I’d suggest, is that he only returned to Westminster two years and doesn’t know that many of them and that he’s not held a senior ministerial post. May has been Home Secretary since May 2010 and her colleagues will have a very good sense of her abilities.

The other potential contenders, Andrea Leadsom, Stephen Crabb and Liam Fox have only had very limited ministerial experience – the latter, of course, was forced to resign as Defence Secretary after a relatively short time in the job.

Mike Smithson