Archive for the 'Tories' Category


Theresa May sends a strong reminder that she’s still in the race

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015


Even Boris’s sister has gone on the attack

If it was the Home Secretary’s intention yesterday to stir up some controversy and get big headlines this morning then the plan has worked very well.

Above is just a selection of papers which have made her conference speech the main story. The Independent, of course, is taking a strikingly different approach to the Daily Mail but in terms of impact that doesn’t matter.

Last night Rachel Johnson, the sister of Boris, went on the radio to attack the tone of Theresa May’s speech reinforcing the view that it had an impact.

This year’s Conservative Conference is the first since David Cameron announced in March that he would not be seeking a third term thus sparking off leadership speculation.

Judging by the betting markets and the Conservativehome regular polls of party members Theresa May has seen a steep drop in her position in the past 6 months. Along with Boris she has been hit most by the rise and rise of George Osborne and the now almost certain acceptance in many circles now that he is the heir apparent.

She has, however, several things going in her favour. Firstly she’s occupied the post of Home Secretary, for five and a half years and has managed to avoid many of the pitfalls that previous occupants of that job have experienced.

Secondly she is a woman and many Tories still look back to the glory days of their party when their leader was female. She was also state school educated in sharp contrast to Cameron, Osborne and of course Johnson. There are no lurid stories about fancy dining societies that she was part of while at Oxford.

The big question mark over her leadership prospects is whether under the party’s complex two stage leadership election system she could get through the first round where only Conservative MPs vote.

The second round is a ballot of the membership at large and only two candidates are put forward. If she got to that stage then memories of speeches like yesterday’s will be very important.

Mike Smithson


ComRes/Mail EU referendum poll finds CON voters more inclined to vote to stay than the electorate as a whole

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

With the coming EU referendum dominating much of the discussion at the CON conference in Manchester ComRes has new poll for the Mail out showing some quite remarkable findings. As can be seen from the chart CON voters are more inclined to say they want to stay in the EU than the electorate as a whole.

This is the first time I can recall such a split and we need further surveys to support it before drawing too many conclusions.

ComRes also applied its new Voter Turnout Model to the results which takes in respondents’ likelihood to vote based on demographics factors such as age and social class. This suggests that if turnout patterns at the referendum were similar to those at the General Election, 35% would vote to leave, compared to 58% who would vote to stay.

ComRes also asked about the aspect of EU renegotiation Britons say is most important to them. Top of the list is restricting the benefits that EU migrants entering the UK can receive with 82% of those polled say this is important, including 55% who say “very important”. Around three in four Britons say limiting the number of people moving to the UK from the EU is important, as well as giving the UK the option to stay out of future EU treaties (78% both)

Mike Smithson


The Tory leadership contest could be the political equivalent of the Grand National

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

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David Herdson says “look to the outsiders for Cameron’s successor”

Saturday, October 3rd, 2015

Westminster twlight

Most Con leaders were off the radar four years before they got the job

The clock is ticking on David Cameron’s leadership. As delegates meet for the first Conservative conference of his last term, minds will already be turning to the question of who will succeed him. It’s probably far too soon to be doing so.

Ever since the Magic Circle method of election was abolished, the Conservatives have consistently surprised with their choices. In fact, four years before they became leader, most of those who were ultimately successful were a long way from the front of the race:

– In 1961, Heath was effectively Minister for EEC entry; a technical position for a technical man. He wouldn’t be ‘next’ leader anyway (Douglas-Home was), but nor was he likely to become leader any time soon at all: too young, too junior and insufficiently charismatic.
– In 1971, Thatcher was Education Secretary and token female cabinet minister. Apart from the then improbability of a woman becoming leader, Thatcher was behind Joseph as a candidate of the right and behind many others in seniority.
– In 1986, Major was a minister of state for Social Security. He might have been seen as cabinet material but the idea of him becoming PM within four years would have been laughable.
– In 1993, Hague was Norman Lamont’s PPS. He’d been a potential future leader since he was sixteen but was still only 32 at this point and barely in government: the next-but-one or –two at best.
– In 1997, Duncan Smith had only just left the backbenches after a parliament spent opposing the Maastricht Treaty. Not behaviour likely to command authority as leader and not a career upon which to base a bid.
– In 1999, Michael Howard looked to have retired from front-line politics, having just left the shadow cabinet. IDS’ short reign meant he wouldn’t be ‘next’ leader but after Widdicombe’s barbs, the idea of him as a unifying candidate seemed remote. And if – as seemed likely – Hague failed in 2001, then Clarke or Portillo were far more likely to succeed him.
– In 2001, Cameron was a newly-elected MP; even less experienced, though slightly older, than Hague at the same point. The chances of him being leader within four years (but like Heath and Howard, not ‘next’ leader), would have been astronomical.

So where does that leave us now? Should we write off Osborne (15/8), Boris (9/2) and May (9/1)? Not necessarily but I don’t think there’s any value in those prices. While there’s plenty of opportunity for events to intercede in Cameron’s leadership, the same can be said for their careers.

Johnson in particular is woefully mispriced, a legacy, perhaps, of his pre-election chances. Had Miliband become PM, Boris might have been an excellent contrast as Leader of the Opposition and with the Tories’ ability to remove poor leaders, worth a roll of the dice at the start of a parliament. Choosing the replacement for a sitting PM, on the other hand, is a different matter.

May too has probably had her chance. She’s not done a bad job at the Home office – a notoriously career-wrecking post – but nor has it been a platform for prominence. At best she might be a safety-first choice but even there, not the first safety-first choice.

And then there’s Osborne: Cameron’s natural successor in many ways. But therein lies the problem. After ten years as PM and fourteen as leader, the party and the country may well not be in the mood for a continuity candidate – and that’s assuming that he’s kept control of an economy which still has significant imbalances, not least the government deficit. Even if the economy doesn’t go badly wrong, Osborne’s chances will still be impeded by him neither looking nor sounding a leader; quite possibly to the extent of him choosing not to run, again.

Now, we shouldn’t go too far in writing off favourites. Although the last clear pre-race favourite to win was Eden, some sixty years ago, several others have come very close: Heseltine would have beaten Thatcher in a second round, and Portillo came within a vote of forcing IDS out of the race, for example. ‘Tory favourites don’t win’ is a rule of thumb, not an iron law, particularly if the change is in government rather than opposition.

And being in government should narrow the field: a Cameron- or Hague-like meteoric ascent from the back-benches is much harder. Of other cabinet ministers, Sajid Javid has been tipped on the site for a while and at 10/1 is still value. Of the many dark horses, a lot are not even quoted. To give one example, no bookie bar Ladbrokes even gives odds on the current Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Greg Hands (100/1). While that’s more an observation than a tip – I don’t know enough about him to be able to do that – his inside path to the cabinet table, through the Treasury and Whip’s Office, suggests he may well go further.

There is, however, an elephant in the room which needs mentioning: the EU referendum. The next Conservative leadership election may be in 2019 if all goes to Cameron’s plan, or it may be a good deal earlier. If the referendum does go ill for the PM, the relatively Eurosceptic Hammond (25/1, Ladbrokes), would come into play as a potential unity candidate capable of handling the withdrawal negotiations, assuming he can maintain his Eurosceptic credentials before the referendum. Alternatively, if a Conservative MP makes the running as the effective leader of the Leave campaign, whatever Farage or Lawson or whoever is nominally the head might do, then a victory for that side could easily propel them to a vacant leadership in much the way it did for Jim Murphy (for all the good it did him), or in a similar manner to Jeremy Corbyn. Owen Paterson (66/1, Hills) was mentioned in that context in yesterday’s morning thread though. In normal times, Paterson would have too many negatives to be leadership material but the aftermath of a referendum the PM had lost would not be normal times.

One other left-field possibility is Rory Stewart (66/1, Ladbrokes). In some ways a glorious youthful relic, his undoubted multiple talents would be more suited to a politician of a bygone era but his media skills are very much of the twenty-first century. He will never be a grey-suit politician but if in the right place at the right time could become an unexpected star. Independently-minded, I would not be surprised to see him vote for Leave if Cameron comes back with an insufficiently good deal, and that could be exactly in line with the mood of the country. (Stewart also comes with the advantage that he may be a more conventional option come 2019 if the vote is to Stay).

But for now, other than such dabbles on outsiders, the best bet is to leave well alone.

David Herdson


Will Cameron’s majority last?

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

Con Majority

As far as Dave need worry, it’s still Europe that matters most

For all the difficulties that have beset Jeremy Corbyn in his first week in charge, when it comes to parliamentary votes, it’s the PM rather than the Leader of the Opposition who should worry. Yes, a more effective whipping operation on the tax credit vote last week would have reduced rather than doubled the government majority but the government would still have won – and a government win is a non-story; majority governments are supposed to win in the Commons. A defeat, on the other hand, defines a media cycle, gives succour to the opposition and can spark a mood of crisis in the government; particularly if several defeats come in short succession.

With a majority of just 10 at the election, the government ought to be vulnerable to even small rebellions, assuming that the other side of the House acts in union. With several serially rebellious MPs on its own benches, that will undoubtedly happen from time to time as it did for John Major and James Callaghan, the most recent prime ministers to govern with little or no majority.

Yet when it comes to the big questions – matters of confidence and supply – rebellions do not happen and the Conservatives should be secure. Unless that majority starts dwindling. Will it?

There are two principal causes for losing MPs: by-election defeats and defections. On the former, one notable trend over recent decades has been the diminishing number of by-elections. There were only five by-elections in the last parliament in seats won by a governing party at the previous election, of which two were called following defections. This compares with 19 during the previous decade, 63 in the 1960s and 70 in the 1950s. If that trend is maintained then Cameron will not lose his majority even were the Conservatives to lose them all, which is itself improbable.

It’s true that the Conservtives’ by-election record in government is nothing special but we should be wary of projecting results from the 1990s, when Labour was thirty or more points ahead in the polls, onto the present. Miliband’s Labour never achieved that sort of lead and it seems improbable that Corbyn’s will either. The Lib Dems or UKIP might pose a stronger threat but unless the government makes an almighty mess of it then safe seats should still be held.

So what of the other cause: defections? Much again depends on the popularity of both the Conservatives and the party the MP’s joining: rats do not join a sinking ship – or even one that looks of dubious seaworthiness.

But not all defections are a matter of expediency, or at least, not solely. Usually there is some element of policy disagreement or personality clash in the mix too, pushing the MP out. And here’s where the big risk lies for Cameron. The last three Tory MPs to defect all went to UKIP. Given that the EU referendum will inevitably result in deep divisions within the Conservatives, can he prevent more from following suit, particularly if the renegotiation results – as seems likely – in him recommending a ‘status quo plus’ rather than a significantly different form of membership? With UKIP likely to be the only party of any size recommending withdrawal, links will no doubt be forged out of necessity on the campaign trail. A victory for In, particularly a narrow one regarded by Sceptics as having been won by deception, media bias or some other form of jiggery pokery, may well extract a very high political price in the Commons.

That’s not to say it will happen. There are plenty of ‘if’s to line up first (though there’s also more than one route to the same end). But nonetheless, it’s far from impossible that the Conservatives could lose their majority by midway through the parliament.

On that score, both 2018 and 2019 look like good value for the year of the next election, at 12/1 and 10/1 respectively with SkyBet. Not only is there the risk of the government being brought down having lost its majority, there’s also the possibility that it may seek to force an early election itself if events develop more benignly. That’s harder under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act but still achievable, particularly if there’s no viable alternative government available. A new PM may well try to seek his or her own mandate in the way that Gordon Brown nearly did; all the more so if Labour’s alternative is regarded as unelectable.

David Herdson


The pollsters might have to start applying a shy Labour filter

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Whilst Mr Corbyn is leader we might expect to see some shy Labour voters

Judging by the opening attacks from the Conservatives greeting Jeremy Corbyn election as Labour leader you get the feeling Corbyn’s victory was foretold in The Book of Revelation somewhere between The Seven Headed Dragon and The Whore of Babylon.

This is because one of Lynton Crosby’s mantras for winning election being

Frame the choice and set the parameters or your opponent will

A campaign is a choice. You need to be deliberate in the way you define yourself and what you believe in, as well as how you define your competitor or opponent (and have the evidence to back it up).

You need a simple story that explains what you’re trying to achieve in terms that are relevant to people.

Your story needs to be positive and differentiating.

As the above tweet shows coupled with this youtube video released yesterday the Conservatives are going to frame the choice as Corbyn being a risk to the country and the voters whilst they are the safe option, that the voters cannot choose the economic/personal/security apocalypse that Corbyn would bring as Prime Minister.

It might well be that voters find some of Jeremy Corbyn’s past (and maybe his current) pronouncements distasteful but they find overall package appealing, such as re-nationalising the railways. The voters might think for example the benefits of Corbyn and McDonnell’s tax policies outweighs the negatives of their past meetings with Sinn Fein and comments about the IRA.

You can understand why voters might be shy in admitting they are voting for a party led by a man nicknamed “Jezbollah” by his opponents.  So when you next see an opinion poll ask yourself which party will be the voters be most shy about admitting voting for? For the first time in a long time it might just be Labour not the Conservatives.



Sir Vince Cable predicts George Osborne will be the next Prime Minister

Saturday, September 5th, 2015

The favourite this far out seldom wins the Tory leadership – Will Osborne be any different?

In an interview with the Guardian today Sir Vince Cable predicts that George Osborne will be the next Prime Minister. Sir Vince like Mark Antony comes to bury Osborne, not praise him by saying Osborne is “extremely shrewd politically, very cynical” and “The economy turned out all right, but I don’t think that was because of [Osborne].”

Osborne’s chances of succeeding Cameron are linked to the performance of economy and the outcome of the EU referendum. Were the economy to experience a downturn you can see the chances of him succeeding lengthening. A fractious EU referendum might see the Tory party revert to the bad old habits of the 90s where a significant part of the party obsessed about the European Union to the detriment of everything else.

Ever since the Conservative Party started electing their leaders a pattern has emerged that the long standing favourite doesn’t win and the eventual winner turns out to be someone who was a real outsider a few months/eighteen months before the contest. A few months ago Boris was the overwhelming favourite to be Cameron’s successor but he seems  destined to join Willie Whitelaw, Michael Heseltine, Michael Portillo, Kenneth Clarke and David Davis in the favourites that never became Tory leader club.

One of the consequences were Labour to elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader and he turns out as bad as many expect then a lot of Tory MPs who normally wouldn’t be considering running for the leadership will consider doing so as they consider the 2020 general election as a nailed on Tory win. The more candidates that stand in the Tory leadership contest the more uncertain the final result is my thinking.

In 2005 Osborne declined to run for the Tory leadership he may elect to do the same next time, he seems much more comfortable being the éminence grise to Tory leaders, first David Cameron and maybe next Sajid Javid. History suggests it might be the optimum time to lay Osborne as next Tory leader.

The aspect of the interview I agree with Sir Vince is ‘Historically, the coalition will be seen as a success.’ That should help the Lib Dems recover in the polls and maybe in terms of parliamentary seats as well as other non Westminster elections.

You can read the full Sir Vince Cable interview here.



Now most LAB leadership votes are in Osborne moves to undermine the likely winner

Monday, August 31st, 2015

The Tory attack on Corbyn and his party has begun

For the last four months the Tories have been almost totally disciplined about the LAB leadership election. There’ve been virtually no comments whatsoever in public until now. Today, with George Osborne’s Faslane announcement things have changed.

This is Andrew Sparrow in the Guardian:

“Osborne is keenly aware that a new leader saddled with a negative image from the beginning will find it hard to escape such framing. As such, the Faslane visit can be seen as the first step in a Tory operation to define Corbyn as a peacenik security risk.

If the Islington North MP does win, as the polls suggest, the Tory onslaught will go much wider, covering vast tracts of his policy agenda. But Corbyn’s unilateralism is a particularly attractive target for the Tories because a large number of Labour MPs strongly support the nuclear deterrent and would probably defy the whip if ordered to vote against its renewal…”

Osborne, who has moved strongly to become next CON leader betting favourite, has started the GE2020 campaign already.

Mike Smithson