Archive for the 'Tories' Category

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The disintegrating establishment

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

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In 2010, Britain was being wrestled over by two parties competing to portray themselves to the public as the natural party of government.  In his first conference speech, David Cameron returned repeatedly to the theme of “substance”.  He told his party:

“Real substance is about taking time to think things through, not trotting out easy answers that people might want to hear.  It’s about sticking to your guns.  It’s about character, judgement, and consistency.  It’s about policy, yes.  But it’s about getting it right for the long term.”

Two years later, Gordon Brown regained initiative telling his own party at their conference that it was no time for a novice.  Both parties were appealing to the voters’ innate caution, to the importance of politicians as steady, moderate and above all competent.

British politics has changed completely.  The establishment is under attack as never before, from insurgents on the left and right simultaneously.  

The Labour party has been taken over by a faction that has demonstrated no interest in appealing to competence or caution.  In his opening conference speech, Jeremy Corbyn made a virtue of not wanting to impose leadership lines at all times and of expecting real debate not message discipline at all times, of wishing to carry on being an individual activist.  He has been true to his word on all counts.  Blairites are as appalled by the style as by the substance of what he says.

Meanwhile, the insurgent right is currently consumed by the referendum on EU membership.  Without even a pretence of coherence, they campaign on running away from the complexities of multilateral engagement, variously on immigration, regulation, security concerns or whatever else flits across their minds (how leaving the EU is actually going to help on any of these fronts remains largely unexplored).  Their figureheads, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, campaign on charisma rather than competence.

With the Labour right in longterm internal exile and the Lib Dems obliterated, the sole repository of the flame of good administration at present is the current Cabinet.  Can they withstand the onslaught of the crazies?  You would think that offering competence in government as a USP would be a great vote-winner but everyone else seems to be having too much fun being irresponsible to make adult behaviour look enjoyable.

The wise commentators tell us that the public will be sensible in the votes that really matter.  Perhaps.  But isn’t democracy about giving the public a choice?  If in the foreseeable future there is space for only one responsible party, that doesn’t give much ideological choice for those who value good government.

And sooner or later, a solitary party of good administration will be defeated (probably by its own complacency, lack of direction or flatfootedness).  By default, if there is only one such party, the new government will not be anywhere near as interested in good administration.  It will be about then that the public would find out the virtues of dull competence.

Alastair Meeks



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Boris Johnson is having a deeply unimpressive referendum campaign so far

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

If he wants to be leader, he needs to improve sharply in the next three months just to make the final two of the next Tory leadership contest.

Look at the above video from Boris Johnson’s appearance at the Treasury Select Committee earlier on this week, where his past comments/hyperbole on the EU came back to haunt him. Then there’s that tweet showing his inconsistency. Unfortunately for Boris these are the norms, not the exceptions. When he recently appeared on The Andrew Marr Show and was so unimpressive, Trevor Kavanagh of The Sun wrote of that appearance that it “may have damaged both Brexit and [Boris Johnson’s] dream of becoming our next Prime Minister.” People like Michael Gove have made a more articulate case for leaving the EU than Boris has so far.

The next general election campaign will echo the lines of the last campaign, Tory competence versus Labour chaos. That message won’t work if the Tory leader is seen as a buffoon or not as a credible Prime Minister. Despite recent appearances the Tory Party really does want to win the next general election, it would be wrong to view the next Tory leadership contest solely through the prism of only the EU referendum. The members have already said their two main criteria when choosing the next leader will be 1) Who will be the most competent PM and 2) Who has the best chance of winning in 2020. This represents good news for Theresa May, who in my opinion is value at  11/1 to be next Prime Minister, as she radiates competency.

As Matthew Parris noted in The Times yesterday (££), Boris Johnson in the past called Labour’s repeal of Section 28 “appalling”, who joked about “tank-topped bum-boys.” These sort of comments will come back and haunt Boris, whilst undoing the Tory detoxification project. Compare and contrast with Theresa May’s ‘Nasty Party’ comments, only one of those will be helped by their respective past comments, and it isn’t Boris. With Mike pointing out how the polls have a history of overestimating Boris, you can see the appeal of Boris waning with MPs further. On past performance Boris Johnson won’t survive the white heat of a Tory leadership contest.

Boris Johnson, David Cameron, and George Osborne all became MPs in June 2001, the performance so far by Boris Johnson in this referendum campaign has reminded us why Cameron and Osborne became Tory leader and Shadow Chancellor respectively within a little over four years of becoming MPs, whilst Boris Johnson was wasting away on the backbenches. History has shown, this far out it is profitable to lay the favourite for the Tory leadership, Boris is not showing any evidence why punters should break that habit. Simply not being Boris Johnson might be enough to win the Tory leadership.

TSE

PS – The Treasury select committee member Wes Streeting was deeply impressive during the questioning of Boris Johnson, coupled with his recent joke at George Osborne’s expense “Recalling a deeply, deeply unfortunate and certainly not amusing mix-up in which Barack Obama kept calling Osborne ‘Geoffrey’, Streeting had a Rainbow gag up his sleeve: “There’s probably a risk when President Obama visits next month he’ll think you’ve changed your name from Geoffrey to Bungle.”” Wes Streeting is worth backing at 66/1 for next Labour leader with Ladbrokes, I like him a lot.



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Alastair Meeks: How the Eurosceptics are destroying the Conservative party

Monday, March 21st, 2016

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Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  By that definition, the Eurosceptic right of the Conservative party is insane.

It’s not as if we haven’t been here before.  In the mid-1990s, a cell of dissident Conservative MPs contrived to make government with a small majority a living hell for their nominal party superiors, challenging the government on a succession of grievances (real and imagined) relating to Britain’s membership of the EU.  By the end of that government, the Conservative party looked bereft of purpose, direction and values.  It suffered its worst defeat in the era of universal suffrage.

The Conservatives spent the years from 1997 to 2005 obsessing about the EU, much to the voters’ bafflement.  In 2001 William Hague declared that we had 24 hours to save the pound.  The voters shrugged, ignored his warnings and gave Labour pretty much the same majority that they got in 1997. (Sterling has had a sufficiently long afterlife from the Conservative diagnosis that it was in intensive care to find itself the centre of an entirely different political dispute with the SNP, suggesting that not all wild Eurosceptic scare stories have a secure basis in reality).

Undeterred by the lack of traction this electoral strategy yielded with the voters, the Conservatives decided to replace William Hague not with a Cabinet minister of 30 years’ experience but with a complete non-entity whose views were sounder on the subject of the EU.  Astonishingly, the general public were not won over by this strategy.  The Conservatives replaced him with an eminence grise with Eurosceptic views who found out at the 2005 election that the public still weren’t thinking what the Conservatives were thinking.

After that defeat, the Conservatives regrouped.  They chose as leader a man who recognised that they needed to stop banging on about Europe and start talking about things that the public actually cared about.  They returned to power at the next election.  Correlation is not causation, of course.  But still.

The Conservatives won the election outright last year, having made a manifesto promise to hold a referendum on EU membership.  You can be reasonably sure right now that David Cameron currently wishes that he hadn’t been obliged to honour it.  Far from receiving the thanks of those who had passionately campaigned for it, they are now outraged that he holds a different opinion from them and is voicing it.

We have already seen the development once again of a party within a party.  Whenever there is a rebellion to be had, names such as David Davis, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Bernard Jenkin and Philip Hollobone are usually in the mix. Quicker than anyone else, the alienated right grasped that the Conservatives’ majority of 12 gives them a chokehold over difficult decisions.  Like their predecessors the Maastricht rebels, they are using it to embarrass the party leadership on populist topics even when they go to the heart of the governmental process of setting a budget.  Their ingratitude is astonishing.

Whatever Iain Duncan Smith’s motivations for resigning from the Cabinet and attacking the foundation statements of the government (others are more charitable to his motives than I am), it is hard to credit that he would have resigned at this point if George Osborne and he had been on the same side in the referendum.

We are told by anonymous Leaver Conservative MPs that a challenge to David Cameron’s leadership after the referendum result is a certainty, whichever side wins.  To any outsider to the party, this is baffling.  David Cameron is by far the most considerable politician in any party, is one that the public respect and is able to reach out beyond his party to voters who would not automatically see themselves as Conservatives.  He has honoured his commitment to offer a referendum and to allow Conservative MPs up to and including Cabinet minister rank to campaign on either side.  None of his mooted replacements has a fraction of the authority or ecumenical reach that he has.  He is in any case planning to stand down in due course. Far from conspiring to knife him, they should be begging him to stay.

If, of course, implementing Conservative party policy is what motivates them.  But it isn’t.  One of the original Maastricht rebels from the 1990s, Nick Budgen, described their state of mind then: “It would be my general feeling that the transference of power to Europe was so important a matter as to require a vote against any organisation and any party that wished to transfer that power.”  Sound familiar?  Except the Eurosceptics have vastly upgraded their ambitions. We are fast reaching the point where some Conservative MPs will only accept a leader who is a Leaver, regardless of the result of the referendum.

To achieve their long term aim of leaving the EU, these MPs are willing to trash their own party’s record and to render it ungovernable.  They calculate that they can scorch the earth, get their own man or woman in as leader and then convert the party into UKIP-MAX.  They ignore only three things:

  • It’s very questionable whether the balance of the Parliamentary party sees this as the same priority that they do.
  • It’s still more questionable whether the voting public will collude in this ambition to institutionalise Brexit as the paramount priority of the party of government; the Conservatives may well be facing opponents far more difficult to demonise than Jeremy Corbyn.
  • A guerrilla minority of wet Conservative MPs could undermine a Leaver Conservative government just as effectively as the hardline Leaver Conservatives are undermining this government.

In pressing their ambition to make the Conservatives the party of Leave at all costs, the hardline Leavers risk making the Conservative party ungovernable even if they succeed.  As in the mid-1990s, the Conservative party already risk again looking bereft of purpose, direction and values.  It would be insane to expect a different result.  Bet accordingly.

Alastair Meeks



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Corbynus interruptus would destroy Tory hubris about 2020 immediately

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

Just look at the above tweets, coupled with various ministers at the DWP arguing publicly over how good/bad IDS was. In normal circumstances the way the Tory party is currently acting over the  EU and IDS’s attack on the government not helping the poor, and the cherry on the parfait, allies of Cameron welcoming a leadership challenge, you wouldn’t want to put a single penny on them winning the 2020 general election, yet they are still the overwhelming favourites to win in 2020.

Why is that? Two words, Jeremy Corbyn. As someone who campaigned for the Tories at the last general election I know how badly Ed Miliband went down with the voters in marginal seats. I can confidently predict Jeremy Corbyn will go down even worse with these voters, and will make Ed Miliband look like Tony Blair in terms of electoral success.

Now if Labour were to replace Corbyn with say former Army Major Dan Jarvis, all those attacks about Labour being a bunch of terrorist sympathisers and a risk to national security would be rendered impotent, with IDS providing the attack lines for Labour to say the Tories effectively are kicking the poor and only concerned with looking after Tory voters, Labour would have a very good chance at winning the 2020 election, especially if the Tory reputation for economic competence is damaged by then.

If Labour don’t replace Corbyn before the 2020 general election I suspect future historians will be amazed at their failure to do so, the 2020 general election is Labour’s for the taking if they were led by a decent, popular leader without the flaws of Corbyn. Right now the 2020 general election is shaping up to be the resistible force meets the moveable object.

TSE



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The Tories are very lucky the Lib Dems didn’t accept George Osborne’s coupon deal

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

British politics today might have been very different if the Lib Dems had accepted Osborne’s deal

The Mail on Sunday are serialising the memoirs of David Laws, the former Liberal Democrat cabinet minister, in it he reveals that

The Tories secretly tried to form a 2015 Election pact with the Lib Dems to keep the Coalition going, according to David Laws.

He says George Osborne proposed a so-called ‘coupon election’ deal with the Lib Dems, whereby up to 50 Tory MPs would have been written off, ordered to make way for Lib Dems.

If the deal had gone ahead, Clegg would still be in Downing Street in a ‘Coalition Mark II’.

And it would have made David Cameron’s outright victory last May impossible. Osborne told Laws: ‘We should be thinking of a deal in 2015 where we don’t fight each other in our key seats… a ‘coupon Election’.

‘We wouldn’t stand in places like Taunton and Wells and you wouldn’t stand in some of our marginal seats.’

Laws and Clegg turned the deal down because the Lib Dems would be seen as Tory ‘lapdogs’ – and it could spark a ‘riot’ among Lib Dem activists. Laws’ account confirms rumours in 2011 and 2012 that Cameron and Osborne wanted a Con-Lib pact to avoid defeat.

Right-wing MPs claimed it was a Downing Street plot to merge the two parties and water down traditional Tory policies. No 10 denied such a move had been made.

The term, ‘coupon election’, dates back to 1918 when Coalition leaders Lloyd George and Bonar Law regained power by using coupons to endorse coalition candidates.

The Lib Dems might think in hindsight they should have taken the deal and ended up with around 45 MPs instead of the 8 they currently have, but Laws is right, the Lib Dems would have been portrayed as Tory lapdogs for a generation.

What this coupon deal would have done is energised a lot of the non Cameroon Tory right to defect to UKIP, from the Parliamentary party to the voluntary party as it would have confirmed their worst fears about Cameron and Osborne. Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless wouldn’t have been the only Tory MPs who defected to UKIP in the last Parliament. I’m fairly certain this deal would have seen UKIP end up with more than just one MP at the last general election. This deal would have also upset and annoyed  Tories activists and members in the Lib Dem held seats the Tories were hoping (and did gain) in 2015.

George Osborne’s reputation is at an all time low, stories like this, how he nearly denied the Tories a majority, prevented the Lib Dem wipe out and boosted UKIP will not help his reputation recover. Even if he denies it and says it is a Lib Dem fantasy, you can believe it is something Osborne would have offered.

TSE



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The Osborne Supremacy might be over but the Osborne Legacy could see the next Tory leader have an Osborne Identity

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

Whilst Osborne might not be the next Tory leader, he could still influence the result, so here’s an 80/1 tip on next Tory leader.

The Sunday Times story above doesn’t surprise me. Osborne seems more comfortable being the éminence grise to Tory leaders than being leader himself, and lest we forget in 2005, he declined to run for the leadership, backing the more electable candidate (and his friend) he could well do the same again in the next leadership contest.

There is a danger for those in the cabinet, regardless of which side of the EU referendum they are on, they are going to fundamentally damaged by the referendum campaign, because so far it hasn’t been a debate of Socratic wonder, more Project Fear meets Project Whinge with who can come up with the most hyperbolic scare story. So someone who isn’t high profile now, comes to the fore in the leadership election, something the Tories have a history of doing.

I might be very wrong in this assessment, but despite recent events the Tories still retain their blood lust for power, something they lost between September 1992 and 2005, as many Leavers, are still supporters of the Cameroon project. Being a Brexiter doesn’t mean you’re automatically opposed to the Cameroon project, Michael Gove being the perfect example of this. As the recent poll of Tory members shows, when choosing the next Leader, competence and having the best chance of winning the 2020 general election are the top two criteria, being a change of direction from Cameron garners only 3% support.

In the past I thought if Osborne didn’t run for Tory leader, he would support Sajid Javid, but Javid has underwhelmed as Business Secretary, so who would get Osborne and Cameron’s support now?

So I’ve decided to back Matt Hancock as next Tory leader at 80/1 with Corals. He’s Osborne’s former Chief of Staff, and has often been described as Osborne’s protégé. Whilst he did read PPE at Oxford like so many of today’s political class, he’s had a career outside of politics, working for the Bank of England, which might be useful for the Tories if they want to maintain their reputation for economic competence.

As Hancock is largely unknown to the public, he doesn’t have the negative ratings of say Michael Gove, whose ratings are on a par with Jeremy Corbyn, and Gove strikes me as a man aware of his own (electoral) limitations who won’t run for leader if his ratings remain as dire as they currently are. As noted in the past often winning the Tory leadership is about who you aren’t not about who you are which might be an advantage for Hancock.

The one criticism that Osborne detractors cannot level against him is his total loyalty and support to his party leader and his allies, especially when you consider history has shown the creative differences between the occupants of No 10 and No 11, from Thatcher & Lawson to Blair & Brown  can cause huge problems for the Government. This has been as much an Osborne government as it has been a Cameron government.

You can see Osborne being the éminence grise under a Hancock leadership. As David Maxwell Fyfe noted many years ago, loyalty is the Tory party’s secret weapon, and it might just well be Osborne’s secret weapon in winning the next Tory leadership contest for his protégé.

TSE



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The Tories’ EU divide is making life harder for Corbyn’s opponents

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

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He should comfortably do well enough in May now

The honeymoon is over. Two polls within a week without a Tory lead – one level-pegging from ICM and then Thursday’s from YouGov reporting Labour ahead by a point – are testament to the public disapproval of internal party divisions. They might also be testament to Labour’s invisibility at the moment, but then why intrude when your opponents are tearing themselves apart?

In fact, the divisions within the Conservatives are probably less serious than those within Labour, yesterday’s resignation notwithstanding. Once the referendum is over there may well be the question of ‘what next’ to answer, both on European policy and perhaps in terms of party leadership but the deepest chasm will have been resolved by the public: In or Out will have won and individual preferences will have to be set aside to respect the electorate’s decision. Similarly, the IDS-Osborne rift can be sorted with decisive personnel management.

Labour, by contrast, are still deeply divided on economic, social and foreign policy between the leadership and membership on the one hand, and the PLP and Labour voters on the other. For most voters, Europe is not important. Once – if – the Conservatives stop banging on about it, the divisions will largely fade into the background. By contrast, questions on the economy, public services and the nature of the country we live in are front and foremost in the minds of floating voters and Corbyn’s answers to at least two of those will trigger warning lights.

In fact, there is surely enormous opportunity for whichever party can first get its act together. You would think that current conditions would be close to ideal for UKIP, yet their poll shares are not greatly different from the general election: 11% with ICM, 16% with YouGov. If there is a referendum boost, it’s nothing to write home about. Similarly, the Lib Dems seem unable to fill the growing gap in the centre despite being freed from government; publicity for the sometime third party now being very hard to come by. Council by-elections give some cause for hope but the GE VI polls show their support stubbornly stuck in single figures.

All of which raises the question as to whether the drop-off in Conservative support is a step-change that’s happened or a trend still ongoing.

Before we get to the referendum, we have the bumper crop of May elections. Until this recent polling shift, those looked as if they might be bad enough for Labour’s Corbyn-sceptics to justify moving against the leader. Not so now.

That said, as things stand, they’re hardly looking rosy for the Red team. The headline figures will be determined by gains and losses and the crucial question there is not what the relative Con-Lab gap is now, or how it’s changed from last month, but how it’s changed from four years ago when these seats were last fought (or five years ago in the case of Scotland and Wales).

There are of course two main problems in comparing the figures between now and then. Firstly, the polls themselves have changed methodology and secondly, people vote differently at local and devolved elections than in general elections. We can deal with the second point relatively easily: as long as we’re comparing like-for-like, it doesn’t particularly matter which series we use unless there are particular local circumstances (which there are in London, Wales and Scotland). The English council and PCC results should broadly follow the national GE VI trend. For that matter, with less charismatic candidates, London too should mirror the GE intentions more.

That ought to be good news for Sadiq Khan. In a Labour-trending city, a reversion to the national picture combined with a sizable drop in the Con vote ought to make him a very clear favourite. The likely dynamics of the next six weeks should only reinforce that situation. Even a by-election in Tooting wouldn’t help the Tories much despite the seat trending Blue: the likely polling day would be coincident with the referendum.

Across England, the situation might be less rosy. Comparing this week’s ICM poll with that of April 2012, the changes in vote share are:

Con +3, Lab -5, LD -7, UKIP +8

To reiterate, some of that swing might well be the result of methodological changes though that depends on when the polls became divergent from reality in the last parliament. Even so, those swings would likely result in Tory gains running into the low hundreds, UKIP also making modest gains and the Lib Dems suffering further losses. Labour would become the first opposition to be net losers since 1982.

Fortunately for Corbyn, such a reverse would be likely to be overshadowed by the results in London and Scotland. The returns north of the border are again likely to be disastrous for Labour but Corbyn can legitimately point out that the ship struck the iceberg there well before he became commodore of Labour’s fleet. Wales, as so often, will probably be ignored by the London media.

Of course, Labour’s position in the polls – and hence the May elections – could easily improve further; six more weeks of Tory fratricide is unlikely to improve the party’s rating. But either way, Corbyn looks highly likely to achieve what’s necessary to avoid a concerted campaign to remove him. That matters. By the time of next year’s local elections, Labour’s conference will have had time to change the leadership election rules.

David Herdson





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Cameron’s first policy resignation: IDS quits

Friday, March 18th, 2016

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But it’s Osborne in the firing line

There are two easy assumptions that need dismissing about IDS’s resignation yesterday. Firstly, this is not a power gambit on Duncan Smith’s part; and secondly, his going is not to do with Europe.

The two in fact tie together. There could be – and perhaps already is – an explanation that runs thus: IDS has really quit because he is upset by how the Remain side is conducting the European debate; in leaving he is free to directly criticise the prime minister for his at best difficult-to-substantiate assertions; by taking dramatic action he places himself at the forefront of the campaign and, should Leave win, at the front of the race to be next Tory leader.

The problem with that interpretation is that it doesn’t fit the facts. If IDS had wanted to do maximum damage to Cameron and Osborne – and, by extension, to Remain – he would have quit on Budget Day itself, or in fact just about any time other than a Friday evening when MPs are away from Westminster and newspapers have least time to react for tomorrow (albeit that the Sundays get a good run).

Similarly, if it was about Europe then he would have said so. The two letters that stand out by their omission from Duncan Smith’s resignation letter are ‘EU’. No doubt he will feel freer to criticise Remain’s ‘project fear’ tactics now, but that will be very much a secondary consequence. If he had quit over Europe (or as a power play) then it would have been the PM in his sights. 

But it’s not. Instead, it’s George Osborne who takes the full force of Duncan Smith’s ire; Osborne’s political gaming, his rushed Budget preparations, his short-termist approach and his willingness to risk effectiveness tomorrow for acclaim today. Also – one assumes – because Osborne tried to arrange it so that IDS would take the flak for the chancellor’s decisions.

It is easy to over analyse this resignation, particularly for those fond of seeing politics in terms of personalities scrabbling up the greasy pole. IDS has been there, done that and it turned out badly; he cannot have any ambition left on that score. No, for all the criticisms of Duncan Smith over the years, one that cannot be reasonably levelled at him is deceitfulness; he has always been plain about where he stands. There is no reason to believe any different now.

Nor do I believe those who claim that he jumped before he would be pushed post-referendum. While there may well be a reshuffle after the referendum, unless Remain wins by a country mile then the PM is unlikely to want to risk further antagonising the Eurosceptic wing of his party by offering up martyrs who’d been doing a decent job. Such talk also misses the point that no sensible leader ever lets on about a reshuffle before it happens: rumours are just that.

But a reshuffle there will now have to be and one that Cameron hadn’t planned. If he is thinking about another change after the referendum then he’d need to keep this weekend’s as pared down as possible (indeed, if there is a sizable move-around in the next few days, that pretty much rules out a planned reshuffle this year).

The audacious move would be to offer the job to Boris. Some might argue that it’d be slotting a round peg into a complex polygonal hole. Perhaps. But it would avoid knock-on effects while simultaneously bringing a degree of control over Boris.

More likely is a promotion from a Minister of State and there, Priti Patel is the obvious candidate being already within the department. Holders of HenryG’s 50/1 tip of her as the next Conservative leader from back in 2011 would no doubt welcome the appointment.

Heading the other way on the scales of fate is the chancellor. Duncan Smith’s letter is deeply damaging to him because it lays bare an unfair and excessively calculating approach to politics that is unattractive to public and politicians alike. After several months when he’s underperformed in his jobs, there’ll be few who’d go out on a limb to offer him unconditional support. The question is whether Cameron will be one of those few. He has been very loyal to his colleagues in the past but it is possible to be loyal to a fault.

David Herdson