This is for PM & more than a party matter
Don’t you like farce? The Conservative party leadership election is dishing up plenty of it, and all of the blackest variety. Like horror movies, there are rules for Conservative party leadership elections: you may not survive if you have sex; you may not survive if you drink or do drugs; and, as Boris Johnson found out, you may not survive if you say “I’ll be right back”, “Hello?” or “Who’s there?”
The body count is already high and the field is correspondingly much less distinguished than usual. In 2005, for example, the Conservative leadership election was held between the shadow Home Secretary, the shadow Foreign Secretary, the shadow Education Secretary and a former Chancellor of the Exchequer. This time around only one of the five candidates, Theresa May, has held one of the great offices of state (though Liam Fox has been shadow Foreign Secretary).
The contrast with past party contests to replace an incumbent Prime Minister is stark. Since the Second World War, every internal replacement of an incumbent Prime Minister has been either a former Foreign Secretary or a former Chancellor of the Exchequer or both. James Callaghan managed the full set, having previously been Home Secretary as well. The last Prime Minister to replace the incumbent – other than through an election – who had not previously held one of those roles was Balfour, and he was the last man to hold the title of First Lord of the Treasury without being Prime Minister, during his uncle’s ministry.
It might be objected that there are many examples of party leaders being chosen without much experience. Indeed David Cameron had no ministerial experience when he secured the Tory leadership. There is a crucial difference. A Leader of the Opposition will need to get a personal mandate from the electorate if he or she is to become Prime Minister. When an incumbent party of government selects a new leader, it does so knowing that he or she will be Prime Minister from day one. It has a responsibility not to take a gamble on unproven material that the public has not signed up to.
It should be unthinkable that Andrea Leadsom, an MP of just 6 years’ standing with no Cabinet experience, should be seriously considered for the immediate role of Prime Minister. Yet right now she is second favourite. One can only conclude that the Conservative party has completely taken leave of its senses.
The Conservative party is choosing our next Prime Minister. However, they seem to be focussed on the internal task of choosing their next leader without any thought to this public responsibility. Perhaps it is about time that they started doing so.