Why TMay must stay – for now

Why TMay must stay – for now

There is much to be getting on with, including leadership election reform

A minority government propped up on a vote-by-vote basis by a minor party where the government, even including the ally, only has a majority of about 13 (once Sinn Fein are excluded), is about as strong and stable as a three-legged gazelle roller-skating across ice.

In normal circumstances, not only would this not be a parliament likely to go the distance, it would do well to reach a first anniversary. These, however, are not normal circumstances.

The Brexit clock is ticking. More than two months have already passed, to no effect. Indeed, the government’s situation now is worse than it was in March, thanks to the general election May called.

Not that calling the election was necessarily the wrong decision; fighting it so stupidly was the error. Had May capitalised on the 20% leads she genuinely had – the local elections verify the polls – then the delay would have been well worth it. As it is, both the time and the majority have been frittered away. Those responsible need to pay the price.

None more so than Nick Timothy, if reports of his responsibility for the social care charging policy are correct. Of course, ultimate responsibility must lie with Theresa May herself, who could have rejected the idea but didn’t – and who could and should have run such a central policy past both the cabinet and Lynton Crosby. I very much doubt that she did either, as they surely would have seen the folly of centring the manifesto launch on a large tax rise aimed at several core groups.

But for the moment, May isn’t expendable. Partly, that’s because of Brexit but it’s also because it’d look undemocratic to change prime minister so soon after the party was (just) returned at the polls. So if she can’t be removed then she needs her wings clipping and needs to be made to work more openly and collegiately with her cabinet. Regrettably, the early signs, such as her post-election comments, do not look encouraging on that score.

She is, however, on borrowed time. Quite how much time that is is anyone’s guess. With no majority, the Tories’ position in parliament is dependent on preventing the other parties from all aligning against her. Otherwise, she faces a Vote of No Confidence and an election at a time of the opposition’s choosing (or, to pre-empt losing that No Confidence vote, being forced to advocate a dissolution motion while in serious trouble). Avoiding that alliance is likely to be expensive, both in political terms for her and in financial terms for the country.

While she gets on with Brexit talks abroad and staving off defeat at home, there is a more arcane matter that needs attending to (of course, there are many such matters but as this is a political betting website, let’s focus on one relevant to that purpose). The Conservative Party’s leadership election rules are stuck in the 1980s. In fact, they date from later than that but they were already an anachronism when introduced, as indeed are those for the other main parties.

The problem is that back then, the Commons was politics as far as the UK was concerned. Yes, there was the Lords and the European parliament but the EP was a sideshow for Euro-nerds and the Lords was at the wrong end of a one-way cul-de-sac as far as leadership contenders were concerned. Since then, British politics has become far more multi-polar: the devolved parliaments, assemblies and mayoralties wield serious power and are equivalent to a cabinet-level job. Those who make a success of them should be contenders for the top-most job. The era of limiting nominees for party leaderships to MPs should end.

And that’s the third reason why May needs to stay for now: one of the party’s biggest stars and most effective campaigners is currently ineligible. Sure, doing so would mean that some constitutional conventions would need amending but a convention is simply what is acceptable at the time. Usually, that’s bound by precedent but as circumstances change that need not necessarily be the case.

The next two years will be difficult for Britain, for British politics and for the Conservative Party. Theresa May has landed all three in difficulty. If she does fall before a Brexit deal is reached, both Brexit logic and political ability suggest that one of Davis or Boris would make the most natural successor. They at least should be au fait with the detail of the negotiations. But would either be the best the Party could put to the people at the next election? Both have question marks against them – though both have big plusses too. However, Ruth Davidson equally has big plusses (and smaller question marks) and should at the least be eligible for nomination.

At no better than 7/1 for Davidson, I don’t see much if any value. Unless the rules change, she’s tied into Holyrood for the foreseeable future, certainly beyond May’s likely departure date. Davis, at 5/1, is better value although it’s still not great. Even so, with May likely to be gone before a Brexit deal is settled, he’d be my tip.

David Herdson

Comments are closed.