November 1990 – Mrs. T leaves Number 10
A CON leader’s position is now much more secure than it was in 1990
One of the things that’s driving me crazy at the moment is the sheer level of of ignorance from parts of the media and even some MPs about how CON leaders can be ousted and the consequencial process for choosing a successor.
So many are familiar with the downfall of Maggie in November 1990 that they are convinced that the same still applies. Well it doesn’t and I’d argue that the arrangements now in place make it much harder to depose a leader and that if the current process had applied in 1990 then the Tories’ most successful general election winner would have survived.
Back in November 1990 Michael Heseltine challenged Mrs Thatcher for the CON leadership by putting himself forward in an election amongst the party’s MPs. She was in France at a summit at the time and Heseltine was seeking to capitalise on the discontent within the party following the resignation of former Chancellor Geoffrey Howe. The rules then required that the incumbent needed to survive the first round by a margin of 15% or more to be safe. This is what happened.
Her winning gap of 14% was just four votes short of the 15% margin and this meant that other contenders could put themselves forward. Eventually she was persuaded by her cabinet colleagues not to participate in the second round. The eventual outcome was that John Major succeeded her.
Compare that with the current process which was brought in by William Hague during the first Blair government. This splits the process up into two distinct phases – the first being a vote of confidence amongst CON MPs and then, if the leader loses, a leadership election in which she/he cannot be a contender.
A big safeguard for the incumbent is that if he/she survives the confidence vote, even by just one vote, then there can be no further challenge for a year an element that adds considerably to the risk of a leadership challenge failing. You can end up with the person you are trying to get out being in a stronger position than before.
So whereas a winning margin of 52 votes for Mrs Thatcher in 1990 was not enough to save her a confidence vote victory by a single vote for Mrs. May now would be enough for her to keep her job and guarantee it for twelve months. Is it any wonder that in spite all her travails the required 48 MPs demanding a confidence vote has never come forward?
The other factor inhibiting CON MPs from demanding a confidence vote is that they could be triggering a process that could lead to someone they vehemently oppose getting the job.