13 June 2019
The Tory Leadership
A skittle alley.
By John Watson
Really? Is that it? The nation needs a leader with the tactical ability to negotiate Brexit and reform British society to make it fairer, and all anyone can talk about is whether the candidates have used drugs. Boris shrugged it off with a joke and for once his contemptuous approach was the right one. Yes, taking drugs is a criminal offence. No, it is not in reality a victimless crime. But surely nobody in their senses really thinks that the fact that someone took drugs many years ago makes them unfit for purpose now: unfit to paint a great painting? Clearly not. Unfit to write a great novel? Clearly not. Unfit to make a great contribution to scientific theory? Clearly not. Unfit to lead troops over the top? Clearly not. But you never know, it might make them unfit to make the political contribution that the nation so badly needs. Bollocks and, in most cases, self-serving pharisaical bollocks at that.
Mr Gove is an interesting candidate because his work at Education, Justice and Defra demonstrates a real appetite for reform at a time when reform is badly needed. Some doubt, though, whether his judgement is steady enough and whether he is a little too mercurial to lead. Perhaps we would be better with the more managerial approach of, say, Jeremy Hunt. That is the sort of debate which needs to be had and on which judgements have to be made. But to try and determine the issue by who took drugs and when, simply displays an inability to look at the real questions. Let’s hope that the Conservative Party and their MPs are a little brighter than the press.
If you were commissioned to draw a cartoon of the last Conservative Party leadership contest, you might come up with a game of skittles. There were quite a few candidates at the beginning but they were gradually knocked out as the debate exposed their shortcomings until there was only one left. Mrs May was the one left standing and the rest is history. There is no reason to assume that it will be different this time and the wooden balls are poised to knock out a number of contestants as having already demonstrated their inadequacy.
We could start with Sajid Javid who deserves to be knocked out for having taken the drugs issue seriously. Actually he seems to have few merits apart from his immigrant background. There is no reason to suppose that he could actually do the job.
Dominic Raab and Esther McVey have got to go to because of their unpardonably stupid suggestion that they could avoid the will of Parliament by getting the Queen to prorogue it. There has been lots of wittering about not drawing the Queen into politics but there is no reason to think that she could not cope with this request. If in doubt she would consult the Privy Council as to what she should do and they would tell her that use of the Royal prerogative in this way would be an affront to Parliamentary democracy. End of story. End of Raab and McVey too for the crime of stupidity.
Then there is Boris, who follows through on his notorious unreliability with figures by saying how he will withhold the UK’s contribution. Really? Some of that is due as a matter of law; some of it isn’t. Perhaps it would be possible to trim the amount. Had he said he would pick through the figures to see if there are items which could be removed, one could perhaps understand his position. But no, the big picture is everything and detail is ignored. That is too close to popular impressions of his approach to be comfortable. Boris should come off the list.
And so the field will diminish until next week we are left with two candidates. If you listen to the pundits they will tell you that if one of the candidates is Boris he will be elected by the Conservative party membership whose darling he is. Perhaps that is right but the assumption that they will vote for the figure who they like the most is rather a simplistic one. Members of the Conservative party making their choice will be faced with poll information as to who is popular with the public and predictions as to how the candidates’ policies will play out.
Suppose, for example, that Boris becomes Prime Minister and is committed to leaving without a deal if Mrs May’s agreement cannot be substantially renegotiated. How would that play out?
On the basis that substantial renegotiation is not going to happen, we would be left with Boris committed to leave with no agreement. Parliamentary opinion is heavily against that and Labour would undoubtedly propose a motion of no confidence which would probably be carried. That pushes us into a general election which will inevitably be won by Labour. Is that a scenario that the Conservative members are really going to vote for? Or will they in the end opt for a more managerial approach? Who knows, but do not assume that Boris on the paper necessarily means Boris as Prime Minister.