I AM not a registered supporter of Boris Johnson. I have concerns about his morals (or lack of them). However I do see the need for the membership of the Conservative Party to be heard. At present there is a strong likelihood that he will become the next Prime Minister; all that is stopping him is the Parliamentary party. This is where it could all go wrong. The electorate is famous for being the most deceitful in the world, favourites are often culled at this hurdle, and outsiders go on to win. Behind all the promises of support and reneging on same is the duplicity that this electoral system breeds.
Many Tory MPs are more concerned about ‘What’s in it for me?’ than ‘Who is going to win the next General Election?’ With that in mind, let’s return to the leadership contest of 2001. Ann Widdecombe did not have the support of enough MPs to stand, despite being popular with the constituencies. The favourite was Michael Portillo.
There was a rumour that the Thatcherite candidates had hatched an agreement that as they were eliminated they would encourage their supporters to vote for the other members of the pact. Between the first and third ballots, Portillo’s vote increased from 49 to 53. Meanwhile Kenneth Clarke got 36 votes on the first round, and by the third round he had 59. The famous pact had not materialised because Portillo had made too many enemies, and Clarke’s team had made promissory noises about ‘jobs’ in government. The voluntary party was given a vote for the first time, and Iain Duncan Smith got the job mainly because he was not Kenneth Clarke, whose views on Europe the membership were not keen on. Later it became clear the parliamentary party had picked the wrong Thatcherite candidate to take to the membership, and IDS was removed for poor performance as leader of the Opposition.
Imagine you are a Conservative MP who is a strong Remainer. You know that if Boris becomes Prime Minister you will be spending the next ten years on the back benches without ministerial responsibilities. However in the hope that he might, just might, give you something, it is wise to tell his managers you will be supporting him and then vote for someone else – but who? Strategy is important here, and deceit is essential. You know that if Boris is in the final two, the membership will go for him. There is no other candidate to beat him. So in the hope that Britain’s membership of your beloved EU can be saved, you need to organise a campaign to get the right two candidates on the final ballot. As the process of elimination goes ahead, the clear favourite for the Remain side becomes apparent. You want to ensure that the person who is the next best is also in the final two, and a great deal of arm-twisting and career bribery could happen in a co-ordinated way. This could ensure a Remain candidate and a weak Brexiteer being the final choice. Remember this is a secret ballot.
It is just possible, as happened in 2001, that you and your friends can stop Boris being in the last two. The membership will feel cheated, there will be mass defections to the Brexit Party, Brexit will not happen. The Conservative Party will collapse under the weight of financial debt and lack of activists. Those MPs who did not vote for Boris are all unemployed as Farage’s team sweep up and rebrand themselves ‘The Thatcher Party’. The Conservative party is out of office for ever.
Johnson’s sweeping lead after the first ballot has further strengthened his odds. So wouldn’t it be simpler if MPs bit the bullet and all voted for him in today’s round, and showed that for once they were capable of putting Brexit and Britain above their personal interests?