IT IS tempting to dismiss the Tory leadership contest as a largely-staged charade: that it was not pure coincidence that two of the final three front-runners, Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt just happened to be the same two globalist candidates who, it emerged, had been covertly preparing their leadership campaigns as long as six months ago.
According to this thesis, the Blob had learnt from its 2016 mistake of engineering Theresa May’s unopposed coronation as leader and PM by having her final-two opponent, Andrea Leadsom, taken out – albeit with the gullible Leadsom’s unwitting help. This time, the Blob had provided us with pantomime villain Fishy Rishi to boo and hiss while their mainstream media helpers strove to anoint their nominee, Pinocchio Penny, by conniving at her assumption of a Boudicca-like, Union-Flag cloak, even as it exempted her from anything resembling rigorous scrutiny.
Following her exposure initiated by new media and social media, and the mainstream media’s grudging subsequent U-turn amplifying it, the fortuitous elimination of the deeply-flawed Mordaunt in the MPs’ final voting round on Wednesday dented that suspicion only slightly. The Tory leadership ‘election’ process remains disturbingly opaque and anti-democratic.
This process, by which 150,000-plus Conservative Party members are presented with a choice between only two contestants, themselves chosen after several rounds of voting in secret by a minuscule ‘electorate’ of only 358 MPs renowned for internal-electoral sophistry and subterfuge, looks increasingly elitist and unsustainable in the 21st century, as aspects of the current contest have shown. The accelerated, truncated timetable for MPs’ votes, in particular, could almost have been designed specifically to disadvantage insurgent challengers and enhance the chances of the designated ‘favourites’.
Early speculation on the authenticity of declared backers gave way to accusations of tactical vote-lending; but both were facilitated, even encouraged, by the process’s inherent secrecy and consequent lack of transparency.
A stark divergence soon emerged between the MPs’ apparent candidate-preferences, consistently favouring Sunak, Truss and Mordaunt, and those of party members and the wider electorate, strongly opting for Badenoch.
Nor was Badenoch merely the members’ and voters’ preferred choice for party leader and thus new PM; she was consistently showing as beating each of the three front-runners by a substantial margin in a ‘final-two’ run-off.
Given Badenoch’s popularity being endorsed by political commentators from both Right and Left, it was already evident that, if scheming Tory MPs in thrall to the Blob conspired to keep Badenoch out of the final two, especially if to leave members a choice between Sunak and Mordaunt, it risked opening a chasm between MPs and members that the party would come to regret creating.
Predictably, the mildly Net Zero-sceptic but determinedly anti-woke Badenoch was dropped, Tory MPs seemingly oblivious to how they had thereby not only removed an existential threat to the Left’s most cherished cultural and identity-politics shibboleths, but also narrowed the range of subjects the contest could now discuss.
It will probably come as little surprise to TCW readers that demands for less secrecy and more transparency do not sit well with some of the ‘Conservative’ Party’s more patrician and demos-phobic grandees, including, surprisingly (although, since his elevation to the Lords, perhaps not), Daniel Hannan.
Isn’t obscuring candidates’ (largely self-proclaimed) virtues by exposing their faults what election hustings are supposed to be about? Surely, given that a mere 350+ Tory MPs elect the final two, of whom one will be the country’s next PM, the more public debate they’re forced into the better?
Furthermore, the TV ‘debates’ thus far, plus overdue media scrutiny, had shown that at least one of them (now fortunately eliminated), was far from being the ‘decent, diligent and patriotic’ candidate of Hannan’s delusion. Misplaced ‘party before country’ loyalty appears to have eroded his previous commitments to transparency and democracy.
‘No doubt Kemi Badenoch will make a fine PM one day’, Hannan conceded grandly in a further tweet while demanding an end to the process which risked making her PM now. Perhaps had it not been for the opaque, secretive MPs-only voting process – so conducive to anti-democratic, anti-‘populist’, scheming and chicanery – she might not have had to wait for that ‘one day’ to arrive.
Similarly recently ennobled Charles Moore seemed to be re-discovering his inner Tory Patrician, asserting that MPs-only rounds of voting have merely ‘been doing their job’ – presumably by excluding the candidates whom members and voters would prefer. Badenoch and Tugendhat, Moore continued somewhat condescendingly, have enhanced ‘their challenger status’, ignoring that, as shown above, the former was clearly regarded by both members and voters alike as rather more than an upstart ‘challenger’.
Perish the thought that party members might want to vote on more than two candidates supplied by scheming, careerist, seat-saving and job-grubbing Tory MPs. One wonders what Moore would say if the members wanted a totally different final two to vote on than the MPs – which a mere five votes going another way would have produced in this contest?
Former Social-Democratic Party candidate and Left-leaning think-tanker turned Cameroon Danny Finkelstein agreed that party members should now be excluded entirely from the choice of party leader. Such unswerving commitment to both democracy and transparency! And trust in party members to make the right decision! It was left to former Brexit Party MEP and Spectator columnist Patrick O’Flynn to remind him of the undistinguished, to say the least, history of that particular idea.
Not for the first time, one wonders how many of the ‘Conservative’ Party’s grandees despise its members – remember their contemptuous dismissal as the ‘Turnip Taliban’ and ‘swivel-eyed loons’ by the Notting Hill Cameroons? – even more than Labour’s do.
This must stop. If the Tories are to maintain any pretence at being a membership-based democracy, the leadership election process must be fully democratised, especially given the strong likelihood that most of its MPs – in the words of the Telegraph‘s Sherelle Jacobs, ‘divided, broken and out of ideas’ – don’t even recognise the extent of the crisis it faces.
First, if winnowing-out of early runners by MPs’ votes is to be retained at all, it must be made wholly transparent, with successive results published in full. Rumours about Sunak’s campaign team ‘lending’ votes to rival A to try to keep out rival B and vice versa are just one reason. We need to know who votes for whom.
Next, on the final two, the least they must do is put a ‘neither-of-the-above’ option on the members’ ballot, allowing the mass membership to reject the MPs’ choice of two entirely – as might well have been their ‘choice’ in the current contest had the final two voted on by Tory MPs been globalism-inclined Sunak and Mordaunt, representing largely the same political ideology seemingly favoured by the majority of Tory MPs, but not by the majority of members.
Additionally, as most TCW readers will know, at the time of writing, moves are afoot to include Johnson as a third option on the ballot on the grounds that he was elected by the membership and his removal by MPs was anti-democratic and contrary to natural justice, and should be put to the membership.
Absent a NOTA or Johnson option, members could – and would be perfectly justified if they did – either boycott the vote or spoil their papers, so that neither ‘winner’ would have democratic legitimacy or a clear mandate, forcing the process to re-start. Delay, certainly, but democracy surely trumps it?
Beyond that, the longer the Tories delay moving to one-member-one-vote (OMOV), possibly via a hybrid of the Single Transferable or Alternative Vote systems, for leadership elections, however unpredictable (read: ‘uncontrollable’), raucous, acrimonious, divisive (the current process isn’t?) and unwelcome to their demos-phobic hierarchy it may be, the more tenuous their claim to practise member-democracy will become.
The traditional objection raised to OMOV – ‘Ah, but the PM must be able to command the confidence of Tory MPs’ – increasingly sounds like a mere euphemistic admission of the growing remoteness of many Tory MPs from the views of the constituents they purport to represent. It’s also the equivalent of looking down the wrong end of a telescope: Tory MPs should be finding ways better to reflect the views of the members who elect them rather than devising and perpetuating ways to sideline them. Those thorny questions of Open Primaries and Recall will have to be re-visited.
But that’s for the medium term. In the meantime, the cynical, navel-gazing, calculating, democratic-deficit travesty that the 150,000+ Tory members who aren’t MPs have had to endure over the past two weeks must be the last of its type.