ONE of the paradoxes of the current Conservative Party leadership election is that the media coverage is nationwide despite the electorate being restricted to party members. This is not a public vote, but it is being treated as if it is. Comparison could be made to the broadcast coverage of the ascension of St Jeremy of Corbyn to his position on the left side of Marx, but that would be an error. Labour’s leadership voting system allowed the public a right to vote in return for paying £3 and not being a prominent member of any other party. This policy was a response to a vote-rigging scandal revolving around a person who is now Labour’s Acting General Secretary. The story of how Labour managed to validate the identity and opinions of all its new voting members has yet to be written.
The membership rules in the Conservative Party are different. Members must have been in the party for at least three months before the contest was called to have the right to vote in it. Annual membership is £25. Unlike with Labour, the rules are very clear and do not require the services of a High Court Judge to unravel. Not once, but twice.
What is novel is that this leadership election is being decided by the Conservative membership while the party is in government.
Some commentators are objecting to the apparent fact that our next Prime Minister will be selected by a relatively small group of people compared with the size of the electorate. Any commentator making this observation is obviously biased and is doubly mistaken. However this bias itself has yet to be commented on. The vote is not, as the BBC suggests, for Britain’s next Prime Minister. It is just for the leader of the Conservative Party. It is then up to the victorious candidate to be able to command a majority on the House of Commons, which is an entirely different issue. While this would have been a formality in relatively normal times, this might not be the case now. Leading the Conservative Party and commanding a Commons majority are distinct positions. It is a convenient fiction that they are one and the same, and might be an actual fiction quite soon.
The second mistake made by these biased commentators is over the size of the group voting for party leader. It was obvious to anyone with an interest in British politics that Mrs May would not be leading her party into any future General Election. The Prime Minister had managed the audacious feat of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, converting a twenty-point opinion poll lead and thirty-plus seat majority into merely being the largest party in the Commons, having to rely on a confidence and supply agreement to push legislation through. Her position was even worse than that faced by Harold Wilson and James Callaghan in the 1970s, when the most divisive political crisis they had was whether or not to apply for a loan to the International Monetary Fund after their government ran out of money propping up the nationalised industries. It was made even more obvious when Mrs May herself made her future clear when she was faced with a vote of confidence in her leadership. So members of the public had ample opportunity to become members of the Conservative Party in advance of the slightest hint of an impending leadership election.
It was also clear that party members would have the final say. Any future leadership election would not be a coronation by Conservative MPs. For the last twenty years or so, the Conservative Party has alternated between MPs and the membership deciding the next leader. Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron were elected following the defeat of the Conservative party in the 2001 and 2005 General Elections respectively. Michael Howard and Theresa May were anointed in the middle of a term of Parliament. There would have been widespread annoyance at a second anointing in a row. Were either of the current two candidates to step down, then it is probable that he would be replaced by the highest losing candidate from the MPs’ voting stage, Michael Gove, and the campaign would continue.
Anyone with even an average interest in British politics could have determined all of the above. This is still a free country, mainly because St Jeremy is not Prime Minister. One of our legal free choices is membership of a political party. If people did not make this free choice in the light of the glaring advance notice of what is now happening in the Conservative Party, they only have themselves to blame. The alternative is that the moaners were never Conservative supporters in the first place, in which case they should, in the timeless rhetoric of Gavin Williamson, ‘go away and shut up’.