Leadsom refused to support an EU second referendum plan that she had not approved

It could just be that the next Minister to depart will be other than the Prime Minister herself.

Andrea Leadsom could have resigned last summer with David Davis and Boris Johnson over the Chequers Plan.  Or she could have quit with Dominic Raab and Esther McVey during the autumn over the draft Withdrawal Agreement.  Instead, she stayed on in Cabinet, alongside fellow EU referendum leavers Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Penny Mordaunt and (later) Steve Barclay.  So why has she resigned today?  And why have they not – at least yet?

Let’s try to answer the second question first.  As Andrew Gimson reports on this site, Conservative MPs believe that Theresa May announce her resignation as Party leader over the weekend after meeting Graham Brady on Friday.  That would allow her to pre-empt, and attempt to draw the sting from, the European election results before they are announced on Sunday evening.

This take could be wrong.  But even if it is, the Prime Minister has clearly lost the confidence of most Tory backbenchers and Ministers alike.  The immediate reason is the terms of the proposed EU Withdrawal Bill.  Cabinet members insist that they did not approve, at yesterday’s meeting, all the contents of May’s speech yesterday – especially the proposal to legislate for a second referendum if the Commons votes for one.

It follows that the publication of the Bill risked the resignation of any of those Ministers named above, and perhaps others too – and that the House will not approve its contents in any event.  Which helps to explain why it is now very unlikely to be issued.  And why the Prime Minister – given the stasis that would fill the consequent gap – now has little alternative but to quit before the ’22 Executive, her Cabinet or both finally force the issue.

So those other Ministers perhaps think that there’s no need for them to quit – because May will have to do so first. But Leadsom is in a slightly different position to them.  As Leader of the House, she has a certain responsibility for the Bill.  She writes in her resignation letter that she could not tomorrow, presumably in the weekly Business Questions, “announce a Bill with new elements that I fundamentally oppose”.

Hence her resignation – which comes with a deadly sideswipe, first, at Downing Street for not allowing the proper scrutiny and approval by Ministers of recent Brexit proposals; and, second, at Philip Hammond (it seems) for advocating “policies contrary to the Government’s position.  Her long-time friend and supporter Tim Loughton has been tweeting criticism of Downing Street today.  That looks like an early warning signal of Leadsom’s intentions.

She thus becomes the latest of almost 50 Ministers to have quit May’s Government.  On the one hand, her critics will claim that her resignation is deliberately timed to boost a second leadership bid.  On the other, Leadsom’s refusal to hang on for a few more days can be seen as admirable – and principled.  Her job was one that she grew into and did well.  It could just be that the next Minister to depart will be other than the Prime Minister herself.

Ben Roback: The Democrats, gender, diversity, youth – and why Biden (76) may take on Trump (72)

By nominating him, they would be wagering a similar bet to the one they placed in 2016 when Clinton was selected as the safe candidate.

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

How do you like your presidential candidates? If the answer is white, male and septuagenarian then the 2020 presidential election could be for you.

With an approval rating of 90 per cent amongst Republicans, Donald Trump (72) will be the GOP’s candidate. Joe Biden (76), the former Vice President from 2009-2017, is the current front runner in a Democratic field that is its most diverse in modern political history, with a rich background of gender, ethnicity and sexuality. They are both the pollsters and bookmakers’ favourites to be the Republican and Democratic candidates respectively in next November’s election.

In an era of identity politics shaped heavily by the #MeToo movement, in which gender and diversity are under the microscope more than ever before, two white male politicians approaching their eighties fighting to be the leader of the free world seems at odds with social and political trends.

The diversification of the Democratic field started after John Kerry was the party’s chosen nominee in 2004, the last heterosexual white man to win the nomination after Democrats nominated them in every single prior presidential election since the party was founded.

Since then, the two Democratic nominees for president were Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The diversification at the top of the party reflects the trend amongst its voters. According to exit polls in the 2018 midterm election, only about 25 per cent of Democratic voters were heterosexual white men whereas a majority (59 per cent) were women.

Biden’s strengths: Familiar, friendly, feared

Joe Biden’s near-total name recognition as a former vice president (99 per cent according to Morning Consult) is a significant asset compared to several other candidates in a bloated field who are battling for slim pickings in the national political spotlight. Biden benefits from eight years spent by Obama’s side in the White House and a further 36 years on Capitol Hill as a Senator for Delaware.

During his time in the White House, Biden sought to portray a friendly personam and his close relationship with Obama was well documented – from the award of the presidential medal of freedom to friendship bracelets. His approach to politics has rarely been the kind of adversarial, divisive rhetoric favoured by Donald Trump. In a speech in Philadelphia, Biden said: “The country is sick of the division. They’re sick of the fighting. They’re sick of the childish behaviour.”Whereas a long list of Democratic presidential hopefuls have portrayed themselves as fighters, Biden has taken a different path and painted himself as someone to end the fighting and bring the country together.

The extent to which Trump truly fears Biden is unknown. Despite his new political strategy focussing on unity,  Biden has also shown he’s not afraid to throw the gloves off. In 2018 he said “I’d beat the hell out of him”, referring to Trump. Assuming the American political temperature doesn’t increase even closer to actual boiling point, those fights will take place on the campaign trail and increasingly on social media. As a measure of how concerned Trump is with an issue at any one time, he has tweeted about Biden 28 times so far this year. If he didn’t fear a Biden campaign, he wouldn’t be seeking to sully it.

Biden’s weaknesses: Too familiar, too friendly, fairly progressive

As Obama’s running mate and vice president, Biden will always be inextricably linked to the 44th president. Amongst the Democratic base, that will likely see him rewarded – Obama’s Real Clear Politics approval rating exceeded 86 per cent and he has remained popular with the Democratic base since leaving office.

But Biden will struggle to plausibly argue that he is a ‘change’ candidate in an election when Democrats are desperate to replace Donald Trump with a fresh face. Hillary Clinton heavily leant on her experience – as Secretary of State, Senator for New York and First Lady of the United States – in a bruising 2016 election campaign against Trump to no effect. Instead, she was outmanoeuvred by a maverick who claimed to represent the silent majority and promised to drain the swamp. Biden is arguably very swamp, with 44 years’ experience in Washington politics.

Before he could even launch his presidential campaign, Biden’s team found themselves firefighting. Allegations of inappropriate physical behaviour towards Lucy Flores, a former Nevada state legislator, led to the conclusion that what had previously been brushed aside as “Joe being Joe” was no longer compatible with or appropriate in an era of a deeper understanding of gender norms in politics. Trump, keen on labelling all of his potential opponents with a nickname, has quickly taken to “Creepy Joe”.

Identity politics aside, Biden’s biggest problem might be that he is out of step with a Democratic Party base that is clamouring for progressive politicians and policies. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York member of Congress, reacted furiously after Biden’s campaign suggested a “middle ground” approach to climate was necessary, subtly referring to Biden as one of the conservatives “on both sides of the aisle”.

For all his esteemed political experience, Biden arguably isn’t that progressive – certainly not as much as  many of his 2020 rivals. Abortion is at the forefront of political debate after the legislative ban passed by Alabama’s State Senate, and the topic will be a key pillar of the 2020 primary process: as most Democrats see it, this is a fundamental matter of womens’ rights.  That could prove problematic for Biden, and a gift for opposing campaigns conducting opposition research.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973, Biden said a woman shouldn’t have the “sole right to say what should happen to her body.” He also voted to let states overturn Roe v. Wade, although he later reversed position, as the New York Times recently laid out.

Whilst Biden became more liberal on such issues as abortion, he often undertook a long journey of policy evolution; his younger opponents like Pete Buttigieg can claim to be lifelong progressives. Whilst his strengths are experience and name recognition, his weakness might be the issues associated with it – a long political history and the associated baggage of decisions that were once approved by Democratic voters but are now significantly out of step with the party’s base.

Despite that, Biden is not being punished in the polls where he is the second choice of supporters of Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke (see the chart at the top of this article) – over whom there are very few questions about progressive credentials.

Could he win?

Biden is the clear Democratic front runner, but the race has a long way left to go. Leading the pack puts a target on his back, in the same way that Conservative leadership hopefuls are gunning for Boris Johnson as the most popular candidate to replace Theresa May.

By nominating Biden, Democrats would be wagering a similar bet to the one they placed in 2016 when Clinton was selected as the safe candidate based on her experience and Washington credentials. Politics changed that year – and Trump was propelled to the White House. Biden will need to work tirelessly to prove his progressive credentials to the Democratic base before we consider how he might take the fight to Trump.

If May isn’t on her way out by the end of today, don’t back her in tomorrow’s European elections

The 1922 Committee Executive has already pointed her towards the exit door.  It now needs to take her gently by the arm, and steer her through it as soon as possible. 

First time round, ConservativeHome advised Tory MPs to vote against the Withdrawal Agreement, so that concessions could be gained on the backstop.

For the second meaningful vote, we pointed out that Theresa May was seeking to bounce MPs into supporting the Agreement before they had time to study four new documents from the EU – and that they should therefore continue to oppose it.

Third time round, later in the same month, we concluded that those documents were meaningful, that they offered concessions which were real, and that trust in the Prime Minister was already so damaged that it no longer mattered, from the point of public confidence in our political system, whether or not MPs voted for the deal or against it.

Which brings us to the Prime Minister’s fourth go at getting the Agreement passed – this time through the fully-fledged medium of a Bill.

Not a word of the Agreement has been changed since it was voted down for the third time in March.  But, since then, May’s position has deteriorated further.  And the 1922 Committee’s Executive has effectively told her that she must go soon whether the Agreement passes or not.

Her response to this erosion of her personal position, as demonstrated in her speech yesterday evening, is to double down on her approach to Jeremy Corbyn, and throw herself on the mercy of the Labour Party.  In a nutshell, she has proposed a bargain to the Commons: add anything you like to the Bill as long as you’re prepared to pass it.

This includes for the first time a specific commitment to seek to hold a second referendum on EU membership if the Commons votes for one.  It follows that May is so desperate to pass the Agreement – thereby leaving a legacy other than of total defeat –  that she is willing to propose with it the means of its own destruction.

Put aside for the moment the rights and wrongs of her doing so.  Very simply, there is no sign that her gambit will work, regardless of any merits that her plan may or may not have.  The referendum offer isn’t enough for Keir Starmer and the confirmatory vote fanatics of the Labour Party.  But it is too much for Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis and 23 other Conservative MPs who have now switched from supporting the Agreement last time round to opposing it.

So if put to the Commons, it will go down to a bigger defeat than in late March – reversing what progress the Prime Minister has made in whittling down opposition to it during the course of the year.  It is therefore now doubtful whether or not a Bill proposing it is put to the House after the Whitsun recess, and maybe at all.

Whether it is or isn’t, May’s departure from Downing Street will now be accelerated.  Putting the Bill to the Commons would mean defeat, which she could not survive.  But withholding it would mean statis.  That would send Graham Brady and company to ask her to go, and change the leadership challenge rules were she to refuse.

At the heart of the Prime Minister’s failure is the collapse of trust.  She pledged over a hundred times that Britain would leave the EU on March 29.  She then said that she was not prepared to delay Brexit later than the end of June.  And she added that holding European elections would be “unacceptable“.

These broken commitments have led directly to the collapse of the Conservative poll rating.  In a nutshell, the former UKIP voters lured to the blue column in the wake of the referendum result have gone to the Brexit Party.

There is no sign of them coming back any time soon.  Indeed, the longer May continues in Downing Street, the greater the damage to the Tory brand.  The failure to leave the EU on time may join the Iraq War and the expenses scandal as a symbol of a corrupted political class.  She is scorching the earth that her successor will inherit.

Which brings us to that European election tomorrow.  The Pope is a Catholic, bears do what everyone knows they do in the woods, and ConservativeHome advises its readers to vote Tory.  The best one for doing so continues to apply: namely, that it is better to be represented by Conservatives than not, especially if they include those of the calibre of, say, Syed Kamall, our columnist Daniel Hannan and Emma McClarkin.

However, there is a flaw in this usual logic – namely, that these elections should not be taking place at all.  That these are happening concedes the possibility that we will not leave the EU in October, or perhaps afterwards.  It is this raising of two fingers to the referendum result that has collapsed the Conservative position.

The Tory leadership knows this as well as you or I do, and is so embarrassed by it that it has scarcely campaigned.  The Party’s website front page bears no reference to tomorrow’s poll.  Its Twitter feed is so embarrassed that it has put up plugs for the cause only over the last 24 hoursAt least one campaigning leaflet doesn’t mention Brexit at all.

A single photo sums the situation up – of a despondent May leaving the stage, at a campaign launch with no audience present and a single journalist reporting, while Ashley Fox winces in the background and three cheerless other candidates fail to raise a single smile between them.  It is the photographic equivalent of clinical depression.

Furthermore, the rushed selection timetable leaves many Tory voters in a bind.  Rightly or wrongly, members have had no input.  Which means some unpalatable choices.

If you are a pro-Brexit voter in the North-West, you have no alternative, if willing to vote Conservative, than to plump for pro-Remain devotee Sajid Karim, who tops the list.  If you are an anti-Brexit one in the South-East, you must do the same for Hannan.  For some, this will not be incentive to vote in either case.

No wonder most Tory MPs have scarcely campaigned, if they have done so at all.  Add up the number of Conservative councillors who will either vote for another party or abstain, and you have well over two in five.  Among Party members, according to our survey, it will be more than three in five.

The 1922 Committee Executive meets today.  It has already pointed the Prime Minister towards the exit door.  It now needs to take her gently by the arm, and steer her through it as soon as possible.  A new leader should be in place by the end of the summer.

As for tomorrow, we cannot but ask how we can have confidence in the Conservative campaign, when the Party itself clearly doesn’t?  Ann Widdecombe is standing for the Brexit Party.  Michael Heseltine is voting for the Liberal Democrats.  Both of these gestures strike us as a step too far.

But as matters stand, those Tories who have not already voted should take a leaf out of the book of the late Frank Maguire, once the independent (and usually absent) republican MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.  In the crucial no confidence vote that brought down the Callaghan Government, he flew to Westminster to “abstain in person”.

Thursday’s vote. 1) Steven Holmes: I’m an Association Chairman – but see no other course than to vote for the Brexit Party

I have not given up on the Conservative Party, but believe at the present time that the Conservative Party has given up on me.

Steven Holmes is the Chairman of Carmarthen East & Dinefwr Conservative Association. This article reproduces an open letter to his members.

As an Association Chairman, I believe it is only open and honest to be upfront to my Executive and members as to why I have returned my postal vote for the Brexit Party.

There has been a lot of thought on my part for some time as to which way to vote.  As an Association Chairman, should I stick to the Party line; should I abstain on principle; should I use my vote as a proxy for my wish to leave the EU, and/or use it for a party that has been determined and forthright with its intentions to get the job done that 17.4 million people voted for – including myself.

Over the last month or so, I have spoken with local and senior members of the Party, listened to my Executive and been in communication by various means with the Party nationally.  I have written personally to the Prime Minister on behalf of our Association, clearly describing why this political situation is unsustainable and wholly unacceptable, and why only a change at the top can rescue any semblance of success in delivering Brexit.

I have put my signature to the open letter in a national paper last week (which stated the feelings of the voluntary party that a change at the top is needed), and have also added my name to the petition for the National Convention for the motion of no confidence in the Theresa May.  This Association is struggling to find activists willing to participate in any campaigning, all because of this Government’s destructive Brexit policy and leadership.

Furthermore, I have read the official literature & official press releases and listened to Conservative Party salaried staff, only to have my opinion strengthened that there is something inherently wrong with the leadership, structure, message and direction with regards to Brexit and, in particular, these European Elections.

We should clearly not be in this situation of fighting them, and the Prime Minister has failed to seize on the open goal of the March 29th departure date.  We were promised over one hundred times that we would be leaving on this date; promised that No Deal is better than a bad deal, and promised that the wishes of 17.4 million people would be delivered.

The Party continues to blame those MPs who didn’t vote for the deal (her deal).  I don’t support the deal, and don’t believe that I should be shamed into doing so.  I was brought up in Northern Ireland ,and have always been a supporter of the Conservative and Unionist Party, but the back-stop arrangement is contrary to our best interests and fear that the union and democracy are under threat.  To take No Deal off the table was an error of judgement and negotiations were flawed from the start.

They were choreographed by Remain-backing insiders who continue to dismiss the real heart of the Party (the members) and the people who voted to leave.  A shameful reflection on how our Party now operates that has continued for too long.  I believe that for every day longer Theresa May is in power, it is a day more that we are haemorrhaging votes and trust in the Party, and edging the door open for Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street (the process of attempting to do a deal with the far left was a step too far).

I have reached this conclusion with some reluctance, especially since I recognise the difficult task our Prime Minister has had in trying to extricate the UK from the EU after over 40 years of membership and honour her work and commitment in that endeavour.  Her resilience and strength should not be underestimated as she continues to run the country and make the difficult decisions necessary in Government.  We also of course, have four very able Conservative candidates here in Wales for the European Elections and urge you to read the piece on this site by our lead candidate, Dan Boucher.  I admire his belief and commitment to the Conservative Party cause, but ultimately I feel that I have been let down by the Party at a national level which has failed on every promise made so far.

I believe that failing to use my vote would mean an extra opportunity for the pro-EU parties – a vote wasted and something that I am most certainly against.  Brexit is what I voted for in the referendum, and Brexit is what I have voted for in these elections – not for the Prime Minister’s interpretation of it, or for continued empty promises.

Moving onward for a time after these elections, I believe that with the right person at the helm who can bring back trust (and deliver Brexit), and bring enthusiasm and direction within in the party (for members and voters), we can salvage a Party that can win the next election and save the country from a Corbynite agenda.  These decisions are not about the Conservative Party, but about a Parliamentary system that works for all, and a country that is pro-business and truly global in its outlook.

Finally, and to be clear, I have not given up on the Conservative Party (or the Association for that matter), but believe at the present time that the Conservative Party has given up on me.  We have a strong Prospective Parliamentary Candidate here, and I look forward to supporting his campaign in the future with the help of our members, and hope we can one day turn our constituency blue.

I look forward to positive changes and developments over the forthcoming weeks and months and trust that our democracy can be saved.

The Australian Liberals know who their target voters are. The Conservatives don’t seem to have a clue.

Amidst the gathering leadership election debate, there is a lack of focus on who Tory target voters are and where they live.

Let’s start not in Australia, but here in Britain – with Onward’s recent report Generation Why?

The report has a section listing marginal constituencies.  These are divided into “at risk” seats, which the main challenger party should already hold; “closing on” seats, in which the main challenger party is becoming more competitive; and “gaining on” seats, in which the incumbent party is entrenching its position.

Seats that the Conservatives should hold

As a challenger party, the Conservatives have only two “at risk” seats in their sights.

  • These are: Dudley North and the SNP’s Argyll and Bute.

Conservative seats that other parties should hold

But as an incumbent party, 15 of their own seats are “at risk”.

  • These are: Chipping Barnet, Crawley, Finchley and Golders Green, Harrow East, Hendon, Milton Keynes North, Milton Keynes South, Northampton North, Northampton South, Putney, Richmond Park (Liberal Democrats), South Swindon, Telford, Thurrock and Watford.

Notice anything? Yes: all but one of these, Telford, are in London or the South East.

  • As an incumbent party, Labour has only a single “at risk” seat vulnerable to the Conservatives – Dudley North, as we have seen.

Seats where the Conservatives are closing in the incumbent party

But now have a look at the number of seats in which the Conservatives are “closing on” the incumbent party.  There are no fewer than 27 of them.

  • They are: Ashfield, Barrow and Furness, Battersea, Bedford, Bishop Auckland, Carshalton and Wallington (LDs), Central Ayrshire (SNP), Colne Valley, Crewe and Nantwich, Derby North, Eastbourne (LDs), High Peak, Ipswich, Keighley, Kensington, Lanark and Hamilton East (SNP), Norwich North, Oxford West and Abingdon (LDs), Penistone and Stockbridge, Perth and North Perthshire (SNP), Peterborough, Stockton South, Stroud, Wakefield, Warrington South, Warwick and Leamington, Westmoreland and Lonsdale (LDs).

Of these, no Labour seat is the South East. Battersea and Kensington are in London.

  • (Labour is closing in on the incumbent party in three seats: Morecombe and Lonsdale, Southampton Itchen and Stirling (SNP).  One of the two Conservative held seats is in the South-East, one not.)

Conservative seats where the other party is consolidating its lead

Now let’s turn to the “gaining on” seats.  There are 20 of them.

  • These are: Blackpool North and Cleveleys, Bolton West, Broxtowe (won by the Tories in 2017), Cambourne and Redruth (LDs), Calder Valley, Cheltenham (LDs), Copeland, Corby, Gordon (SNP), Hastings and Rye, Mansfield, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Midlothian, Morley and Outwood, Pendle, Pudsey, Presell Pembrokeshire, St Ives (LDs), Stoke-on-Trent South, Vale of Glamorgan.

Of these, none are in London or the South-East at all.

  • (In only four is Labour entrenching its position against the Conservatives: Canterbury, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Lincoln and Portsmouth South.  The SNP is doing so against the Tories in Edinburgh South-West. Two of those Labour-head seats are in the South-East, and two of them outside it.)

The road to a Conservative victory runs through Midlands and Northern marginals

Onward is looking at seats through the prism of age: seats where voters are getting older trend to the Tories, seats where they are getting younger to other parties.  One might use other measures as a starting-point.  Furthermore, these are not necessarily the most marginal seats at the next election to come: the think-tank is trying to plot a trend.

But it is reasonable to presume, in the absence of other recent studies of marginal seats, that Onward is on to something.

What its figures show is that –

  • Of 22 seats in which the demographics are unhelpful to the Conservatives, 18 are in London or the South-East.
  • Of the 49 seats in which the demographics are helpful to the Tories, two are in London and none are in the South-East.

Readers will already have spotted the overlap between the Conservative-Labour electoral map and the Remain-Leave electoral map.

In very simple terms, the Tories are advancing in Leave country and retreating in Remain country.  Obviously, they have to try to hold their position in the latter – no easy task, to put in mildly, with resurgent Liberal Democrats and a pro-Remain London Labour party.

But to have any hope of making any progress at all at the next election, they must also do the former.  Again, the challenge is formidable. The Liberal Democrats may fade out as a force the further one leaves the South-East behind.  But the cultural obstacles to voting Conservative in Midlands and Northern marginals have traditionally been stronger than in the south, to Labour’s benefit.  And now there is the Brexit Party to contend with too (who will be a problem for both the main parties, but probably for the Tories especially).

These Midlands and Northern voters are likely to have a certain sensibility.  They will be pro-Brexit.  They weren’t deaf during the Cameron years to the argument that the country must live within its means.  They are more resistant to immigration than Londoners.  They use cars, not trains – and are sensitive to rising fuel and energy bills.  Like voters everywhere, they will value the NHS and want better state schools.  Housing will be no less pressing an issue for some of them than for their fellow voters in the South-East – but by no means all.  They will want to hold and keep better, well-paid jobs.

Parallels with other countries can mislead – particularly in the wake of election results which have yet to be fully analysed.  Australia isn’t Britain.  But these UK voters sound a lot like the “battlers” that Scott Morrison, and the Liberals down under, targeted ruthlessly and successfully to win their election victory.

This site is concerned by the lack of comparable polling and focus among Conservatives in Britain.  The Onward Report is useful, and its analysis of what younger voters want is perfectly sensible.  James Johnson in Downing Street will be doing polling work in depth.

But the Conservative Party is on the verge of a leadership election, and there is an imbalance between assertion and evidence.  And, therefore, a lack of clear strategic thinking.

On that first point, we concede that our take on Midlands and Northern voters above may be wrong. (Though James Frayne uses polling to back up a very similar take in his fortnightly column on this site.)

On the second, the issues are not always thought through elsewhere.  So for example, if the One Nation Caucus believes that declaring a climate emergency is the right course to take, then so be it.

But has it thought through the electoral consequences of doing so?  These would surely include higher fuel and energy bills.  Will voters in the 49 seats above vote for a party who imposes these on them?

Time is short and evidence is scant.  The Conservative leadership contenders will want to set out their plan for the whole country – and that necessarily includes lots of people who don’t and will never vote Tory.

But they also need a Thatcher-like instinct for “our people” – that’s to say, not just those who usually Vote Conservative, but those who might be persuaded to do so.  The Tories’ Australian sister party seems to have it.  The Conservatives don’t.

The Johnson hype is here. Don’t fall for it.

In a field this crowded and with an electorate so, er, sophisticated, make no assumptions about which names will be forwarded to Party members.

ConservativeHome has nothing against polls that show Boris Johnson leading his competitors in the race for the Tory leadership (already effectively under way).  How could we, when our last monthly survey, like a YouGov poll for the Times yesterday, showed the former Foreign Secretary ahead of his rivals?

Indeed, we’ve nothing against his candidacy either – though we want to know the full field, and the policy platform on which all the candidates stand, before taking a view one way or other.  Mention of those others takes us to the point.

Our last Next Tory Leader contained no fewer than 26 potential contestors.  From it, we now propose to remove some Ministers and MPs who have made it clear that they won’t stand: David Davis, Philip Hammond, Jacob Rees-Mogg (who is supporting Johnson) and, in addition, Gavin Williamson.

However, there are also new names to put in.  Andrea Leadsom has said she may stand.  Steve Baker could do so too.  Kit Malthouse is apparently mulling a bid.  On balance, it is worth us putting Johnny Mercer’s name into the mix.  For every MP who pulls out, one seems to step in.

Today, a raft of stories and commentary about a Johnson premiership floats through the Sunday papers.  It is one of many more to come – about both him and others.  But the way in which the leadership election works means that we must all take nothing for granted.

Yes, it could be that Conservative MPs come to believe, rightly or wrongly, that the former Foreign Secretary represents the best means of saving their seats, and so forward his name to Party members, who back him overwhelmingly.

But it could also be that one of those other Brexiteering candidates – and not necessarily Dominic Raab either – upends him, and goes through instead.

In a field this fractured, anything could happen.  Our columnist Robert Halfon has compared the coming contest to the spectacular and bloody chariot race in Ben Hur, and Johnson may not necessarily be the Charlton Heston of the contest.  Beware peaked chariots.

Just as he divides voters, so he divides the media.  Most of the centre-left commentariat couldn’t stand him even before the EU referendum. And that he fronted the victorious Vote Leave campaign has given them a reason to like him even less.  But he also has fervent partisans.

We expect a passionate campaign by some writers on the Spectator, which he edited not all that long ago, and by the Daily Telegraph, for which he still writes his weekly column, to get him into the membership stage.  Indeed, the latter is already well under way.  The cry will go up: “Give the members and the country the contest they want.”

Anti-Johnson MPs will be portrayed as timid minnows, conspiring to keep a brilliant titan off the final ballot paper.  “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world / Like a Colossus, and we petty men / Walk under his huge legs and peep about / To find ourselves dishonorable graves.”

And there will be proposals to change the rules to stop this from happening – by allowing the members to select the finalists themselves; or by empowering MPs to put more than two candidates before them.

The Conservative Party’s constitution, as matters stand, rules the first idea out.  (See Schedule Two, which says that Conservative MPs must “present to the Party, as soon as reasonably practicable, a choice of candidates for election as Leader”).  The second proposal could be taken up, because the 1922 Committee has freedom to write rules for the Parliamentary stage of the election.

However, that is most unlikely to happen.  Ergo, only two candidates will have their names forwarded to Party members.  The sum of our case is: make no presumption about which these will be.  Though we will be very surprised indeed if one of them is not a committed Brexiteer.

Once again, the ConservativeHome survey is in line with an opinion poll

YouGov has Johnson top as Next Tory Leader. So do we. It has him winning run-offs. So do we. It finds 79 per of activists want May out. Our figure was 82 per cent…

The ConservativeHome monthly survey is not an opinion poll.  That’s to say, the participants are self-selected, and the results aren’t weighted.  However, it is not a straw poll: those who are surveyed in one month are almost entirely the same people as were surveyed the month before.  That’s why we call them “the panel”.

The exceptions are the additions.  All of these must send a copy of their Conservative Party membership card, or provide other proof of membership, before they are added.

It is possible to believe that if the sample for such a survey is large enough from a pool that is small enough, the results will be a useful guide to the views of members. Party membership is somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000.  Our last survey drew about 1700 replies.

Our contention is that the survey is a reliable guide to trends, and a rough guide to opinion.  How does that claim measure up against the YouGov poll in this morning’s Times?

Our last monthly survey had Boris Johnson top of our Next Tory Leader question.  The YouGov survey also has Johnson at top of its poll.

We produced run-offs in our last survey putting Johnson up against Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab.  He beat all of them.  Raab was the runner-up.

The YouGov poll puts Johnson up against all of these, plus Matt Hancock, Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt and Rory Stewart. He beats all of them.  Raab is the runner-up.

Our figures include don’t knows and won’t votes.  You Gov’s don’t.  So the percentages aren’t directly comparable, but those interested will study the tables.  At any rate, the similarity in headline finding is clear.

Elsewhere in the tables, 79 per cent of members believe that Theresa May should step down as Conservative leader. The figure in our last monthly survey was 82 per cent.

66 per cent of members back No Deal, according to YouGov.  A survey from us earlier in April found 75 per cent, though it’s worth noting the options put in our survey and in the YouGov poll were different.  It topped both lists.

Eighty-four per cent oppose a second referendum.  Our last survey question on the matter, in January, found 87 per cent opposed. All in all, we believe that this latest YouGov poll more than bears our contention out.

It’s worth adding that YouGov is the only polling organisation that we know of which regularly polls party members in this way, and we  regard it here as the gold standard in these matters.

YouGov also asks a mass of supplementary questions about the potential candidates’ competence, likeability, election-winning capacities etc, which are well worth a read. For previous articles on this site about the reliability of the survey and its comparability with YouGov, see here, here, here and here.

The Conservatives need a new leader by the end of July

The leadership election that returned Cameron took over six months.  Parties in opposition have the luxuxy of time.  Parties in government do not – especially this one.

Nothing was concluded, but everything has changed.  Admittedly, no firm date has been set for Theresa May’s departure as Party leader.  We cannot even be certain that a Withdrawal Agreement Bill will be presented to Parliament, let alone that it will have its Second Reading soon after the Whitsun recess: after all, the Government has reneged on commitments to hold Brexit votes before.

But for the Prime Minister not to bring forward the Bill in June would provoke a further confrontation with the 1922 Committee’s Executive.  Early June will see the aftermath of the European elections, and the Peterborough by-election: neither will soothe the nerves of Conservative MPs.  For May to retreat from her commitment would be for her openly to defy the committee.  It would have no alternative under such circumstances but to change the leadership challenge rules – if it wanted to maintain its credibility, at any rate.  That would usher in a ballot which she would be very unlikely to survive.

Some will damn the Executive for indecision.  And we would certainly have preferred the Prime Minister to go now as Party leader: the longer she stays in that post, the deeper the damage is to the Conservatives’ standing.  There is a danger that the failure to deliver Brexit on March 29, as promised by her over a hundred times, and the taking-place of European elections instead – despite her calling their holding “unacceptable” – will so wreck the Party’s reputation for trustworthiness that her successor will be unable to recover it.

None the less, there is a certain rationale for the Executive’s modus operandi.  It is undertaking a very Conservative coup, in which it gets what a majority on the committe want, but without the Prime Minister losing face in the process.  First, Tory MPs wrung out of her a commitment to go if her deal passed.  Then, earlier this week, Graham Brady and company effectively forced her to commit to bringing in the Withdrawal Bill.  Now she faces the prospect of being forced out of Downing Street whether the Bill does or doesn’t succeed.  Above all, she will want to avoid the public humiliation of the National Convention debating no confidence in her on June 15.   One might almost say of the Executive, as of the Canadian mounties, that it always gets its man (or woman, in this case).

Please note that May’s opponents now have a very clear extra incentive to oppose it at Second Reading – since she would have no alternative in the wake of its defeat but to quit.  The third Meaningful Vote whittled those opposed to her deal down to 34.  But 117 of her colleagues expressed no confidence in her earlier this year.  So the number of those Conservative MPs who vote against the Bill at Second Reading is likely to rise from the mid-30s.  Labour may yet come to the Prime Minister’s rescue, but that is very doubtful indeed.

Whatever happens, May’s replacement needs time to settle down over the summer, get dug in, appoint Ministers, make some announcements and changes, and at least try to set the agenda before facing the Commons in the autumn.  This will be impossible if the leadership election drags on throughout August into September.  The ’22 has charge of the Parliamentary stage and the Board control of the membership stage.  Sir Graham and his colleagues will want to get the first over as soon as possible.  Sources in the voluntary party say that the second could be completed in “two to three weeks”.

All that points towards electing a new Party leader by the time the Commons rises at the end of July.  The leadership election that returned David Cameron took over six months.  Parties in opposition have the luxuxy of time.  Parties in government don’t – especially this one.

Nick King: Let’s have a tax opt-out to help boost for small businesses

Instead of paying four bigger taxes, they could choose to pay a new Simple Consolidated Tax (or SCT): a simple levy on their turnover.

Nick King is Head of Business for the CPS and an independent strategic consultant.

The 2017 Conservative Party manifesto proudly proclaimed that ‘the Conservative Party is the party of enterprise and the entrepreneur’. Sadly for the Party, this is not a view shared by those the people who run small businesses. Or by members of the British public.

For a new report, published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, we spoke to more than 2,000 owners and managers of small businesses, and more than 1,500 members of the public. Asked if the Government was on their side, 62 per cent of those involved in running in small businesses, and a near-identical proportion of the wider public, said no.

For a party which considers itself to be the party of business, this is sobering stuff.

Small businesses are the backbone of the British economy. There are more than 5.6 million of them, employing almost 13 million people and with a collective turnover of over £1.4 trillion. More than three quarters of new jobs are created by SMEs.

The reasons why these entrepreneurs feel that the Government is not on their side are hardly shrouded in mystery. They are perfectly open about it: three quarters of those we surveyed said that the current system of tax and administration is too complicated. Reports suggest that the average small business loses three working weeks a year to the demands of tax compliance alone.

The principal reason small businesses are made to struggle so is because the UK system works according to a ‘one size fits all’ model. That means your local newsagent is subject to pretty much the same tax rules as WH Smith, and the local hardware shop to the same rules as Ikea. That simply cannot be right.

Having spent over five years in Government as a special adviser, including more than a year at the Department for Business, I know how well-intentioned most civil servants and politicians are. But far too often the policies they come up are not rooted in the experiences of those who actually have to live with them.

Economically and politically, it is vital that the Conservative Party tries to put this right. As Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell continue to rail against capitalism and free enterprise, small business owners should feel naturally sympathetic to the Conservatives. Those 5.6 million small businesses represent more than 5.6 million small business owners, up and down the country, who should feel like the Tories speak for them. Indeed, they should be natural Conservative Party members.

But, as our polling suggests, they don’t even think the Government is on their side. On small business, as in many other areas, the Conservatives appear to have lost their way. If the Conservatives are going to win elections in the future they need to address this as a matter of priority. The men and women who run their own businesses need to feel like the Conservative Party understands them, values them and will champion them. So what should the Government do?

My central proposal is simple, but radical.

Let’s give every company with a turnover of less than £1 million – in other words, the vast majority – the chance to opt out of the four biggest and most administratively burdensome taxes they pay: Corporation Tax, business rates, VAT, and Employer’s National Insurance. Instead, they could choose to pay a new Simple Consolidated Tax (or SCT): a simple levy on their turnover. Our modelling work with Capital Economics, the respected consultancy, suggests this would be revenue-neutral for the Treasury at a level of 12.5 per cent.

The most important aspect of the SCT is that it would be offered on a voluntary basis – as the flat rate VAT scheme already is – so that those companies who think it would work for them can opt in. Because the SCT would be voluntary, no firm would have to lose out – those which would be worse off under the new system could simply keep to the old.

This would have a transformative effect on small businesses – and would therefore be wildly popular. Of the small business owners and managers we surveyed who expressed a preference, 72 per cent said they’d rather operate within the SCT than the current system if it meant paying the same amount of tax. Indeed, over a quarter of the same survey sample said they would rather use the SCT even if it meant paying more tax.

This may sound radical. But when similar schemes have been tried in other countries, on a more modest scale, they’ve spurred eye-watering growth for small companies.

Striving for simplicity is not a new suggestion. Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 manifesto said that she would reduce the number of official forms for small businesses and make them simpler. It promised to ‘introduce an easier regime for small firms in respect of… the disclosure of their affairs.’

The voters agree. Of those we surveyed, via YouGov, the overwhelming majority said that the tax system should be simpler for small businesses than big businesses – and almost everyone wanted it to be easier to understand. But when we polled small businesses themselves on whether the current system was too simple or too complicated, just one per cent said that it was too simple.

One of the best statistics about the British economy is its hugely impressive rate of business creation. Yet when it comes to scaling those companies up, we lag well behind the pack. Founding a company has never been easier. But running and growing one is much harder than it should be.

Britain’s small and family businesses don’t want to wrestle with endless admin. They don’t want to get to grips with the ins and outs of the VAT system, or face separate deadlines for Companies House and HMRC, or to know that if they expand their business beyond a certain size they will have to take a hit on VAT, or pay higher business rates. They want to focus on running their companies, creating new jobs and generating the growth that drives the economy, by providing the goods and services their customers want.

The failure of the current Government to understand this, and seek to correct it, is a failure of imagination. If the Conservative Party doesn’t stand for those owning, running and creating small businesses, who does it stand for?

Rachel Wolf: Twenty policy questions for the aspiring Conservative leadership candidates.

Lots of people want to know what the next Conservative Prime Minister will do for the country on everything other than Brexit.

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership, and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

The (pre) leadership race is hotting up. For some members, Brexit may be the only issue that matters. But there are others – me included – who are fed up with the paralysis hitting most government departments, and want to know what the next Prime Minister is going to do for the country.

So here is a stab at 20 non-Brexit policy questions (or at least question categories) for any of the hopefuls to answer.

To start with –

  • What do you think are the greatest challenges and opportunities for this country and its people in the next 30 years? What do you think the Government can actually do about them?
  • What kind of conservative are you? If you’re a “One Nation” conservative (the most common answer) what exactly does that mean – and which recent Conservative leaders were not One Nation conservatives?

Dividing lines

I’ve put some questions below which I think different kinds of Conservatives have increasingly different answers to – in terms of intervention, personal responsibility, and our place in the world:

  • Do you think climate change is a major issue? What can or should we do about it?
  • How much do you think wealth or income inequality is an issue? Is it ok if either grow?
  • What do you think are the driving forces behind different outcomes in people’s health, education, and financial success and can the government alter those forces? How much do you think you should leave it to people – or their parents – to make decisions about these things even if the outcome is bad for them (like obesity)?
  • What do you think the UK’s role “on the world stage” should be in the next 30 years, and how must it adapt to geopolitical shifts? In the last 20 years, when do you think the UK intervened unnecessarily, and when do you think it should have intervened but didn’t?
  • Is it acceptable to align our aid spending to foreign policy and even defence aims – and given a choice, would you prefer to spend the aid money on defence (or for that matter another policy aim?)
  • Are you in favour of technological progress like AI – even if it creates some losers? In a choice between being the most innovation and tech-friendly country in the world, and the one that regulates most against ‘harms’ which would you choose?
  • What’s your position on free speech? How about in government – would you have fired Roger Scruton?

Taxpayers’ pounds or public spending

One of the differences in discourse between the US and the UK is that in the former politicians refer to ‘taxpayers dollars’ rather than ‘public spending’. Diving into this a little more:

  • How important is it that we i) eliminate the deficit and reduce debt ii) reduce taxes iii) increase public spending. How would you balance them in the next 3-5 years?

Below is a list of common noisy demands for more money in the run up to a spending review. Do you think it’s important any of these get more money in the next three years?

  • Defence spending; numbers of police;
  • Public sector workers – particularly teachers (school staff are usually over 70 per cent of a school budget) and nurses and doctors (staff make up about 63 per cenr of NHS providers’ costs) – do you think this should go up in real terms?
  • NHS and education – most of this gets sucked up by wages, but there are other ways to spend on schools and hospitals – including buildings and treatments – and the health services outside the NHS like social care.
  • Hard-working families – Childcare support; or more support for those trying to buy a house;
  • The vulnerable – more money for those on welfare e.g. universal credit; or more money for the most deprived in terms of public services services (e.g. children on free school meals)
  • Those who put in: more money on pensions.

Social mobility and opportunity

I’ve never met a politician who didn’t say – and think – that social mobility and opportunity was vital. It’s often less clear why they think previous efforts haven’t worked or why theirs will be more transformative.

  • We’ve had a decade – or more – of education reform. Did it succeed? What more needs to be done – at school, for technical education or for university – and how should it be paid for?
  • How much of a priority are gender and ethnicity gaps in companies? If it is a priority, what more could be done to close them?

What will be different this time?

Finally here are a couple of issues which everyone always says is a catastrophe, but somehow still don’t seem to be solved. What’s the plan?

  • Over the long term, health spending has kept growing and growing as a proportion of the government budget, crowding out room for spending on other things. It’s forecast to grow more as we age. Do you think there’s anything we can do to stop that? Should we?
  • Why has no one sorted social care? What would you do differently?Why do we still have a housing crisis after over a decade of talking about it incessantly? What would be different under you that would solve this problem – assuming you think it needs to be solved.
  • Public support for welfare has been in long-term decline despite continued reform – far more than other countries. Why do you think that is, and should we do anything about it – and if so what?

Theresa May’s legacy

  • Would you lower non-EU and EU immigration – and if you would, why will you succeed on non-EU immigration where Theresa May failed?
  • What do you think we need to do differently – if anything – on crime? Do you think knife crime would be at least partly solved with more stop and search or with more police?
  • Do too many or too few people go to prison? And how important is it to rehabilitate them?

(Yes, I know a lot of this is in the hands of the Justice Department and not the Home Office, but they’re interconnected)

And a bonus question that will win you no votes:

  • How well do you think the Civil Service works? What would you do to make it better?