WATCH: Gove’s eviscerating winding-up speech

He may not sway many voters outside Westminster, but he continues to command the Commons,

Nicky Morgan: Imperfect, certainly. But May’s plan avoids the twin perils of No Deal and No Brexit. The Commons should back it.

Supporting the deal would also prevent several other things – such as the possibibility of a truly socialist government taking over.

Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.

“Politics is the art of the possible” is an important statement of realpolitik, and we shall see if enough MPs believe in it on Tuesday. For on that day, the Commons will conduct its most important vote for decades – and easily the most important that those of sitting on the green benches at this moment in history have ever experienced.

After a blissful fortnight almost free of EU-related news, there was a hard return to Planet Brexit last week in Westminster and beyond. Government defeats, Parliamentary precedent being overturned, ugly protests outside Parliament and the resumption of the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement all meant that Brexit was back in our social media feeds, front pages and inboxes with vengeance. However much we want to talk about something else (and the public certainly want us to talk about almost anything else), it is dominant and overpowering.

Brexit matters. How it turns out will shape the UK’s place in the world, our relationship with our closest neighbours and the development of our economy, politics and the unity of our country for decades to come.

Many MPs have very strong views on it and on the type of Brexit that they will accept. But those views have changed over the course of the last 30 months. And changing your mind is not something to be criticised when the subject matter is so important.

As set out in my last Conservative Home column, I firmly believe that it is for MPs to decide the outcome of Brexit and that a second referendum would be a very bad idea. But it follows that MPs have to make a majority decision.

I also believe that a No Deal outcome to Brexit would be an equally bad idea. And I voted to signal so by supporting an amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper last week. But to avoid a No Deal outcome I accept that a deal has to be put in place. That is why I’ve been clear that I will support the Prime Minister’s draft Withdrawal Agreement and, if that doesn’t succeed, then a Common Market 2.0 (also known as Norway Plus) route.

Supporting the Withdrawal Agreement would also prevent several other things – such as an immediate vote of confidence tabled by Jeremy Corbyn and the fear of a truly socialist government taking over. Over the weekend, there was some breathless speculation about radical changes to established Commons procedures to block or delay Brexit. These reports might be misleading or wrong.  But a sure way of avoiding either is to pass the Prime Minister’s deal on Tuesday.

There is no doubt that the draft Withdrawal Agreement is not perfect. But leading Cabinet Brexiteers such as Penny Mordaunt and Andrea Leadsom accept it. And as Michael Gove put it in the Commons last week: “All of us might have a perfect version of Brexit—a change here, an alteration there—but we all have to accept our responsibility next Tuesday to decide whether we are going to honour that verdict. Are we going to make the perfect the enemy of the good? …That is why, after long reflection, I have decided that we must back this agreement.” Can MPs opposed to it not agree to do do the same?  If their colleagues, such as George Freeman, Trudy Harrison and Jim Fitzpatrick can admit that they are changing their minds, then why won’t others follow suit?

I hope, in the short time left before the vote, that other MPs will think very long and hard about what a defeat for the Prime Minister’s draft deal will mean. Pledging to vote a particular way to an outside campaign group does not bind an MP. Changing our minds can be a good thing – and it is what debate in the Commons and conversations with our constituents should bring about. Doing the right thing in the wider national interest is what we should all be about.

This rotting Cabinet

The conventional wisdom is: weak Prime Minister, strong Cabinet. But what we see is: weak Prime Minister, weak Cabinet.

If Theresa May loses the Commons vote on her deal next week, she will make a statement to the House about her response plans.  Note the way that last sentence is written.

It doesn’t say: “the Government’s plans” or “the Cabinet’s plans” (which are, in effect, the same).  This is because the latter collectively – and as far as can be discerned its members individually – don’t know what these might be.  She could announce her resignation.  She could throw the Government’s weight behind No Deal.  Or No Brexit.  Or an extension to Article 50, rather than revocation – perhaps with a second referendum in mind, perhaps not.  Or the Norway or Canada-type deals that she has rejected.  Or some other variant that no-one has anticipated.  Or say that her deal has clearly failed, and that she is now the servant of the Commons, paving her way for indicative votes.

Or, most likely of all, play for time, say that she will re-open her conversations with Brussels to seek real movement on the Northern Ireland backstop.  The logic of her present position is to do exactly that: the closer to March 29 she gets, the more pressure will come to bear on the EU to make concessions, real or token, and on MPs to back her deal, for fear of the No Deal or No Brexit to which different groups of them are opposed.  This is the logic of her game of chicken.

Some of those other options are more likely than others, and some can be ruled out altogether. Openly throwing her weight behind No Deal would risk a small number of Remain-orientated Conservative MPs voting with Jeremy Corbyn in the a confidence vote.  Backing No Brexit would divide the Conservative Party to the point where it might split altogether.  This takes us back to where we started – the role of the Cabinet.

The Prime Minister will not go to the Commons with plans without discussing them with the Cabinet first: that would clearly be a risk too far.  But it is striking that, less than a week out from the “meaningful vote”, its members have no idea what these might be.  It is possible that May doesn’t know herself.  But if she does, she is not the sort of person to take her colleagues into her confidence, especially under current circumstances.  One Cabinet Minister wearily told ConservativeHome late last year that “the problem with Theresa is that doesn’t trust anyone”.  Until the last general election, her inner circle consisted of three people: Nick Timothy, Fiona Hill – and Philip May.  Only one of them survives.

The conventional wisdom is: big majority, strong Prime Minister, weak Cabinet; small majority, weak Prime Minister, strong Cabinet.  In some senses, it holds true.  Consider an example from this morning.  On the one hand, Greg Clark is preparing his department for No Deal.  On the other, he today urges Parliament to “move quickly and act responsibly to establish what will, and will not, command support. Parliament can establish that it wants a no-deal Brexit to be ruled out”.  In short, he is urging MPs to seek to block No Deal if May’s deal falls – thereby urging them to oppose an outcome which he is tasked to prepare for.  This is not the Government position.

In one sense, Clark should resign.  In another, one can’t really blame him for not doing so.  After all, Cabinet disciple has broken down altogether, with its members openly briefly journalists about what they plan to say in its meetings, and reporting back about what happens afterwards.  Why should the Business Secretary quit while others stay?  One senior member of the lobby told ConservativeHome yesterday that this is the leakiest Cabinet in his experience – not, he added, that any journalists should complain about it.  “It’s a political Mogadishu out there,” he said, presumably thinking back to Black Hawk Down, “with Cabinet members firing off their machine guns from the back of trucks”.

None the less, there is reason to argue that what we are actually seeing is: small majority, weak Prime Minister, weak Cabinet.  The ultimate weapon of an unhappy Cabinet member is the threat of resignation.  But May has survived the loss of four Cabinet members in scarcely more than six months: David Davis, Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey.  The last discovered the hard way that the Prime Minister controls the agenda and minutes of Cabinet meetings, and that there are no votes.

Those Leavers who didn’t resign over the deal have been forced to swallow the logic of their decision.  The Michael Gove who joked in Cabinet this week about anti-deal Conservative MPs was recently such a person himself – turning down the Brexit Secretary post rather than propound the Prime Minister’s position.  At Cabinet level, passive acceptance of a view must ultimately morph into active propagandising for it.

Short of resignation, there is always the more politicianly option of working with Cabinet colleagues to shift the Prime Minister’s position.  But this takes us to the heart of the matter.  There is no Cabinet consensus about what to do if the deal goes down.  Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and the surviving referendum Leavers lean towards No Deal in extremis.  Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Clark and others are setting themselves against No Deal completely.  Furthermore, May, though scarred by last month’s confidence ballot, survived it.  She cannot be formally challenged as Party leader until the end of this year.  In a way, then, she now draws power from her Cabinet’s divisions and indecision.  In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed woman is queen.

The European Union complains that the Government doesn’t know where it wants to end up.  Closely aligned to the EU or more distant?  Norway or Canada?  It is absolutely right.

Cabinet members are united on one point, however.  All now hope that May’s deal passes Parliament, if not next week, then later.  And, collectively, they will carry on hoping – as authority drains away from them to Dominic Grieve, Steve Baker, and the Opposition, among whose numbers we of naturally include the Speaker.  This Cabinet is firewood.

Brexit: The Uncivil War. Graham gives us Cummings Agonistes – and a Tory work of art.

The noise that he picks up, with an almost clairvoyant sense, is not that of a queue waiting to vote but of a mob pitching the mighty from their seats.

“Coming to a television set near you: Farage the movie,” the Daily Telegraph reported in August 2017.  “A major Hollywood studio is poised to sign a deal with Nigel Farage and Arron Banks to make a £60million, six-part film of Mr Banks’ best-selling diary of the referendum campaign “The Bad Boys of Brexit”.  The script is nearly finished and shooting will start in the New Year. The series will air in April, once the deal is signed next month at a meeting in Los Angeles.”

Eighteen months on, there’s no sign of the film.  Instead, we have one centred on the man who has a better claim to have swung the EU referendum – Dominic Cummings.  There really is a God after all.  Or, if there isn’t, at least there is James Graham, who wrote Brexit: The Uncivil War, shown yesterday evening on Channel 4.

A virtue of his film is that it gets Banks’ measure, nailing him as a comic sideshow. An even bigger one is that it gets the referendum campaign’s too, correctly fingering Cummings as the man who made the difference.  Had he not been appointed, Vote Leave would almost certainly have missed official designation.  Had he been fired from it – there was a coup to oust him – the organisation would have collapsed.  There would have been no Take Back Control.  And, like it or not, that’s what the British people were persuaded to vote to do.

Banks has complained about the drama.  So has the woman who has done so much to project him – Carole Cadwalladr.  He doesn’t like being played for laughs and she doesn’t like it side-stepping her conspiracy theories.  These were nodded to in the closing credits, but otherwise mostly avoided.

In a sense, though, one sympathises with both of them – at least, if hoping for documentary rather than drama.  We could offer a list of corrections and clarifications.  Douglas Carswell didn’t avoid parts of his former constituency as the local MP.  Michael Gove made his mind up far earlier than the film suggests (though he kept quiet about it).  Cummings himself uses focus groups to test voter opinion, not random visits to pubs.  But all that would be beside the point – like expecting a piece of poetry to be a chunk of prose.

No, a more substantial problem for Brexit: the Uncivil War emerges from its greatest strength – that’s to say, putting Cummings, portrayed with eerie verisimilitude by Benedict Cumberbatch, at the centre of the film. Graham balances out Cummings with Craig Oliver, then David Cameron’s Director of Communications.  This neat piece of parallelism sets them up as the contending antagonists of the drama.

But Oliver wasn’t Cummings’ real-life equivalent.  George Osborne was Remain’s chief strategist, if anyone.  And he is missing from the film altogether in fictional form.  So for that matter is Jeremy Corbyn.  Indeed, the film’s fire is largely blue-on-blue.  Back in the real world of the referendum campaign, Corbyn’s lethargy depressed Remain’s Labour vote, just as Farage’s energy, over a longer period, helped to deliver Leave’s core support.  Graham’s palette is striking for the absence of red.

Again, it’s worth stressing that art isn’t fact.  None the less, a structural flaw in a drama’s foundation can collapse it – especially, perhaps, if it looks back to recent events.  Some will say that the film doesn’t work because it scarcely strays from SW1 (which will also have provided the core of its audience), and is shy of probing the cases for and against the EU itself: that it’s real title should be Vote Leave: the Uncivil War.

Others will claim, we think with justice, that the campaign didn’t pit head, in the form of rational Oliver, against heart, in that of romantic Cummings, as Graham seems to suggest.  Rather, two different emotions went head to head: fear and anger.  The drama shows a lot of the stoking of one but very little of that of the other – Project Fear.  The balance between data and message on the Leave side is better, but it was the latter that counted most (at least, if you agree with Oliver which, in part, we do).

None the less, Brexit: the Uncivil War has an emotional strength at the heart of it: it gets why so many people voted Leave.  The focus group scene in which a woman protests in tears that she feels, ignored, by-passed, and treated as if she has no value – and will back Brexit in consequence – has the raw power of truth.

It’s a force that drives the progress of the plot, from Cummings stumbling upon “Take back control”  as a winning slogan through the failed coup to depose him through the campaigning switch to immigration to the very end.  A mention in dispatches, and then some, for Rory Kinnear, whose Oliver is a sleek fictional foil for Cumberbatch’s angular Cummings.  Graham may at heart be a man of the Left, but a more primal politics comes out of the near-final scene in which his protagonists square off against each other over a pint.

“You won’t be able to control it either,” says Oliver of the energies that Cummings has helped to unleash.  In the film, the latter can almost hear them, so finely-tuned are his sensibilities.  The drama begins with him picking up noise like a wireless picking up a signal – straining for it with a concentration that is almost clairvoyant.

Later in the film, he lies down, his ear pressed to the ground, in order to hear it better.  The noise is voices.  What are they saying?  Cummings may not be sure, but Graham seems to be.  Surly, turbulent, angry, swelling to a roar – this is the clamour not of a queue waiting to vote, but of a mob pitching the mighty from their seats.  We have before us not so much the ballot box as Pandora’s box.

Graham is not a Conservative, but this sensibility – this fear of riot, of disorder from below, of revolt – has been linked to the Right of politics for longer than the Left.  He might not thank us for saying so, but he has produced a Tory work of art, in tone as well as personnel.  There are worse ways of sketching a first draft of history.

Tim Bale: Johnson and Rees-Mogg are still in with a shout in the race to succeed May

New polling also reveals that neither is so far ahead as to be unstoppable, however.

Tim Bale is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary, University of London. He is the author of The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron, and co-runs the ESRC Party Members Project (PMP), which aims to study party membership in the six largest British parties.

In order to stay in office, the Prime Minister had to promise her party that she would be gone before the next election.  But there’s little agreement among Conservative members – and even less agreement among Conservative voters – as to who should replace her.

The ESRC-funded Party Members Project, run out of Queen Mary University of London and Sussex University, surveyed 1215 Conservative Party members between 17th and 22nd December, and a total of 1675 voters between 18-19 December, including 473 individuals who were intending to vote Conservative. The fieldwork was conducted by YouGov.

Respondents were asked the following question: Theresa May has said she will stand down as Conservative Party leader before the next scheduled general election in 2022.  Who would you most like to see replace her as Conservative Leader?  Neither group was presented with a pre-determined list of candidates but was instead asked to write in a name, and they were of course free to say that they didn’t know or weren’t sure, et cetera.

The table below gives the results, leaving out all those names that received only a handful or so of mentions – a group of people which included some relatively high-profile figures who are sometimes mentioned as potential candidates: Esther McVey is one example, since her name was suggested by only four Tory members (out of the 1162 who answered the leadership question) and no Tory voters. The table also contains a column allowing comparison with the results published by ConservativeHome on 31 December 2018, although their survey, unlike ours, gives respondents a list of names to choose from.

Tory Voters

(per cent)

Tory Members

(per cent)

ConHome

(per cent)

Boris Johnson 15 20 27
Jacob Rees-Mogg 7 15 4
Don’t Know 38 12 N/A
David Davis 4 8 7
Sajid Javid 2 8 13
Dominic Raab 3 7 12
Jeremy Hunt 2 6 9
Amber Rudd 4 5 5
Michael Gove 2 4 3
Penny Mordaunt 0 1 4

 

The results of the survey provide an insight into why Theresa May survived the confidence vote she was subjected to by some of her MPs just before Christmas. Right now, it’s anyone’s guess as to who might replace her – and that very uncertainty is bound to have worked to the PM’s advantage.

Clearly, Johnson and Rees-Mogg, both of them Brexiteers with high name-recognition, currently have the edge over other potential candidates to succeed May. Indeed, all the other candidates are beaten by ‘Don’t know’, even among Tory members. That said, when it comes to Tory voters, the same is true even of Johnson and Rees-Mogg.

Importantly, neither Johnson nor Rees-Mogg is so far ahead of the rest of the field as to be impossible to catch.  In any case, both are likely to find it hard to make it through the parliamentary round of voting that, according to the party’s rules, narrows the field to two candidates before grassroots members are given the final say.

Also striking is the dominance of men over women: at the moment it looks unlikely that the Conservatives will replace their second female leader with a third. Amber Rudd is almost certainly too much of a Remainer for a membership dominated not just by Brexiteers but by hard Brexiteers. Meanwhile Penny Mordaunt (mentioned by just 14 out of 1162 Tory members and by no Tory voters) clearly still has an awful lot to do.

The same looks to be true, however, of the three or four men likely to throw their hats into the ring – Sajid Javid, Dominic Raab, and Jeremy Hunt, whose recent trip to Singapore has been widely interpreted as part of his ongoing leadership bid. And Michael Gove is not so far behind as to make a second crack at the top job a complete fool’s errand, in spite of the mess he made of the last leadership contest.

Perhaps the bookies are right in marking Gove at 10/1. This isn’t far off the 9/1 you’d get if you put your money on Hunt and the 8/1 you’d get on Raab, but still some way off the 6/1 offered for Johnson and, interestingly, Javid – who, like Hunt, many claim has been very much ‘on manoeuvres’ recently.

Testing our survey against the latest polling of Party members. New evidence on Next Tory Leader.

Johnson has topped an ESCR poll, as he did our last survey. Its findings are even better for Brexiteers than ours.

Today’s Observer contains a brief summary of more polling of Conservative Party members for the ESCR Party Members Project.  It is squeezed into a larger story on Labour and Brexit, and the paper’s account doesn’t come with a table and full details.  None the less, it provides another opportunity to test Conservative Home’s monthly survey against a properly weighted opinion poll.  Mark Wallace looked at other recent evidence from the Project late last week.

Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis are “top of the party’s grassroots list” as preferred candidates to replace Theresa May, the Observer reports.  It says that Johnson “topped the poll” with 20 per cent, that Rees-Mogg “trailed in second on 15 per cent” and that  Davis “scored 8 per cent”. We read separately that Sajid Javid also scored per 8 cent in the poll, so Dominic Raab, with 7 per cent, was therefore fifth.

So discounting the don’t knows, the ESCR Project’s top five are –

  • Johnson – 20 per cent.
  • Rees-Mogg – 15 per cent.
  • Davis – 8 per cent.
  • Javid – 8 per cent.
  • Raab – 7 per cent.

And the top five candidates in our last Next Tory Leader survey were –

  • Johnson – 27 per cent.
  • Javid – 13 per cent.
  • Raab – 12 per cent.
  • Jeremy Hunt – 9 per cent.
  • Davis – 7 per cent.

It appears that ESCR put nine names to their Party member respondents: Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Davis, Javid, Raab, Jeremy Hunt (6 per cent in its poll), Amber Rudd (5 per cent in its poll, 5 per cent in our last survey), Michael Gove (4 per cent and 3 per cent respectively) and Penny Mordaunt (one per cent and 4 per cent respectively).  We currently offer no fewer than 19 names, all of whom have been spoken of as potential leadership candidates.

Four of the ESCR’s top five – Johnson, Davis, Javid and Raab – overlap with our top five.  Hunt was in our top five, but not in the ESCR’s (which had him sixth on 6 per cent).  Jacob-Rees Mogg is in the ESCR’s top five; he wasn’t in ours (he was seventh with 4 per cent).  It is sometimes claimed that the ConHome panel is more Eurosceptic than Party membership as a whole.  That may be correct – but as matters stand this ESCR result actually finds the reverse, though it is of course only a single piece of evidence.

The ESCR Project is run out of Queen Mary University of London and Sussex University.  Its last blog on its latest polling of Party members says that it surveyed 1215 Conservative Party members.  YouGov conducted the polling between December 17 and December 22.

The first department to need boosting post-March. The Treasury? Business? Transport? No: Northern Ireland.

The challenge to “our precious union” will be as much constitutional as economic – Deal, No Brexit…or No Deal especially.

Liz Truss wants to merge three smaller departments into a bigger one in the wake of the spending review.  Business, Culture and Transport would be folded into a new Ministry of Infrastructure.  B.I.S.C.U.I.T.S lives!

More prosaically, there is a danger, in weighing up the idea – the Chief Secretary believes bold measures are needed to raise productivity – of confusing three different though linked aims.

The first is saving taxpayers’ money through more efficient administration.  Amalgamating departments can help to achieve this end.  But it is always possible to find savings within the present set-up.  For example, Jeremy Hunt cut staff costs in one of those departments, Culture, by the best part of half, during his term as Secretary of State under the Coalition.

The second is restructuring departments to deliver political priorities.  Again, this shouldn’t be Mission Impossible.  However, it can go wrong.  The classic example is Harold Wilson’s Department of Economic Affairs, a “department of long-term go” created to balance the Treasury, the “department of short-term stop”.  Led by George Brown, it fought the Treasury.  The Treasury fought back, under Jim Callaghan.  Short-term stop is still with us and long-term go left very quickly.

The third is signalling priorities through ministerial appointments.  Consider the department at the head of the Chief Secretary’s list, Business.  Gordon Brown galvanised it by sending in a big hitter, Peter Mandelson.  David Cameron responded by appointing another as his shadow – Ken Clarke.

In that particular case, structural changes were made.  (Mandelson’s new department gained responsibility for universities.)  But these aren’t always desirable or even necessary.  By way of illustration, we offer a post-March 29 example.

If Theresa May’s deal eventually passes the Commons, Great Britain and Northern Ireland will have different regulatory regimes, assuming the backstop eventually kicks on.  Some argue that the two parts of the UK will potentially have different customs arrangements too.  This aspect of the deal has knock-on implications for Scotland, and therefore the Union, as a whole.

In the event of No Deal, it is possible that support for Irish unity and/or Scottish independence will grow faster than would otherwise be the case.  There is no way of knowing.  But Unionists should be alive to the possibility.  Relations with Ireland would certainly be tested in these circumstances, with an obvious read-across for Northern Ireland.  Whatever happens, we have paid for neglecting them.

In short, the latter will need a senior Tory player as Secretary of State when the next Cabinet reshuffle comes.  That person will need to know the Irish political scene, be on civil terms with the DUP and have a feel for how the island ticks.

Our suggestion is David Lidington.  He won’t be top of the DUP’s Christmas card list, but the party knows him well from his time as David Cameron’s Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, and vice-versa.  As a former Europe Minister he is familiar with the Irish side of the political equation: indeed, he has already been operating, in effect, as Theresa May’s emissary to Dublin.

Meanwhile, it follows that his replacement in the Cabinet Office would be tasked, as Lidington now is, with establishing how the whole UK can best work post-March 29.  In the event of No Deal, the challenge will be obvious – testing the UK Governance Group, presently charged with constitutional matters, to its limits.  In the event of No Brexit, it will be more subtle, but still present.

Our reflex is to send for Michael Gove when new thinking and action are required.  Perhaps we yield to it too readily.  And in any event, he can’t be everywhere.  Who else fits the bill?  Required: energy, brains, eloquence, seriousness and a passionate attachment to the Union.  These qualities are not in long supply.

The bold solution would be to send for a rising politician who has all five.

Rory Stewart is a Scot representing an English borders seat who is across the independence issue, having campaigned against it fervently in 2015.  He would not, repeat not, be Scottish or Welsh Secretary – any more than Lidington is now.  But a feel for what happens north of the border in particular would come in very useful.

These changes could be made without any structural change at all.  Or else DexEU could be folded into a new Department of Constitutional Affairs, with Stewart in charge, Chloe Smith staying on as the junior Minister, and perhaps a Scottish MP coming in too.

In which case, Steve Barclay could run the Cabinet Office.  Or Oliver Letwin return to do so.  Or Dominic Raab, if you prefer.  What’s that, you ask? B.I.S.C.U.I.T.S?  Well, it’s a long story.  Our theme today is shorter: mind “our precious Union”, post-March 29.

Let’s turn Railways Day into Scrap HS2 Day

“How would you feel if we spent the money on local transport links in the Midlands and the north?’’ Gove asked Conservative MPs last year.

January 1 is the day to claim that the New Year will show us who we really are.  We made that case yesterday in relation to Brexit.  Perhaps we should simply have waited for 24 hours.  For there’s a good case for arguing that January 2, each year, provides real evidence of the kind of country Britain is.  And that it does so far more convicingly than anything imagination can conjure up the day before.

The second day of each New Year is Railways Day, on which annual fare rises are announced – 3.1 per cent for this coming year, a further above-inflation increase.  In the absence of other political news – not an unusual feature of the late Christmas season – it dominates media coverage.  Commuters, unions, and campaigners pile in.  The Transport Secretary is despatched to the studios to have buckets of ordure emptied ritually over his head.

If that person is Chris Grayling, to whom journalists now reflexively apply the death-watch terms “beleaguered” and “embattled”, he is wise to have an announcement tucked up his sleeve.  It won’t save him from the scragging but it will divert some attention.  And the Transport Secretary is an experienced enough hand to have prepared exactly that.  So, lo, he has revealed today that a new railcard extending child fares to 16 and 17-year-olds will be available ahead of the new academic year in September.

But there is more to Railways Day than an annual outing for the Transport Secretary – or the coming fare rises for commuters.  Age, class, region, the way we live now and are governed: January 2 has something to say about all of them.

First, age.  Home ownership is the classic demonstration of the updated version of Disraeli’s two nations: the young and the old.  Rail is another.  The country divides into those who remember the old, fully-nationalised railways and the modern, part-nationalised ones.  (Never forget: Network Rail, which runs the track, is a state body.)  Older voters are prone to that affliction of the ageing, nostaglia.  But its consoling mists don’t always conceal the bleakness of the view back – to under-investment, strikes, delays and lower passenger numbers.  They remember the days of full nationalisation, and are less likely to vote for the man who advocates it, Jeremy Corbyn, whatever polls about the popularity of state ownership may tell you.  Younger voters have shorter memories and trend Left.

Second, class – or at least income.  Railway use is skewed towards richer voters.  The highest-earning 20 per cent of voters take around four times as many train journeys each year as those in the bottom 40 per cent, and twice as many as those in the middle.  Corbyn’s targeting of these offer yet more evidence of his paradoxical approach to the electorate, whereby pledges are pushed at plusher voters rather than needier ones.  His 2017 manifesto somehow promised to scrap tuition fees but not to lift the benefits cap.  As our columnist James Frayne never tires of pointing out, the Just-About-Managings – remember them? – tend to drive to work, not take the train.

Third, region.  Rail use is highest in the South-East.  Many of those who bring you the Today programme or Newsnight will have made their way to their BBC place of work by train, and good luck to them.  Daily Telegraph reading-commuters clutch their season tickets.  Senior Guardian editors will make their way to work by rail and tube.  Our own readership is concentrated in the greater south-east.  No wonder we all find ourselves writing about the railways.  If you want a sense of how commuters or voters further north feel about this bias to the capital, have a look at the Yorkshire Post, and its complaint about delays to the phrasing-out of “Northern’s fleet of antiquated Pacers – buses converted into makeshift trains in the 1980s”.

Which brings us back to the part-nationalised system, the role of Network Rail, this summer’s timetabling chaos, and the leaked “yours cynically” e-mail from the Transport Department about the loss of a northern service.

A variant to Railways Day this year has been the activity of the centre-right orientated think tanks, many of which are out and about today making the case for our part-private system.  The Centre for Policy Studies (which got in early), the Taxpayers Alliance, the Institute of Economic Affairs – all are making necessary points: that the change has brought more journeys, higher passenger satisfaction and progressive funding, in the sense that consumers rather than taxpayers must bear part of the bill.

They, we and others might also unite in a late New Year’s resolution: to make each annual Railways Day a No HS2 Day.  “How would you feel if we just dropped HS2 and spent the money on local transport links in the Midlands and the north?’’ the ever-alert Michael Gove asked Conservative MPs last year.  He will know that of the £6.4 billion given to – excluding loans from Network Rail – almost a third was consumed by the high-speed project.

Five years ago, the ConservativeHome Manifesto proposed junking the project and transferring resources to a Northern Infrastructure Fund.  That would help ease income and regional disparities – not to mention curb the inevitable overspending on the project, £20 billion and counting the last time we looked.

Our survey. Next Tory leader. Johnson is top again. Javid second, Raab third. Hunt is now fourth.

There are three contenders in double figures, one well ahead of the other two – and a very long tail of names in single figures,

It’s much the same story in our final Next Tory Leader survey of 2018.  Boris Johnson is top with more than double the score of the man who stays second – Sajid Javid.  The Home Secretary continues narrowly to fend off Dominic Raab, who stays third.

Last month, Johnson was on 24 per cent.  He moves up a bit to 27 per cent.  Javid puts on a point to come in at 13 per cent.  Raab does likewise and is now on 12 per cent.

David Davis drops from ten per cent to seven per cent.  Jeremy Hunt is up from seven per cent to nine per cent, and displaces Davis in fourth place.

But the snapshot picture is that there are three contenders in double figures, one well ahead of the other two – and a very long tail of names in single figures, to which we must add Esther McVey, new in the table this month.

Footnote: Theresa May can’t now be challenged via a confidence ballot for the best part of a year, so as a courtesy we’ve suspended a question we’ve asked since July last year – namely, if she should resign as Party leader and when.

However, it would be foolhardy to assume that she will necessarily be in place in twelve months’ time or earlier.  So the Next Tory Leader question stays pertinent.

ConservativeHome Awards: Cox scoops another gong as ‘Minister of the Year’

The Attorney General saw off strong competition from Michael Gove and Sajid Javid, with Liz Truss missing out on a podium spot.

Another day, another round of announcements for the 2018 ConservativeHome awards. After yesterday’s Brexit-focused categories, today we’re shifting focus.

First up: Minister of the Year, where our survey panel cast their ballots to decide which Conservative has been most effective in government over the past 12 months. The candidates were:

Michael Gove: With aggressive moves to ban plastic straws and ivory, the Environment Secretary is helping the Government make its mark on green issues.

Geoffrey Cox: The Attorney General has played a key role in forcing the Cabinet to confront the legal reality of May’s deal

Liz Truss: As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, she is perhaps the most ardent champion of small-state Thatcherism on the list

Sajid Javid: The Home Secretary has tackled the thorny subject of grooming gangs head on, and broken with May’s approach in his new department

And the winner is… Geoffrey Cox! It appears that not even the unprecedented event of the Government being found in contempt of Parliament is sufficient to dent our readers’ confidence in the senior law officer.

Of the rest of the pack, both Gove and Javid took around a quarter of the vote each, with Truss bringing up the rear with around 12 per cent.

Here are the results in full: