Thursday, June 30, 2016

As the next Conservative leadership election begins ...

Amazing as it may seem, the first Conservative leadership election took place as recently as 1965 - fifty one years ago this year. On previous occasions including the time before that in 1963 when a leader was needed, someone emerged from a "magic circle" of consultations or was "sent for" by the monarch.

Since then there have been just nine leadership elections and the results are interesting:

1965: Favourite, Reggie Maudling. Winner, Ted Heath.

1975: Favourite, 1st ballot Ted Heath, 2nd ballot Whitelaw. Winner, Margaret Thatcher.

1989: "Stalking horse" challenge to sitting PM Margaret Thatcher by unknown backbencher Sir Anthony Meyer. This is the one time the favourite, Mrs Thatcher, won but it was hardly a serious fight. But the following year:

1990: Favourite, 1st ballot Mrs Thatcher, 2nd ballot Michael Heseltine. Winner, John Major.

1995; John Major resigns as party leader and stands for re-election, challenging opponents within the party to stand against him. John Redwood does, and is defeated.

1997: Favourite, Ken Clarke. Winner, William Hague

2001. Favourite, Michael Portillo. Winner, Iain Duncan Smith.

2003 - uncontested election of Michael Howard after IDS was removed by a no-confidence vote.

2005. Favourite: David Davis. Winner, David Cameron.

So of those nine elections in the past fifty-one years, there has been one instance of a token challenge to a sitting Prime Minister which was defeated, one instance where a sitting Prime Minister challenged his rivals to stand against him and defeated the candidate who did, and one instance where a party in crises rallied round a single "safe pair of hands"  candidate and averted an election.

In every single one of the six cases where there was either a serious challenge to a sitting leader, or a contested succession after a leader had resigned, the early favourite lost.

Does this imply it's inevitable that the early favourite Boris Johnson will lose this time?

Absolutely not, what the history of those elections shows is that nothing is inevitable.

Does it mean people should be extremely careful of taking any result for granted?

Absolutely yes.

These elections are consistent only in their unpredictability and that what people expect to happen usually doesn't.


Jim said...

Been evicted from my hotel rm today, but from what I did see of her statement this morning, I am thinking May be be the best bet.

Quentin Langley said...

I would go further, Chris.

Not only was none of the elected leaders the favourite at the beginning of the campaign, none would even have been a candidate if the election had been 12 months earlier.

Ted Heath, in 1965, is a possible exception. But if he had resigned in 1974, Thatcher would have supported Keith Joseph. If Thatcher had gone in 1989 the candidates would have been Michael Heseltine, Kenneth Baker and Geoffrey Howe. If Major had resigned in 1996 the candidates would have been Kenneth Clarke, Michael Howard and Michael Portillo. If Hague had resigned in 2000, it would have been Portillo vs Anne Widdecombe, possibly also including Kenneth Clarke. If IDS had resigned in 2002 the candidates would have been David Davis, Michael Ancram and Kenneth Clarke. If Howard had resigned even immediately after the 2005 election, let alone before it, Davis and Clarke would have run, possibly joined by Oliver Letwin for the modernisers.

Chris Whiteside said...

I think that's right, Quentin.

And of course, within 24 hours of my writing this and a couple of hours of publishing it, it has been proved yet again that you never know what to expect in a Conservative leadership election.

I think though that the 2016 Conservative Leadership election will be remembered as the first time that the person who was seen by the bookies and the press as the favourite at the time nominations opened had been nobbled before they closed and never even stood!