So it looks like there might be a Tory leadership contest after all…..

The rumours have been circulating all evening, but if Kuenssberg and Peston are now saying it, there has to be some plausibility to the story:

Our Layla got a bit over-excited:

How very unlike the Conservative Party to embroil itself in its own self-indulgent civil war at a time of national crisis.

Of course, even if the ERG has managed to get itself sufficiently together to submit the letters and settle on a chosen candidate, maybe even one who has had a haircut recently, getting the letters in is only the first part of the job. They then have to persuade a majority of their Tory colleagues to back them to force a leadership contest. Apparently there was a huge amount of cheering coming from their meeting last night, and we can probably assume that it wasn’t because they were happy that Joe Sugg had got to the final of Strictly.

I can’t help but think back to 1990 when Mrs Thatcher was on borrowed time. Then, her toppling was really exciting. An out of touch, seemingly heartless Prime Minister who had done so much to eat away at the fabric of our communities, who had encouraged selfish and uncaring attitudes, was on her way out. The likely successors, patrician and Tory though two of them were, seemed like an improvement. Then the choice was made by Tory MPs. Michael Heseltine was the challenger and was punished for his disloyalty. Douglas Hurd was the patrician foreign secretary and John Major the Chancellor who, conveniently had wisdom teeth out and a weekend off at the crucial moment and then emerged innocently victorious.

Nobody thought he’d be around for long. Everyone expected the Tories to lose in 1992, but people seemed to like him and his normality and the soapbox he dragged round the country. To be fair, he was and is a genuinely decent human being and that came across to people. Friends of mine who worked in Westminster at the time were shocked to have doors opened for them by Major after he became PM. That said, 10th April 1992 goes down as one of the most disappointing days of my life.

He spent most of his term in office fighting the “bastards” in his own party, the malign, reckless right whose small-state, xenophobic ideology is so toxic. The way they scapegoat entire groups of people is utterly sickening. Today’s lot are so much worse and they could be on the brink of taking over not just the Conservative Party but the country. If one of them becomes PM, they will try to drive us over the No Deal cliff in their honeymoon period. They likely won’t succeed because there is a majority in the Parliament who don’t want that outcome, but the whole thing is a mess.

108 days before we are scheduled to leave the European Union, we should be much more organised and together. Instead the only deal that is currently possible is terrible news for us and there is no alternative plan that unites enough MPs to push it through.

Of course, May might see off any challenge and, newly emboldened, could do what she should have done in the first place and sought allies across parties to find a less destructive solution to the Brexit nightmare. Alternatively, the party might look to a Rudd or a Javid to bring a more stable outcome.

However the electorate for leadership elections is a Tory membership who, more than any other group of people, want Brexit and a hard-as-you-like Brexit at that.

So while there was an element of getting out the popcorn and watching with expectant amusement in 1990, now it’s a lot more terrifying. There is a much greater threat to our future, to our democracy than there ever has been before. If you’re not frightened, you should be. But we should channel that fear into doing all we can to achieve the fair, free and open society, where no-one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity that we dream of. If there was a time to get our message right, to show what we stand for and who we stand with, it’s now.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • The sick man of Europe was a term used about the UK in the 1970’s. Well our brave Brexiteers want to return to a lost golden age, tis a pity they choose our “sick man” phase. Still the rate they are dragging us down we will soon be eligible for a Darwin Award.

  • “The 48 must be obsessively mad.”
    If the MP question on the news this evening is to be believed, the (potentially) 48 letters have been accruing since July.

    If this is the case, I believe the 1822 Committee has handed the opponents of the Conservative party a stick to beat them with – particularly given how the Conservatives were the ones who demanded greater democratic accountability from trade unions when balloting their members…

  • No they are not mad. But some of them are not very bright. Actually a number of them have spent a lot of time accusing remainers of calling their supporters stupid. Curious ….

  • The problem for the Conservative Party is that many of their MPs might want a new leader but have a number of problems. There is a lot of evidence that the majority of people see the Prime Minister as having to work against a House of Commons to progress the referendum. The other is that the majority of people do not believe that there is anyone in parliament who would make a better prime minister.
    The problem we have is that it is Parliament who is losing credibility.
    My opinion is that amidst all the play acting there is no one giving a positive message about the need for a strong European Union.
    However it is pantomime season I believe.

  • David Becket 12th Dec '18 - 7:39am

    This country is desperate for strong leadership, where is it coming from, not from us.
    We need to show that there are politicians who will put party politics aside and offer the country a way forward out of the current shambles.

    We need a leader who will stand up and state:
    We will abandon Article 50
    We will address the major UK domestic issues:
    Environment & Climate Change
    We will work with other EU Countries on reforms that are needed in the EU
    We will not invoke Article 50 again until we have a planned path forward likely to be approved by the EU and approved in this country through a General Election.

    Where is the Lib Dem Leadership, where are the Grimmonds and Ashdowns from the past?

  • Mick Taylor 12th Dec '18 - 8:15am

    Dave Becket. Do put a sock in it. Just over a year ago all 12 MPs had the opportunity to put their names in the ring to be our leader. Only one did. Vince has done a sterling job and, especially at a time like this, we should support him. Of course we should be putting forward plans to tackle the issues you suggest and if you actually read the speeches Vince has been making, rather than relying on what the media actually report, you would find out that he has been doing so.
    Calling out the leader is neither sensible nor Liberal..

  • John Marriott 12th Dec '18 - 8:32am

    What next? An invasion from outer space? On second thoughts, perhaps a vote in confidence might be the only vote anyone will be getting in the near future. Oh, I forgot about Sports Personality of the Year.

    Sorry if I’m not taking it seriously; but I sometimes wonder whether I’m suddenly going to wake up and find it was all just a bad dream. Let’s not forget that things are happening over the Channel. Perhaps, David Raw, it’s Europe that’s the ‘Sick man of Europe’.

    As for the Lib Dems finding a ‘strong leader’, David Beckett, what difference would that make? What I’m increasingly thinking is that the country needs Parliament to take a lead and for sensible politicians to form a Government of National Unity, throw the old political allegiances aside and get us an EU deal, which could THEN be ratified by a ‘People’s Vote’.

  • ck Taylor 12th Dec ’18 – 8:15am…………….. Vince has done a sterling job and, especially at a time like this, we should support him. Of course we should be putting forward plans to tackle the issues you suggest and if you actually read the speeches Vince has been making, rather than relying on what the media actually report, you would find out that he has been doing so. Calling out the leader is neither sensible nor Liberal…………

    Déjà vu…I well remember reading exactly the same support for a previous leader as our party failed the nation and ourselves. If only such criticism had been acted on then.

    Strange how voicing valid concerns can be deemed illiberal.

  • I’m predicting May gets about 75% of the vote this afternoon. There is a whiff of phoney war here. The Brexit hardliners have to be seen to have their punt though even they should balk at taking any responsibility.

    And nobody else, Tory or Corbyn, wants to be PM until the damage is done, whether the political damage of “betrayal” or the actual damage to the country. They can then point the finger and make a fresh start with clean hands.

    May could come out of this looking stronger – at least until she tries again to do something.

  • David Becket 12th Dec '18 - 9:25am

    I am not just relying on he media, I am also noting our Press Releases and the lack of leadership messages to our members through e mail. Some years ago Vince showed he had leadership qualities, but they are lacking now.
    The main thrust of our PR is supporting Peoples Vote, attacking other parties and outlining how bad a no deal Brexit will be. That is not leadership. L:eadership shows a comprehensive way out of this mess, and a Peoples Vote is unlikely to achieve it on its own.

  • @ John Marriott. I think the invasion from outer space occurred a few years ago when the Moggs/Bones etc arrived on the planet.

    As to ‘the country needs strong leadership’ – anybody with a sense of history will have a shudder going down their spine.

    I’ve been critical of Vince in the past but to give him his due he’s doing the job as a duty and deserves support until the future becomes clearer. He’s giving time for such as Layla to gain experience and to learn their craft during the present turmoil. Hopefully by the time of the next election the Tories will have experienced sufficient damage below the waterline for his successor to have a more promising opportunity.

  • nvelope2003 12th Dec '18 - 9:42am

    Interesting that none of the historic political parties has an obvious or even plausibly competent leader in waiting.
    Why does Arleen Foster keep appearing as the leader of Northern Ireland ? She is not an MP or leader of a devolved Government and the people she claims to speak for voted to remain in the EU by a substatial majority.

  • Bill le Breton 12th Dec '18 - 9:51am

    Am tempted to write, “It’s the DUP, st*pid”.

    I wouldn’t like to predict this vote, but for Conservatives remaining in office is the absolute priority. To do that they have to maintain their deal with the DUP. The present ‘May Deal’ is not compatible with this, which is why more and more Conservatives this week were reaching the conclusion that they had (even reluctantly in some cases) to vote against that deal, and communicating that conclusion to their Whip.

    If during the course of today those Conservative MPs reach the conclusion that keeping the DUP in the tent is impossible under May, she will go … with or without a win the ballot.

    A second point: I notice that there was a post earlier this week about the cancelling of the debate and vote on the May deal which started with a tweet from a Tory MP suggesting that Parliament and not the PM would decided whether the vote would be pulled. Of course he was wrong. It was cancelled.

    The point we need to keep in mind is that the Government commands the business of the House – whatever the constitution may say. A ‘No deal’ conclusion can only be prevented by the PM.

    Perhaps that is another reason why MPs on both ‘wings’ of the Tory Party in the Commons will decide they need a PM more to their personal liking (not forgetting that consideration of the DUP mentioned above).

  • Andrew Melmoth 12th Dec '18 - 10:23am

    I hope she gets 52% of the vote.

  • Is it too Machiavellian to suggest that Mrs May was the 48th Tory MP to send in a letter ?

  • Bill le Breton is right about the DUP. Although I think that it is Northern Ireland rather than just the DUP that is our problem. The lack of progress in dealing with Northern Ireland is serious. We can now see how serious. We have given guarantees to the Republic and the people of the North about the relationship between the North and the Republic and the North and the rest of the U.K. We then have a referendum on a withdrawal from the EU which when successful could not work without breaking our obligations. Oh, and the devolved government has ceased to function, and we just ignore that.
    It really is time to grasp the nettle. There is a need to force reality into the debate. We could have a referendum on the future of Northern Ireland. We are good at referendums. We might find where the red bus is to put big numbers on. Then we could leave the implementation to the devolved Assembly. Then we could forget about it.
    In the meanwhile there are serious issues in the parts of the U.K. which do not get the publicity, that is those outside London, Scotland, London, Northern Ireland oh and I forgot London.

  • Laurence Cox 12th Dec '18 - 12:17pm

    The BBC is reporting:

    “So far, 153 Tory MPs have publicly said they will vote for her, with 33 against, according to BBC research. She needs to secure the votes of 158 MPs to survive.

    “But it is a secret ballot so the final outcome is hard to predict.”

    I think that many MPs are keeping their views quiet and that there may be a number of Remain MPs voting against her as well as the ERG. My own suspicion is that she will get over 100 votes against her and while she may technically win the vote, she will be so damaged that it will be the end of her. Remember that Maggie also won a majority of the Tory MP votes in 1990, but fell just short of winning on the first round.

  • Neil Sandison 12th Dec '18 - 3:11pm

    We should be taking full advantage of these self serving contemptable conservative MPs hell bent not only in dragging there own party and their leadership down but dragging the rest of the country down with them in their self harming internal war over Brexit .
    Moderate voters who do perhaps alliegn themselves with the tories over the economy must be reeling watching the nasty party factions hardly prepared talk to one another as the split ever deeper over TMs deal.

  • I think the key point is who wants the job at this moment in time? And if there were an election who would likely win it among the Conservative members?

    I think virtually no-one wants the job until Brexit is sorted – you get the blame and with the DUP it is virtually an impossible task to come up with a workable Brexit. And if there were an election – BoJo or may be Raab or Davis would have a very good shot at winning among the Conservative members and it is highly likely that one Brexit would be among the final two for them to choose from. Any Remainer (i.e. anyone who voted remain) would have a far, far better chance of winning after Brexit is sorted.

    May is also apparently indicating that she will go before the next General Election. Far better to wait a few months.

    So few want the job and so they (AND hence their allies) will vote for May.

    Buzzfeed said at the beginning of the year there were 80 ERG MPs – so one should expect them to get above 100 as voting against her as there are I guess around 20 not included in that (those that were ministers at the time of the report but not now etc.)

    That leaves 217 for her. Under 200 does become interesting as it indicates more widespread dissatisfaction beyond the ERG etc.

    Conservativehome say ” Our rough finger to the wind test is that the danger zone is somewhere between 110 – 125 votes against May and somewhere between about 210 – 225 votes for her. The 215 mark seems a reasonable enough test of strength.”

    And it would be close to that ballpark. But I think unless it is in to near single figures (under 20?) she will stay and there would be no pressure (or little from those that count) to push her out.

  • Most of the problems of the 1970s increased after joining the European project. Inflation peeked in 76, the IMF bailout was also in 76, unemployed topped the 1 million,manufacturing declined and so on. The 80s were arguably even worse and the early 1990s were not so good either. Really, the Common Market and the EU have had few positive effects on the economy. All you have to do to confirm this is look the dates and data up. Correlation is, admittedly, not causation, but it does tend to throw a spanner in the works of those claiming the European project reversed decline. What actually briefly boosted the economy was deregulating the financial sector and that folly collapsed in 2007-2008.
    The thing about people in the pro-EU camp is that they tend to claim that being in Europe has been an awesome success and yet insist catastrophic social problems caused Brexit or the rise of populism elsewhere! They do this most often by claiming people have been left-behind by a sort of economic/cultural rapture and need be shown the righteous path to centrist salvation.. Here’s the the other thing, the young people they eulogies as benefiting from the beatific belief system they espouse are in everyway more disadvantaged than previous generations, especially the home owning pensioners of their left-behind mythology . Of course young people can work in the gig economy across a few more nations. But afford a house, a comfortable retirement and have stability? Not really.

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