Wednesday, 20 April 2022

So who are the Tories lining up to replace Boris Johnson

 I was intrigued to see that the bookies still believe that Sir Keir Starmer is the favourite currently with the bookies to be next PM - Starmer is 4/1. That tells me that the smart money thinks that in the short term Boris Johnson is safe. There are three things I've learned over my lifetime about the Tories and their leaders

1) They are utterly ruthless when they think they've outlived their usefulness.

2) They wield the knife when it suits their interests and not those of the nation 

3) The favourite rarely gets the job

So lets start with the favourite. That is Liz Truss. She is 6/1. Given the fact that the Tories rarely pick favourites, I suppose there is a certain logic to the odds. A couple of weeks ago I had a chat with a Tory Candidate about the options. When I mentioned Liz Truss, he gave me the same look as if I'd said Coco the Clown. In short, amongst the rank and file, she has little credibility. She seems to have a low profile and little backbone. She's foreign secretary, there is a European war raging, but you see the Invisible Man on telly more than Liz. I almost think she exists only to prove the old maxim about favourites right.

Next up at 8/1 we have Jeremy Hunt. A sane and rational person would think that Jeremy, untainted with the baggage of Boris would be an ideal choice. If I was a Tory, he'd be my choice (given the options, I must add), but I'm not sure he necessarily has the gumption for the job. I suspect he'd be less of a train wreck than Boris and he seems to be a more decent person (who isn't though). I suspect the fact I can say this rules him out completely, but at least he has the air of being vaguely competent.

I find the next on the list quite fascinating. At 9/1 it's Tom Tugendhat. He ticks the gumption box, as an ex military man, that is my big problem with Hunt. He's not tainted by Boris and has been quite independent as chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. In January, he put his hat in the ring, saying he would consider standing if Boris went. The only downside is he lacks experience. Is he a safe pair of hands? I really don't know.

And to round up our top five, we have yesterday's darling, Dishy Rishi Sunak. A year ago, he'd have probably been a shoe in, but he's been well and truly Boris'd. He made the mistake of attending illegal parties with the boss. As he's a teetotaller, it is quite cruel really. I don't think he can stand Boris and probably went out of a sense of very misguided duty. His family has an aversion to paying taxes, which when you are the head of the department that collects them off of the rest of us is a bit of a no no. He was promoted very rapidly Boris, but has learned that what Boris giveth, Boris will take away.

The key question is not whether but when Boris will feel the sharp blade between the shoulder blades. It is clear that unless they find dead bodies in the back garden of No 10, Tory MP's will not kick him out until after the council elections. I've been told that Tory spinners think the locals will not see as many losses as everyone is predicting. This is not because they will do well, but because Labour did OK in 2018 and so the scope for gains has been lessened. I am not convinced. I've been canvassing in Mill Hill, admittedly not in any way a ward typical of either London or the UK, but it has been an eye opener. Last time in 2018, the Lib Dems came third, but very respectably with around 20% of the vote. We felt we were making headway on doorsteps, but not nearly enough to have a chance of winning. I privately told everyone I thought I'd have done will if I got 1,200 votes (as in 2014 the LD's got 400 odd). I got 1,206. 

Staunch Labourites were openly hostile. Tories would nod patronisingly and try and keep us talking. This time? The Staunch Labourite are asking if the Lib Dems really have a chance in Mill Hill and are saying things like "I might just vote for you in the locals as I really want to see the Tories lose". What we call soft Tories are saying "I can't possibly vote for them with Boris in charge, I' may vote for you or I may not vote at all". They are not wasting our time or trying to wind us up. The one Tory I spoke to who told me he had voted Conservative said "Everyone knows Boris is on borrowed time, so I am not going to break the habit of a lifetime just yet".  As ringing endorsements go, it isn't exactly flattering to a party he's supported all of his life. I did some number crunching and it seems to me that maybe 40% of Tories wont be voting for them this time locally. Their 1st candidate got around 3,000 votes last time. if our polling stats are right, that means they will get around 1,700-1,800 votes. The Lib Dem canvass returns show an increase of 50-60% on positives from last time. That would give me 1,800-1,900 votes. What I can say for sure is that when people have said yes, they've been far more positive this time than 2018, when I suspect many of our canvass returns were over optimistic due to British politeness and our team wanting people to knock up on election day. 

If, and this is a very, very big if, these are correct and this reflects a national trend, I expect a swathe of good, decent, hard working Tory candidates to lose their seats. Those staunch Tories are the bedrock of Tory MP's teams. The post election reviews that every party does will be telling their MP's exactly who's fault it is. That is the point when Boris will be in big trouble. When long standing councillors lose, many either leave politics completely or take a good long break. They are not well disposed to leaders and MP's who sold them down the river and didn't listen to their concerns. At some point in the next couple of years, there will be a general election and those teams will be needed to turn out for their MP's.

In Barnet, the Tories lost the Council in 1994. In the 1997, they lost two out of three MP's. I felt this was as much to do with the fact that the local Tory party had been damaged as to do with Tony Blair being an amazing candidate. It took them until 2010 to repair the damage and get their MP's back in. The more I look, the more the 2022 council elections look like the 1994 elections. After those, the Tories stuck with John Major, a nice chap but a lousy Tory leader. They got massacred in 1997 by Blair. The vast majority of Tory MP's were getting involved with politics at around that time and know this.  That is why I believe the council elections are the key to whether Boris goes next month. 

As to who replaces him.  There are 359 Conservative MP's currently. Isn't it a bit sad that with so many, the rather uninspiring list earlier in the blog are the front runners? I suspect that all of the clever, dynamic Tories have far better paid jobs in the City. A Tory councillor recently told me that he'd quite like to see the PM paid a million pounds a year, as this was the least someone with that sort of responsibility should get and given you can get booted out at any time, it is not a ridiculous amount. He then said it was a crying shame that no one in politics could actually say such a thing publicly without getting ripped apart by the press. I've no real idea what a fair renumeration package should be for a Prime Minister or any other MP or Minister, but when you look at the calibre of people in the job, something is badly wrong. 

BTW, the betting odds in Barnet are now strongly in favour of a Labour win. I was intrigued at the long odds on a no overall control. I am tempted to stick a tenner on it. 

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