Amidst the soap opera of Boris vs George vs Theresa and Gove, it would appear that a fervent debate is taking place in the Conservative Party as to the future of its leadership, in the event of the party not winning a majority in 2015.
All of the candidates that are currently publicly jockeying for position are inseparable, at least in ideological terms, from David Cameron.
Gove seems to have successfully escaped the title of ‘Cameroon’, yet he was one of Tony Blair’s strongest supporters in or out of the Labour Party, the man who designed and drafted the hugely unpopular “A-list”, and has been until this month, fiercely loyal to Dave.
It could be argued that the CCHQ executive is willing to open its eyes to a change of leadership post-2015, and allow candidates a little space to explore their chances; but only those aligned to the modernisation project that was slammed by Dr. Liam Fox last night.
Assuming members get a say in the matter, it would seem bizarre for a party hugely dissatisfied with its management to elect to continue with the same policies albeit under different leadership.
If the membership does want a change in direction however, waiting until May 2015 will ensure only a continuation of the status quo. Grassroots conservatives need to have a debate now as to what they want from a future leader, and they need to start settling on a candidate.
The Bow Group, the UK’s oldest conservative think-tank, hosted a “State of the Party” lecture last week, delivered by Lord Tebbit. The Thatcher-era cabinet minister expressed a desire to see a change of leadership so we can feel like conservatives again and feel like the Prime Minister is “a son of Thatcher and not a son of Tony Blair”. But he felt there was a more important consideration; the extent to which a future leader is willing to enfranchise the party membership:
“We need a leadership with an attachment to the grassroots, and one that spends less time on focus groups and opinion polls and much more establishing a network of constituency associations and agents to rebuild the membership.
“When eventually it comes to choosing the next leader, it’s not about whether we go left or right, but whether we will be a top down, narrowly focused party run by an elite, or a bottom up party run by like-minded, anti-statist minded people.”
After a disastrous decade of party membership, another 10 years of the same would ensure that the Conservative Party ceases to exist. An ideological conservative won’t be enough. Tories also need a leader who is willing to drive freedom and democracy within the Conservative Party for the long term, pushing power down and out through local Tory branches, and empowering and attracting members.
I suspect that the lack of enthusiasm among conservatives around debating a future leader is that there is a lack of inspiring candidates. Those who served in Thatcher’s government are too old, and the younger members that carry the same banner are too young, lacking the necessary exposure or experience.
I supported David Davis for the Conservative Party leadership in 2005 for good reason. I think with the benefit of hindsight, if the same voters from May 2005 could be reassembled today, he would win by a landslide, and I would strongly support him again in 2015.
The Bow Group will publish a paper “Freedom & Democracy in the Conservative Party” on April 5th.