Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Curse of the Favourites

One of the golden rules of power is to know when to stop, when enough is enough and not to go on past you’re sell by date.  Presumably it’s also a rule that you don’t advertise when that sell by date will be…

Cameron’s slip of the tongue that he won’t be standing for a third term as PM, weeks before attempting to win a second term underlines how poor a prime minister Cameron has been.  There is a blogpost in just how poor Cameron has been as PM, starting a five year leadership contest just before his campaign to win a second term hits top gear.  Errr…

What is interesting though is the list of potential successors.  When Cameron is ousted, which he surely will be, will play better to different candidates.  Defeat in May will see Theresa May & Boris as the frontrunners.  Victory will see Osborne rise up the favourites list as presumably his stock will have risen.  There is however just one small problem with this set of outcomes.  The Tories have never elected the favourite to be leader since the leader was elected.

When Heath lost his third election in October 1974, Thatcher was some way down the list of potential leaders, even behind the chairman of the 1922 committee Edward Du Cann.  Indeed, if you’ve seen the coverage, it’s at the insistence of Bob MacKenzie that Thatcher is even quoted – he though that she was someone worth watching.  When Thatcher stood in January 1975, she was thought to be the stalking horse candidate – a candidate designed to damage the leader enough for others to enter the race.  The favourites were Willie Whitelaw and the ‘mad monk’ Keith Joseph.

15 years later, Thatcher faced up to the former Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine in a fight to the death, with Heseltine favourite to beat a (now) unpopular PM.  Instead it was Heseltine who proved to be the stalking horse as when Thatcher pulled out of the fight, Major and Hurd entered the race with Major anointed as the stop Hezza candidate.

When Major resigned in 1995 to fight for his job, many speculated that there would be a stalking horse candidate again to knock Major out before the Clarke’s, Portillo’s and co would fight it out.  Instead John Redwood stepped forward with a lacklustre campaign that saved Major’s bacon.

When Major lost in 1997, the favourite was the former Chancellor Ken Clarke yet William Hague came through from the outside. In 2001, the shadow Chancellor Portillo and Clarke were again favourites only this time both were trumped by Iain Duncan Smith.  All of which brings us to Cameron.

Ken Clarke was going for his third attempt at leader, but David Davis was slight favourite.  Cameron was the rank outsider going into the race, his note less conference speech being the moment that catapulted him into the job.

So the moral of the story is to not focus exclusively on the favourites.  And keep your eye on Sajid Javid.

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