We said if May was to go, the Tories would do it quickly, since it’s hard to imagine a worse outcome for a Prime Minister in a very long time to admit to expecting such a huge defeat on far and away the most important initiative of his Government as to scuttle a vote.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May will face a vote of no confidence in her leadership later on Wednesday.
Conservative MPs will vote between 18:00 GMT and 20:00 GMT.
The challenge to Mrs May’s position comes after the required 48 letters calling for a contest were delivered.
One wonders if the timing was because some MPs wanted to sleep on their decision before submitting their letters, or they wanted to see if May got some receptivity from the EU for her pressing to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, particularly on the Irish backstop. Yet even May’s own statement to Parliament before her quick trip to the Continent acknowledged that she wasn’t expecting any changes, and Donald Tusk quickly said the same thing on Twitter.
ConservativeHome debunks some earlier misreporting about the process. For May to win just over half of the 315 votes of MPs won’t be enough to save her:
It is being claimed that “158 is the magic number” – since 157.7 is what one is left with if one divides the 315 MPs in receipt of the Conservative whip in half.
But imagine for a moment that 159 MPs express confidence in her leadership, if a ballot takes place, and 156 do not. Could she then carry on as Party leader? We don’t think so. The ballot would not have found sufficient consensus for her leadership. We cite a precedent. 204 votes were cast for Margaret Thatcher during the 1990 Conservative leadership contest, and 168 were not – 152 Tory MPs opted for Michael Heseltine and 16 abstained. She won a clear majority of those voting. But she was forced out none the less.
In reply, you may quote the 1995 leadership contest, in which over a third of Conservative MPs didn’t back John Major – a substantial proportion. But he stayed on. We would counter-object that there is a difference between a third and, say, just under half.
At which point, others might join the conversation, pointing out that the rules of Tory leadership contests have changed since 1995, let alone 1990. Which reinforces our point: deciding what does and doesn’t count as success in a Conservative leadership contest is an art, not a science. As much depends on expectation – not to mention who spins loudest and longest – as figures. Personality, mood, psyops and that glorious Burkean word, circumstances: all play their part in deciding the drama. There is no magic number at all.
Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid and other Cabinet members with leadership aspirations will tremble at the possibility of the Prime Minister winning any ballot, but not winning well. That would set up a conflict between loyalty and ambition from which they might not emerge unscathed.
As we’ve said, May’s best hope of staying put is that enough MPs either have considerable antipathy for the alternatives to May or are starting to recognize that the choices on offer are poor: May’s deal, no deal, or no Brexit which means going against the Tory party promise to deliver on the referendum outcome. In other words, some may recognize that there isn’t any prospect of a new leader getting a different answer from the EU than the one it has been giving for the last month: “We’re done, take it or leave it.”
I have no insight into who might prevail if May is turfed out. The contenders include Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Amber Rudd, Andrea Leadsome, and the aforementioned Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid. The readers of the Financial Times have an obvious pro-City bias, and their call seems to be that BoJo and Javid will be the final contenders. They seem to favor Javid as someone who would conceivably deliver Remain. For instance, from Jackdaw:
And my only hope is if it is Sajid Javid, he courts the moderate Tories and remainers and vows to immediately ask to extend A50 for a few months. Solely in order to ask the people to vote on May’s deal or Remain. The EU would readily agree. And if he did that and campaigns to firmly eschew a No Deal scenario then I think he’ll squeak in and become PM…,
No, I can see Javid come through this. If he can just get his head up and see the right and obvious way out of this morass we’re in. But does he have enough true courage and leadership? Those crucial attributes our country desperately needs right now but sadly lacking in for far too long a time.
The assumption above is that the party will gravitate around a centrist, which is how May had positioned herself, and reject Boris. I believe Gove has tried to position himself that way, so I am not sure he should be written off so quickly, particularly since he has more Cabinet experience than Javid, who is still pretty wet behind the ears.
Financiers and businessmen on the whole presumably prefer Remain, but that does not make them representative of the members of the party. And as the comment above indicated, the Tories have not yet come to grips with the idea that there isn’t even time for a referendum, even if the EU were to give an extension to the end of June, the longest time that multiple sources have said they’d be willing to offer. And due to continued terrible press reporting, they may fall for a leader selling the unicorn of “Norway plus”.
And we have the wee complicating factor that if a leadership contest is on, this chews up time while the Brexit clock is ticking.
Update 4:00 AM. More details on process. From the Guardian:
A ballot will be held on Wednesday evening between 6pm and 8pm, Brady said, with votes counted “immediately afterwards and an announcement will be made as soon as possible”.
And even before the move to oust May, which European leaders have to have known was likely, the message has become even more firm: May’s deal is the only one on offer:
And please read this tweetstorm on the the process (hat tip Richard Smith):
If Theresa May falls tonight, the leadership contest that follows will be one of the most important elections in British history. It will also be one of the least democratic. We are about to discover how much damage the two main parties have done to our democracy. [THREAD]
— Robert Saunders (@redhistorian) December 12, 2018