And then there were seven

First round down and as expected Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt top the poll, with Gove following. Rory Stewart scraped through to much relief: he is the fence to be sat on, so he has to stay in the race.

The Plantagenet nature of the race I have analysed before. Little has changed, but now three have been eliminated.

The Byzantine rules laid down are that in the first round all those who won less than 17 votes from their colleagues are eliminated and the rest go through to the next round unless they withdraw in the interim. The results of the first round vote are:

  • Boris Johnson: 114
  • Jeremy Hunt: 43
  • Michael Gove: 37
  • Dominic Raab: 27
  • Sajid Javid: 23
  • Matthew Hancock: 20
  • Rory Stewart: 19

Eliminated candidates:

  • Andrea Leadsom: 11
  • Mark Harper: 10
  • Esther McVey: 9

Now the manoeuvring begins to woo the losers’ supporters, and here it becomes tangled. Is Boris too far ahead to be excluded from the final two? If not, it would still take a mighty effort to keep him out, and Dominic Raab, who can see the writing on the wall for his own bid, and newly freed Esther McVey are unlikely to let that happen.

Supporters of the winner expect the rewards of their loyalty in the patronage to be dispensed from the new Number One in Number 10. That means demotion for those who were too cool. Rory Stewart is still there as the hopeless candidate it is safe to support to sit on the fence, but at the next round he will be out and then there is nowhere left to hide.

If the case is hopeless, the is always malice as a refuge, saying with Somerset “I owe him little duty, and less love”. However all those thrown down who are tempted that way, take a look across the chamber at the bearded Marxist waiting to fill the government benches and every public office in the land with his people and hold your peace.

Green light, red faces, and Amber

At last, the contest begins.  The supporters have been gathering for weeks, some holding back to see whether to support a winner or a genuine choice.  It has been hard to keep up with those joining or pretending to join and withdraw but the list on this site has been updated, and campaign site links added.

As I predicted here (“Supporters come out, but no Kingmaker”), MPs have been dividing according to their expectations of promotion or demotion – some for Boris, to be seen to back a probable winner, some mainly on the Remain side for Hunt as the strong challenger, effectively the level-headed not-Boris candidate, and some for Gove as ‘Not-Boris but still Leave’ perhaps, but an MP backing Gove still leaves the door open for office if Boris Johnson does win, Michael Gove being a longstanding friend of his.  Others have backed Rory Stewart (who is genuinely popular in some quarters) as a way of hedging their bets.

There may be many more who would in an anonymous contest vote for Andrea Leadsom, but until she is seen as a winner and a bearer of patronage, she cannot attract those choices. On the other hand, she need not – she will be recognised as competent and valuable to whomever wins at the end of the day.

We can expect drop-outs, and soon, and only later will we learn whether they will suffer from their presumption at the hands of the new leader and his team. The immediate problem with a candidate’s dropping out then then he or she, will have to pick a patron. There is no avoiding the humiliation of the position, but it may be disguised by the oleaginous support then given to another, so best to choose the likely winner.

ConservativeHome has at last come out for Boris, as long expected.

Amber Rudd is in the papers for backing Jeremy Hunt, the latest Remain-leaner to do so, and the papers sound surprised, as if she had previously backed Boris, which she did not.

Jeremy Hunt then is doing well as the main ‘Not-Boris’ candidate, but is hampered by his past habits, namely voting Remain, and by having Remain supporters following him.  Michael Gove, who under normal circumstances would be ahead, now looks foolish, his campaign stuttering, trailing clouds of white dust behind it.  Raab remains unknown, for now, amongst ordinary voters, and there seems little danger to those who say they will support him, unless he attacks Boris Johnson too fiercely which might expose them to the flak should the latter win.

All this is to the advantage of Rory Stewart’s backers – he might not get anywhere near winning, but he has not been causing ructions and so he is or now a safe fence to sit on. The real contest however is not now – it is when the field is reduced to choose the final two.  Then the terminally worried must get off the fence and stand to choose a patron or be punished by the new regime for choosing unwisely. 1e0

Supporters come out, but no Kingmaker

Others have published running lists of the announced supporters of various candidates for the Conservative leadership; interpreting it must be an exercise in political psychology, reaching deep into the various motivations of the ‘most sophisticated (or possibly ‘most devious’) electorate in the world’.

It begins to look like the Wars of the Roses, decided not so much by sword, lance and pike but by the shifting personal chancing of the nobility who supplied the armies, seeking favour and patronage from the winner.  The Conservative leadership contest works the same way (though with less bloodshed).

The government is not one man or woman but a team, whoever wins, but the Prime Minister makes and breaks them, and any MP pausing over where to lend his support will have an eye on the favour of the winner.

The wars of York and Lancaster lasted just through the reign of one unfortunate king, King Henry VI, with odd rebellions later until Stoke Field, but the political aspect shows in every local village history (which I spend too much time reading) – estates were seized for treason and granted to new men who lent arms to the winner, and lost again as the time turned, and might be regained in a successful rebellion.  Some too gained estates, raised armies with them and them sought more by a rebellion.

Firstly, the candidates all broadly stand for the same thing – they are all Conservatives.  Therefore whoever wins, Conservative MPs should be able to work with him, whatever they say now.  It is just a question of expected favours.

There are those backbenchers who can pledge their votes according to their genuine preference because they know they are stuck on the back-benches and so are not waiting on the favour of the victor.  They might have no further realistic ambition – just because they are jobless, that does not leave them without influence as many have other roles that keep them busy.  That is the most honest phalanx.

At the other end are those who consider themselves so irreplaceable that they are secured a place in government whoever steps into Downing Street.  If they appear too partisan in favour of one favoured candidate then they can still fall, but it may be safe to speak kindly of several and vote for a popular no-hoper, like Rory Stewart, and wait for the call to carry on as before.  (They still have to avoid being seen speaking for a poisonous candidate, an unrepentant Remainer, but until last weekend there was none to avoid.)

The more interesting group are in the middle – those whose future careers depend on whoever wins.  There each must tread carefully.  Amongst these are most ministers, which is why they have been largely silent.  A winner will want dependable supporters around him, and look for enthusiastic partisans – Boris has Liz, who may expect a good cabinet position in return – but if the gamble fails then the backbenches await the fallen.  Buckingham won his titles and estates from the House of York in this way;  and lost them when he overreached himself.

Then there are backbenchers will no hope of promotion unless they catch the eye of a Prime-Minister-to-be, and they just have to pick the right one, the likely winner, and be seen to shout loudest in his favour. If they lose, they slink back to their farms, but if they win then titles and offices are his.

(I should be called to order by our late patron here:  Thomas Hobbes abjures us that:

“they use words metaphorically; that is, in other sense than that they are ordained for, and thereby deceive others.

Therefore I must take care in overreliance on the metaphor and hope that it will not deceive me, nor of course the readers of this piece.”

With that warning in mind, I should no prolong the metaphor too long.  It is Shakespearean though in places, is it not?  Shakespeare watched the ridiculous, dangerous court politics of the Elizabethan ages and saw little men lifted up and great men tumbled down and wrote of the Plantagenet court as if of current affairs.

Whoever then stands on the steps of Downing Street, they will make enemies, from those they have not favoured as they believe they deserve. As Clifford says:

“The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on.”

Shakespeare had Warwick say:

“Tell him from me that he hath done me wrong, And therefore I’ll uncrown him ere’t be long.”

– but this time there is no kingmaker.

Leadership or caution

They have first to win the most sophisticated electorate in the world, and the man may be right that this might mean ‘the most devious’. More hats are in the ring, and most will fall swiftly by the wayside. Some are hopeless, some helpless, few friendless.

This site is trying to keep the list of Candidates up to date.

Their foibles and fancies are known more by their colleagues than by the rest of us. It is a question of policies, of appear to the electorate, of ability to command and inspire. Policies are the main battleground at the moment, and who will be most likely to effect a Brexit and one which the electorate will love, and what to do with the fatal document, the Withdrawal Agreement. It cannot be wished away.

Soon though come other considerations: Brexit will come and go (we fervently hope) but then government will continue with other issues, and the policies to prevail after that may cause more crises unless anticipated.

Then comes the point which will decide so much – character. Who has the right character to be permitted to hold such a high office as that of the Prime Minister, for that is what is at stake. No one ever judges character properly though: the ‘right’ character is ‘whoever is most like me or what I would like to be’, but in truth there are many types of character within the population, and none is right or wrong (just more or less annoying perhaps, or more or less trustworthy, but not right or wrong as such). Conservatives, as Jordan Peterson has observed, have a particular mindset requiring order and propriety, and we are suspicious or hostile to the open, disordered, liberal mindset, but sometimes the situation needs a creative, disordered mind: we celebrate still those statesmen who showed it, like Disraeli and Churchill.

It is easy to miss an opportunity to get a leader who will achieve in favour of one who can be relied upon to be reliable and unexciting. That must all go to the judgment faced by the most sophisticated, devious electorate in the world.

Rudd, Amber: Green light for Boris

One speculation is dead then: Amber Rudd is not standing for the Conservative leadership. Neither at the moment is she supporting any particular candidate.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Rudd ruled herself out. The headline suggested support for Boris Johnson’s bid, but it is hard to read that in her guarded, reconciliatory tones.

Rudd is a serious player in that she has held a number of Cabinet position, not always successfully, and is currently the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, albeit as a demotion from the office of Home Secretary: however her known pro-EU sympathies and the support she recently expressed for a try-again-and-answer-nicely-this-time referendum has put her amongst the company of the damned as far as Brexiteers are concerned. Her performance too at the Home Office stands against her, so it is a sensible move not to be seen eyeing the top job.

As to Boris, we asked yesterday ‘Is Boris Good Enough‘ and had to conclude that judgments based on personality can miss the point entirely. Here then Amber Rudd sounds cautious: it may be that in a few weeks’ time she will be begging him to keep her in her job, as others bay for her blood and his supporters look for ministerial positions as their rewards. It is a smart move therefore. It is not in any way though a complete, personal endorsement of Boris nor a strike against other candidates.

We can expect a series of similar interviews from ministers and others as they watch the landscape of patronage changing around them.