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Tory leadership rivals may be jumping too early

18 March 2014

The Coalition is trying to make today about childcare after announcing plenty of housing initiatives over the weekend. Announcing different policies in a drip-drip in the run-up to the Budget means they get their own limelight – and that’s fine if you’ve got enough left in the larder once the statement itself arrives. George Osborne has learned from the 2012 Budget the art of spinning things out while leaving enough to hand out on the day – particularly giveaways that Sun readers like.

But today is also about the frankly weird shenanigans at the top of the Conservative party which continued this morning with Boris Johnson’s father pressing his case for the party rules to be changed so that the Mayor could be party leader. Last night I revealed that Michael Gove had been ‘torn a new one’ by the Prime Minister for his own intervention about there being too many Etonians at the top, which was interpreted as being the Education Secretary doing George Osborne’s dirty work to further the Chancellor’s leadership ambitions. And Baroness Warsi decided to highlight the Prime Minister’s weak spot by popping up on ITV’s The Agenda with an ‘Eton Mess’ front page.

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There is, of course, jostling in the Lib Dems too, and there’s currently no vacancy there either. Danny Alexander is working hard to raise his profile, which is being read both as a bid for a future leadership contest and also a bid to take over from Vince Cable as the party’s main economy man. This has rattled some of those who also hope to lead the Lib Dems one day although they’ve managed to resist descending into the same strange race that the Conservatives are expending more energy than is necessary over.

The Coalition doesn’t have much to do at the moment. The Queen’s Speech won’t be groaning with legislative excitements and everyone’s keen not to rock the boat (although not everyone is happy with this: one Cabinet minister told me last week that it all seemed ‘too tactical’ and that there were bills waiting across Whitehall which the Coalition could still agree on but which the party chiefs worry would rock the boat). But the government is still announcing policies and goodies, including today’s help with the costs of childcare. But instead of driving that message home, even senior Tories seem interested in something else. They’re not delusional backbenchers who’ve spent too long buzzing about in the greenhouse atrium of Portcullis House: they’re men and women who are governing the country.

The other thing that all this excitement in the party about who succeeds who ignores is that the prize rarely goes to the person who appears to have installed phone lines elsewhere. Some who have attended George Osborne’s various support groups – including the heckling Treasury Support Group – which are now being seen as being part of his longer-term plan to bring MPs on board for a future leadership contest, feel he’s been a bit too unsubtle about it all. The same could be said of Boris. The top of the Tory party seems to have turned into Malvolio, pacing up and down and muttering that ‘some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em’. But those who are getting the most excited now won’t give the impression when the contest comes that they are having greatness thrust upon ’em: they’ll look as though they’ve been plotting for this for years. And perhaps that isn’t the best impression to give to voters: they do want to at least suspect that a party leader wants to govern the country out of something more than their own burning ambition.

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Show comments
  • Jane Martin

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  • Wessex Man

    Look at them, just look at them, do either show any sign of intelligence? lord help us!

  • Mynydd

    Due to his lack of leadership, the infighting just shows how weak Mr Cameron has become. There is now a five way fight for the leadership of the Conservative party, Cameron, Johnson, Osborne, May and Davis. The only question is, when will the men in grey suits come knocking on the door of No 10?.

  • Smithersjones2013

    But what do you expect when you have a lame duck Prime Minister in a Zombie Government that is really only continuing because it has imposed a 5 year fixed term upon itself?

    It just demonstrates how absurd fixed terms governments can be and how damaging coalitions can be. Meanwhile the country drifts in the inertia of political stalemate,

  • monty61

    Hmmm … maybe they all know something we don’t. The phone hacking trial hasn’t got to Andy Coulson yet.

  • No Good Boyo

    I take it the senior members of the party have given up hope of winning the next election.

  • Christopher Horne

    Rats and sacks spring to mind. It’s no wonder politicians are almost universally loathed…

  • Denis_Cooper

    Obviously it would be much better to have a Prime Minister whose private education at St Paul’s only cost his parents about what the average person earns (before tax and National Insurance) rather than one whose private education at Eton cost about half as much again, that would mean that he was much more in touch with ordinary people and how they live their lives.

    • Kitty MLB

      The old politics of envy again. An unfortunate consequence of 13 years
      of Labour and the removal of freedom of choice. as well as wishing
      our leaders did not have the best education for their job
      in public life and consequently the dumbing down of society so that unfortunately
      everyone is the clone of each other. A country full of ordinary politicians
      to govern a nation- not an ordinary job.
      And how his parents who were taxpayers spent their money is
      no ones business.

      • edward

        Choice was removed when grammar schools were abolished which was more than 13 years ago.

        • Wessex Man

          well it was about 40, you can bring them back though- vote UKip!

      • Denis_Cooper

        Your interpretation. My point is that Osborne’s own educational background only differs from that of Cameron in that he went to a somewhat less expensive private school, one which managed to avoid being legally classed as a public school back in the 19th century, but still one which is well beyond the means of the great mass of people in this country unless the child is bright enough to get a scholarship so they don’t have to pay the fees. Therefore as seen by the groundlings having a Pauline as Tory leader and Prime Minister would not be vastly different from the present situation of having an Etonian as Tory leader and Prime Minister, neither could be seen as a man who has made his way to the top purely on his own merits rather than on the back of his parents’ wealth. As it happens my wife is a Paulina and I can say that she got a very good education, but she got it by winning a scholarship not by her parents being wealthy enough to pay the fees for her to go there.

      • Mynydd

        If Labour leaders had the old politics of envy they would have shut down public schools but they didn’t. Labour didn’t remove the freedom of choice, Eton, St Paul’s and all the other public schools are still in business. Are you sure Mr Cameron’s parents were taxpayers, I read a report which said their money was in a offshore tax heaven, from which Mr Cameron received a £600,000 tax free inheritance.

      • BarkingAtTreehuggers

        Curious how the moment you let the market interfere with the education of your sprogs the median outcome in ANY society across the planet suddenly drops.
        Curious how when you grow private education providers to the size of say JB Education in Sweden, the certain outcome is bankruptcy.

        • Wessex Man

          curious how you’ve strung all that together.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            …I think that scattered gibberish musta got waterboarded and chained together.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            …I think that scattered gibberish musta got waterboarded and chained together.

        • MC

          Sorry, why was BSF a “rip off” or in any way similar to private providers of eduaction? BSF wasted money, true, but was about buildings, not about the people who educated our children.

          • BarkingAtTreehuggers

            PFI never was about the buildings but about the long-term FM side of things.

      • MC

        This is nonsense. It’s a suggestion that the “best education” (and that is debatable, I’m not sure we’d call Cameron or Obsorne intellectual titans of politics) does not necessarily lead to the best leaders of the country.
        It also means that people without “his parents” or similar never have a shot at anything because of their supposed lack of “best education”.

      • Gareth Hunt

        The politics of envy? Perhaps, envy is not the right description here. You see meritocracy and private school old boys
        networks are mutually exclusive. The government is made up of too many public school / oxbridge graduates. Your statement: “wishing our leaders did not have the best education for their job,” seems to argue that public school and Oxbridge is the only ‘proper’ route into political life. If you went to a Comp and a non Russell Group University, then please “fuck off” from political life.

        This is a problem – Waarsi and Gove are right, I am a Conservative, but I’m no member of the 1% club. I work freelance (self-employed) and I am no millionaire – my kids won’t be going to Eton. I simply pay my taxes and want Britain to prosper.

        However, should government not be a balanced picture of the very society it professes to govern? I am not talking quotas or anything like that. I am merely saying that the Government, the
        Opposition and a large swathe of parliament come from money. It is not representative; we need to move away from the good men of the Shires mentality as popularized by Francis Urquhart. If MPs are from a specific segment of society then they will predominantly create and enact policy that protects that very social segment – an upper middle class.

        We need a more open and tolerant society and blaming the Labour party en masse for the entire makeup of the cabinet, parliament or even public life is wrong. Freedom of choice is not an analogue for public versus state education. We want our government to be the
        best, but Eton doesn’t necessarily represent the best – I could list a number of criminals and despots Eton and other public schools have created. The issue here is that ‘we’ as a society seem to appease public school education as creators of a better class of individual and it is this – over the right or wrong arguments of public school education – that should be discussed and debated.

        Do we think an Old Etonian is a ‘better person’ than an individual who went to a failing comprehensive, scraped past with enough grades – due to underfunded facilities and inadequate teaching – to
        go to University and finish with a solid degree? The game of politics is, and always will be, a rich man/woman’s game. The structure and salary of the ‘first rungs of the ladder’ illustrate that point. The Royal Bank of Mum and Dad, some argue, is a defacto necessity to enter the pantheon of British politics. I just think we need to evaluate the individual and not the institution.

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