Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Friday 1 July 2016

The EU Referendum part v: The Conservative Leadership Challenge

With the full line-up for the Conservative leadership challenge announced, you knew I was going to have something to say about it, didn’t you?
More thoughts, still from one woman
photo by James K Barnett

To begin with, it would appear that the Conservatives are going with the Leave vote, at least the Leavers seem to have more confidence than the Remainers when it comes to standing for leadership of the Conservative party, and, by extension, for Prime Minister.

I’m not going to discuss the issue that in a Democratic country we’re going to end up with a PM that a relatively small minority of people voted into office.

Teresa May is the only one of the five candidates who campaigned in the Remain camp. Theoretically, she has a strong following, but with four Leave campaigners running against her, this could be an interesting contest.

The five contenders are:
Teresa May
Michael Gove
Liam Fox
Andrea Leadsom
and Stephen Crabb.

First, I’d like to say that it’s gratifying to have two women on this list. Women should make up a bigger percentage of parliament than they have in the past, and this could be a move in that direction, regardless of whether I personally agree with their political affiliations. There are currently 191 women MPs of the 650 who sit in the House of Commons, a little more than 1 in 4. 

Labour does rather better than the Conservatives when it comes to gender. There are 99 women MPs on the Labour benches and 130 men. On the Conservative side, there are 68 women and 263 men.

Around forty percent of Labour MPs are women, the same ratio as the conservative leadership competition. Only twenty percent of Conservative MPs are women.

These numbers are interesting for several reasons. They show distinct differences in the two parties. As a ratio, there are twice as many women Labour MPs as there are women Conservative MPs. I don’t know why this is, but I’m prepared to raise some questions.

Do women lean more to the left? Are they more likely to be liberal and or socialist than are men?
Is the Labour party, by its nature more inclusive at the upper levels?
If so, is the Conservative party more male centric at the upper levels?
Do Conservative ideals and policies tend to discriminate against women?

Back to the Leadership contest. I’ll say again, four of the five candidates were Leave campaigners. This might suggest that the Conservative party is leaning to the right.

The histories of the candidates are very interesting.

Michael Gove was Oxford educated and a journalist before standing as an MP. He stood next to Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage as a vociferous Leave campaigner. But here’s the contradiction: Michael Gove was raised in Scotland by Socialists… Yes, you read that right. He also began his education at a state school before winning a scholarship to Robert Gordon’s College. I suspect he’s been trying to play with the big boys ever since.

Gove is possibly the highest profile politician of the five with the general public, but he might also be the least popular. This is the man that teachers despise because of his time at the Education office; and doctors and nurses aren’t far behind, given his support of privatising the NHS. He’s also in favour of capital punishment, and was implicated in the expenses scandal.

Gove does have a reasonable record on domestic issues. He opposed the 2006 act to introduce identity cards and called Section 28 a nonsense. This appears to be more because he isn’t interested in this kind of politics than because he is invested in the issues.

And, of course, Gove was a journalist, married to a journalist, which might be how he came to run in the leadership contest at all. Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine leaked an e-mail concerning Boris Johnson’s incompetence, and the rest is history.

Gove is a Christian, a faith he shares with Stephen Crabb.

I wrote about Crabb a couple of days ago, but I’ll copy and paste that information here to complete the line-up

Stephen Crabb was born in Scotland and was raised by his mother, on benefits, living in a council house in Wales. He went to Bristol University as an undergraduate and got his degree before student loans were imposed in 1998. His entire young life was funded by the tax payer. Crabb’s estranged father drew the invalidity benefit for the longterm sick, going back to as early as 1972. For all sensible purposes he was on disability benefits.

I wonder what Crabb’s life would be like had he been born in 2003 and not 1973. He doesn’t seem to question that.

Stephen Crabb’s voting record makes for interesting reading. In March of this year, Crabb voted in favour of cutting disability benefits… Yes, you read that right.

At the Welsh office, Crabb brokered a deal with the treasury to compensate Welsh industries for rising energy costs.

Crabb is a Christian, and he’s married to a French woman. I guess if things get really bad, at least his kids are entitled to dual nationality.

I have no problems with Crabb’s religious beliefs. I do have a problem with his association with Christian Action Research and Education, a Christian, right-wing lobbying group. This group lobbied in support of Section 28, prohibiting sex education, in particular teaching about homosexuality. Some of CARE’s pregnancy centres have also come under scrutiny for misinformation concerning abortion. The organisation has a record of being anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ and anti-prostitution. Crabb’s association with CARE goes back to his internship with the organisation during the 1990s.

Liam Fox… What hasn’t been said about Liam Fox?

Liam Fox screwed more money out of expenses than any other member of the shadow cabinet. He had to pay the money back. He also had to resign as Secretary of State for Defence after a scandal involving a lobbyist, access to the MOD and official foreign visits. Fox voted against gay marriage and is anti-abortion; he is also in favour of abolishing ring-fenced funding for the NHS. Liam Fox believes strongly in the special relationship between the UK and the USA, so, presumably, he’ll be more than happy to snuggle up to Trump if and when the time comes.

Enough said.

Andrea Leadsom was a banker… You really couldn’t make this stuff up. 

Leadsom will (legally) avoid her children paying inheritance tax, and uses off-shore banking arrangements, despite George Osborne suggesting that might not be a good idea… Because she’s clever that way. She also uses the Virgin Islands for some of her financial dealings, presumably because it’s a tax haven. And why should she pay tax like the rest of us? Well, obviously she shouldn’t, because she understands and can exploit the loopholes in the system. Not for nothing, she had a job at the Treasury.

As for her voting record, Leadsom abstained from the vote on gay marriage, and opposes wind farms and European renewable energy targets, despite serving as the Minister of State for Energy at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

And so we come to Theresa May (sometimes Teresa… Who knows?).

Theresa May has worked with four different leaders of the Conservative Party. Under Cameron, she was Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities.

May was Oxford educated, after attending mostly state schools, with a spell at a Catholic independent school. She is the daughter of a clergyman. And, like Leadsom, May had a career in banking and the financial sector before becoming an MP in 1997, after two failed attempts.

Theresa May is the only one of the five leadership candidates to have campaigned for Remain in the EU Referendum, and the only one of the five to support equal marriage rights. She is a Christian and a regular church-goer.

May is, of course, by no means infallible, but she might be the least of all evils.

This is going to be an interesting contest. With Boris Johnson out of the mix, it might be even tougher to call than it was with him in it.

We speculated today that Gove is standing in Johnson’s place to ensure that Theresa May is elected.

But, I wonder what the mood of the Conservative Party actually is. They must be pretty confused. Do they lead? Or do they follow? Do they listen to whatever consciences they might still have? Or do they follow the lead of public opinion? And, if so, is public opinion readable or reliable?

On the issue of leaving the EU, I suspect that public opinion is neither readable nor reliable.

We have been living with centrist politics for a while now, probably since the Blairites came to power, and certainly with the rise to power of Nick Clegg (well, almost rise). The EU Referendum is nothing if not polarising.

Of course 52% of the population are not racist… Perish the thought. However, racists might now be tempted to believe that 52% of the population agrees with their political views. If the Conservatives elect anyone but Theresa May as leader, this could push them to the right.

Here’s the problem though. If we accept that racists are in the minority, and if we accept that the Welsh and Cornish tend to be big Labour supporters, moving to the right won’t do the Conservatives any favours in the long run.

We have no way to know what machinations are going on behind the scenes among the Conservative power players. If they expect Theresa May to win, then has she been set up as a seat-warmer to gauge public opinion? And if that’s the case, and it’s shown that the UK isn’t, in fact, in favour of leaving the EU, how long will it be before Boris Johnson is disavowing Brexit in order to make another bid for the leadership.

I don’t know. Much of this is way beyond my capacity to comprehend.

David Cameron opened a can, and there are worms everywhere.

There are a couple of very interesting scenarios to think about, though. If Theresa May becomes PM and Hillary Clinton wins the Presidential election in the USA, the three most powerful political posts in the World will all be held by women. I'm including Angela Merkel as the third. This could make for interesting times.

If Michael Gove becomes Prime Minister and Scotland decides, by referendum, to leave the UK, then our Scottish born PM will be an immigrant worker... I wonder how the 52% will like them apples.

I am European.

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