MANY of the votes have already been cast to decide who will be our next Prime Minister. A thousand people have even had the chance to vote twice, after receiving two ballot papers. They included Conservative Party members who had moved, married, changed their name, have a second home, or who attended party social events in different constituencies where signing up for membership was obligatory to get a ticket, as part of a desperate drive to halt the steady decline in Tory Party membership.
All this only adds to concerns about the unrepresentative nature of the group electing Britain’s next leader: the 160,000 Conservative Party members are overwhelmingly male, white, and affluent — a profile which leaves most of the population feeling disenfranchised.
Tories have been told that they must not vote twice, but the process is taking place outside the scrutiny of the Electoral Commission, which sets standards for how UK elections are run. To add to the disquiet, one unswervingly Tory newspaper, the Daily Express, has reported that several Conservatives who received their ballot paper on Friday cast their vote over the weekend — and then changed their mind after attending hustings with the two candidates. Many others voted without waiting to evaluate the first head-to-head encounter with the two candidates, who have spent the first part of the contest trying to out-Brexit and out-bribe one another with policies designed to appeal to this unrepresentative selectorate.
All this has been worrying enough, even before the former head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, made the startling public announcement that neither candidate — nor the Leader of the Opposition, he threw in for good measure — are the calibre of leader that Britain has become accustomed to expect. The public seems to agree. A recent poll showed that two-thirds of voters think that neither Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, nor Jeremy Corbyn “was capable of managing Brexit”.
When Tony Blair resigned and handed over the keys of 10 Downing Street to Gordon Brown in 2007, one prominent political commentator complained that the new Prime Minister was “without a mandate from the British people”. The pundit fulminated: “They voted for Tony, and yet they now get Gordon, and a transition about as democratically proper as the transition from Claudius to Nero. It is a scandal.” It was “nothing less than a palace coup”. The writer was Boris Johnson. “Let’s have an election without delay,” he concluded.
Brown and Blair were at least two halves of a double act. This time, the ordinary people — or at least the largest minority of them — voted for the stable centrist Theresa, but it looks as if they will get the volatile right-winger Boris. That is a palace coup of a much more radical kind.
The Conservative Party may well be happy — in the Brexit-mad short term — with this bodge. But it is no way to elect the leader of a democracy. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act (2011) should be amended to ensure that the resignation of a sitting Prime Minister should, in normal circumstances, be immediately followed by a General Election. No doubt that will be a Boris Johnson priority.