The Pimm’s is flowing. The sun is out. Wimbledon is on the telly. In Westminster circles, that can only mean one thing, ‘silly season’ has begun.
Silly season is the commonly used term for the quiet news period which exists during the Summer when MPs break for Recess. Over-excited MPs and political advisors (often aided by a glass or two of Prosecco) have been known to loosen their self-control at this time of the year. In addition, bored and hot hacks will report on any old thing which can lead to gossip, political plots, silly stories and a never-ending number of rumours.
There is only one small problem with this. Most of the dramatic political stories reported at this stage of the year turn out to only include a smidgen of truth and are quickly forgotten.
So, what is making news in this year’s silly season? As exhibit A we give you #moggmentum. This is the cult building around ultra-posh Eurosceptic Conservative backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg. #moggmentum has reached fever pitch this week with 13,000 people in two days signing a petition for Rees-Mogg to be the next Conservative leader. However, this enthusiasm doesn’t seem to be shared by his fellow MPs, who denied him the opportunity to become the next Chair of the Treasury Select Committee.
The big story of course, which also lies behind #moggmentum, is the future of Theresa May.
Intrinsically not silly, in fact, extremely serious for the future of the country, this will be the dominant story during the summer, although it may yet give rise to many a silly story. A change in Prime Minister would be big news for everyone. So, we assess whether there is any truth in these rumours and how a leadership contest might enfold...
In office, but not in power?
Theresa May’s authority has diminished greatly since the General Election. The loss of her majority and disastrous election campaign has given rise to persistent rumours of an imminent challenge. It is widely accepted that Theresa May will not lead the Tories into the next election.
However, her immediate position appears to have been shored up. The passing of the Queen’s Speech, the deal with the DUP as well as the Corbyn lead in the polls have given the PM some breathing room. Tory back-benchers fearful of a second General Election are stepping back from the breach.
A leadership contest
But, let’s indulge ourselves for a bit. Let’s imagine that the rumours are true and that the Tories are plotting House of Cards style to remove the PM. What would happen next and how would a leadership election be triggered?
48 Tory MPs (15%) need to write to Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench Conservative 1922 Committee, expressing no confidence in the Prime Minister. A sufficient number of letters triggers a vote of no-confidence amongst the Conservative Parliamentary Party.
Should a majority of Tory MPs vote ‘no-confidence’ in Theresa May, she would be compelled to resign. In theory, if May wins this vote she would be entitled to hold onto her position, but given the parliamentary arithmetic she might consider her position untenable and resign anyway. Either way we’d then see a new leadership contest.
Candidates wishing to stand for the Conservative leadership need the support of two other MPs to get on the ballot paper. If multiple candidates stand, ballots are held (reducing the field by one each time) until just two remain. The final two are then presented to the Conservative membership who cast the deciding vote. With approximately 150,000 members and an average age of nearly 60, this 'selectorate' is by no means representative of the country at large.
So, who would the contenders be? The present front runners are David Davis and Philip Hammond.
Davis is boosted by his long-standing Euroscepticism and is considered by some the best candidate for the present time. Chancellor Philip Hammond is seen as a ‘safe pair of hands’ and like Davis has support in the parliamentary party.
From the moderate wing of the party, Home Secretary Amber Rudd would be viewed as a strong candidate. However, her thoughts about running are likely to be hindered by the fight she faces to hold onto her own seat at the next General Election. This could possibly open up room for other candidates such as Justine Greening or Damian Green.
Outside of the front-runners, there are other plausible options to consider. Should the Tories wish to ‘skip a generation’, the likes of Dominic Raab and Rory Stewart from the 2010 intake have been mentioned and are highly thought of. In addition to this, present Cabinet Ministers Sajid Javid and Priti Patel are believed to be weighing up their options. Real long-shots could include figures elected to Parliament in 2015 and 2017 respectively such as James Cleverly and Bim Afolami.
Current Odds, via Oddschecker.
- David Davis - 3/1
- Philip Hammond - 9/2
- Amber Rudd - 10/1
- Damian Green - 22/1
- Sajid Javid - 22/1
- Priti Patel - 33/1
- James Cleverly - 33/1
- Dominic Raab - 40/1
- Justine Greening - 40/1
- Rory Stewart - 50/1
- Bim Afolami - No odds at present
Conservative leadership contests are notoriously unpredictable. Very rarely are they easy to call. In the past they have provided great shocks, for example the victories of Iain Duncan Smith in 2001 and David Cameron in 2005.
So, take the above list with a large pinch of salt but keep an eye out for those names in the media.
If we had to bet, we’d say a leadership contest seems unlikely at present. However, given the potential ramifications this is a story in silly season we’re keeping a closer eye on than most.
*All odds correct at time of writing