Conservative party

The Conservative Party needs to pull itself together

BY William Wellesley   /  3 August 2017

The reaction of Conservative MPs to the election result has been as predictable as it has been disappointing: their behaviour has been akin to a pack of feral dogs unable to establish a hierarchy. It has become a tradition for the party to indulge in occasional bouts of self- evisceration. It’s entertaining for observers and usually relatively harmless to the country because of fortuitous timing. This episode is different. Steered by a weak minority Government, the country is entering the most critical period of negotiations since the end of the Second World War and faces the existential threat of the election of a Labour government that is ambivalent to our democratic traditions. Conservative MPs need to put aside factional loyalties and the demands of career self-interest and find a new leader who has demonstrated the best qualifications for the job.

On the issue of leadership, politicians are wont to suggest that those of us in business can never understand their world. Yet, while business is far from perfect, there is a clear and logical process for replacing a Chief Executive. This might include the appointment of an “interim” as a safe pair of hands and will always involve assembling a selection of the best possible long term candidates against a set of objective criteria. Once the most suitable candidate has been identified, every effort will then be made to persuade him or her to accept the role. If this process were translated into the political world, it might have involved the coronation of David Davis as a caretaker PM, who has the more authority than anyone else to negotiate a Brexit deal.

Unfortunately, Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom’s self-interested reaction to a leadership vacancy ruled out any possibility of an interim Prime Minister. So now, we must think long term.

As anyone will attest who has watched sessions of the Scottish parliament, Scottish leaders are far more adept at debating than their English counterparts. And Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, has not just survived amongst this group – she has risen to its very apex. Alone amongst any candidates currently being discussed, she has the crucial ability to dismantle hard left arguments and demonstrate the underlying fallacies and failures of logic. More than this, she has a personality, disposition and personal story – all of which resonate with voters who will, at the very least, listen to what she has to say.

Since becoming Conservative leader in Scotland, she has built up and nurtured an effective team of engaging and appealing Scottish candidates, demonstrating that she is both a team player and a team leader. Her two greatest achievements have been through hard work, careful planning and persistency in the face of scepticism. Over the period since 2011, she has both detoxified the Conservative brand in Scotland, and effectively halted further moves towards independence in the foreseeable future.

She is not only one of the most experienced electoral campaigners amongst UK Conservatives, but she is also, without question, the most effective. She is far better qualified to become a party leader than either Tony Blair or David Cameron at the beginning of their time in office. There is much talk of the leadership skipping a generation with the likely emergence of strong candidates from recent parliamentary intakes, but it would seem to me to be an unnecessary and unacceptable risk to choose someone who has no track record of performance at a high level – and it is certainly one that very few businesses would accept.

It is clear that she has no desire to become involved in UK politics at the current time, regards her job in Scotland as only half done, and, of course, has strong personal ties to Scotland. It is also clear that there are practical difficulties which would need to be overcome and which will be played up by MPs driven by self interest in not wanting disruption to their careers and the factional groups to which they belong. For the sake of country, not just the party, political insiders must for once act with altruism and do everything possible to get her to reconsider this position and to come to the rescue of the United Kingdom for a second time.