How would the Tories get rid of Cameron?

What the Conservative rule book says about a vote of no confidence and a leadership election.

Tory MP David Ruffley broke cover at the weekend to warn David Cameron that his leadership would be at risk if the Conservatives performed poorly in next year's European elections. He told Sky News's Murnaghan programme: "I think next May's Euro elections might put pressure on him to go harder because there is a lot of speculation in and around Downing Street, so I am led to believe, that Ukip might come first.

"Now if that happens next May there'll be 12 months before the election and some of our colleagues in marginal seats might get a bit windy. I don't think UKIP are going to win seats but they could split the Conservative vote if they are strong and let Labour through in those marginal seats."

Over at the Telegraph, Benedict Brogan suggests that the threat of a putsch is real, reporting that the Conservative whips believe "there is a hard core of about 30 irreconcilables who will do anything to bring down Dave". 

So how would Ruffley and his colleagues go about the putative regicide? Under current Conservative rules, a vote of no confidence is triggered when at least 15 per cent of Tory MPs ("in receipt of the Conservative whip") write to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee (currently Graham Brady) requesting one. This can be done either collectively or separately and the names of the signatories are not disclosed. With 305 sitting Conservative MPs, 46 signatures would be required for a vote to be held. Once this threshold has been met, the chairman in consultation with the leader then determines the date of such a vote "as soon as possible in the circumstances prevailing". 

If the leader wins the support of a simply majority in the vote, they remain leader and no further vote can be held for 12 months from the date of the ballot. If they lose the vote (again, on a simple majority basis), they must resign and may not stand in the leadership election that then follows. Unlike in 1989, when Tory backbencher Anthony Meyer stood against Margaret Thatcher, no "stalking horse" candidate is required to oust the leader. While Cameron would easily win any vote, he would be damaged if a significant minority of MPs either voted against him or abstained. In 1989, Thatcher defeated Meyer by 314 votes to 33, but once spoilt ballots and abstentions were included, it emerged that 60 MPs - 16 per cent of the parliamentary party - had failed to support her. In Meyer's words, people then "started to think the unthinkable". 

Under the current Conservative leadership election rules, adopted in 1998, if there is only one valid nomination, that person is elected. If there are two, both candidates go forward to a vote of the party membership. If there are three or more, a ballot is held within the parliamentary party to determine the two who go forward to the membership. 

In 2005, in the final act of his leadership, Michael Howard attempted to change the rules in order to give MPs, rather than party members, the final say. The move was prompted by the 2001 leadership election, which saw the popular Ken Clarke win the MPs' vote but Iain Duncan Smith trump him in the members' ballot. Unsurprisingly, after Duncan Smith's calamitous time as leader, most felt a Clarke victory would have served the party better. But Howard's proposals failed to win the two-thirds majority required, with only 58 per cent of activists endorsing them (although 71 per cent of MPs did), and the status quo prevailed.  

David Cameron on holiday in Ibiza, Spain. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war