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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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.