Selecting the new prime minister

Is the current system fit for purpose?

To which, many would answer ‘no’. The prime minister is the prime minister for the whole country. Although he or she is the leader of the party able to form a government, they are running the country as a whole for the benefit of the all the people. Yet the selection process starts with only Conservative MPs making the choice.

I am sure we can all be confident that the MPs are doing that on the disinterested basis of who might be the best candidate to carry out that extremely important role. There may be some however, just some, who are voting for the candidate who has promised them preferment in some form: maybe even that treasured cabinet post with its car and chauffeur. That is a choice based on personal ambition not on who might be best for the country.

Next comes the vote of the Conservative membership. A self-selected group of trusty souls who live mostly in the south or home counties: around 200,000 of them it seems (since membership of the party has dropped dramatically over the years). How many will have experienced the effects of policies carried out by their party? They read about them in the papers and see interviews with various folk but direct experience? Limited.

And how about the selection process itself with the candidate interviews on television? A great deal of the first session on Channel 4 was taken up with trust issues. A rather pointless exercise in my view which seemed to lead nowhere. Then there were the spats about tax reductions or no tax reductions. Setting aside the nonsense as I have argued elsewhere, that it is a myth that we are automatically better off with lower taxes if services are reduced or are non-existent: the arguments themselves were no more than cursory. It was almost pantomimic ‘oh yes you can!’ ‘oh no you can’t!’ they cried – all that was missing was someone to cry out ‘look behind you’. Only Sunak stood out reasonably well as someone who seemed to know what was actually possible.

In the week when temperature records were broken – and not by just a fraction of a degree – it was chilling to listen to their desire to carry on with fossil fuels.

So we will have just Conservative MPs selecting the two candidates, from an altogether lacklustre field, who will go forward to the final vote of a tiny and extremely unrepresentative part of the kingdom.

And, a factor that does not seem to have occurred yet to the commentariat, is the continuing presence of Johnson. Like a wounded beast, raging but not yet dead, he will be a continuing presence on the backbenches. As a narcissist, he does not, and will not, have any grasp or acceptance of his role in what is to come. As the new PM struggles with the mounting and quite frightening crises which lie ahead, he will be there to jeer and be a focus of discontent. ‘What have you done?’ cries the Mail. Others, such as supporters sent to the backbenches with him will say the same before too long. Neither Sunak, with his history of curious tax arrangements, who will have a great deal of difficulty showing that he has any kind of understanding of how ordinary people live, nor Truss who will quite simply be out of her depth and I think, is a bit delusional, will be able to rise to the challenges. They will also have a great deal of difficulty in distancing themselves from the policies which have led us here and which they so vociferously supported all these past years.

Locally, John Glen MP is supporting Rishi Sunak and he is another one who has relentlessly supported government policies and paraded that support week in and week out in the Salisbury Journal, who must now try and pirouette to a completely new position. What were they debating on Channel 4? Ah yes – trust, that was it.

Altogether, it is simply no way to run a country or to select its leader. Every element of the chain has serious weaknesses and shortcomings. In all the press and media excitement and breathless interviews, it is sometimes difficult to see the overall picture of a failed system guaranteed to produce a failed result. It is just not a way to select our new leader.

Peter Curbishley

CORRECTION: There are 160,000 Conservative members, not 200,000 as stated above. Apologies for the error. PC

UPDATE: Liz Truss was appointed Prime Minister on 7 September 2022

[A personal view not necessarily reflecting the wider membership of SDA]