It would help the Tories to lose the 2015 general election

That way they avoid a crisis that could wreck the party

 

Share

Amid the unusually compelling uncertainty about the political future there is one prediction that can be made with confidence. If the Conservatives return to power next year, there will be a referendum on whether or not the UK should leave the European Union.  Already speculation is intense about the outcome of such a referendum and what the result would mean. By contrast, far too little attention is paid to what would happen from the moment David Cameron re-entered Number 10 for a second term. Immediately all hell would break loose.

If the Cameron continues to rule, I predict it would be in another hung parliament, or with the tiniest of majorities. Restive Conservative MPs, obsessive about Europe, would be immensely powerful. They could bring down the Government with a flick of their Eurosceptic fingers.

Cameron and his poor Foreign Secretary - I wonder if William Hague will serve a second term - would travel to different European capitals frantically trying to get what they could from Merkel and co. As Ed Miliband discovered when agonising over what to do in relation to his offer on a referendum, there is no appetite in Europe for a new treaty in the next few years. So Cameron would be seeking change in a vacuum. He would secure some reforms because Merkel and others would do what they could to help, but his mighty MPs would dismiss it all as mere crumbs from the table. Go back for some more! Off they would go again.

The drama would overwhelm all others and could well lead to a schism in the Conservative party. Events would be destabilising for the whole country and a nightmare for Cameron. I cannot see any negotiation with the rest of the EU that keeps the Conservatives together.

Some of the parliamentary occasions connected with the Maastricht Treaty in the 1990s were the most dramatic I have witnessed, with John Major at times on the verge of defeat. Major had just won an historic election victory in 1992, winning more votes than Margaret Thatcher had done in her three electoral triumphs. But those Maastricht debates were a tea party compared with what would happen after the 2015 election.

Until now I have regarded it as absurd when commentators argue that it would be better for the future of a party if it were to lose an election. “Don’t vote for us!” seems to be an unlikely campaign slogan. But in this case I think that defeat in a close election would be the best outcome for the Conservatives. Obviously if Miliband was proposing to hold an in/out referendum, the dangers of schism would also apply to the Tories in opposition. But sensibly Miliband does not intend to hold such a recklessly diverting plebiscite. In the absence of a referendum, the Conservatives would have time in opposition to adjust without any internal split.

Instead of a referendum they would hold a leadership contest, one that might finally deliver the party a formidable and experienced leader. One advantage of Cameron’s relatively laid-back leadership style is that some ministers have acquired space to develop politically. They take decisions and are tested by what follows. Under New Labour, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were so dominant that few ministers grew in the same way. 

Agree or disagree with them, the likely leadership candidates in a Tory contest in 2015 have become bigger figures in power. George Osborne is almost as dominant across the government as Gordon Brown was as a Chancellor and in Cameron has a more compliant Prime Minister. Although he insists he will not stand I suspect that Michael Gove would be a candidate, responding to internal and media pressure to put his name forward. He too has roamed widely as an Education Secretary, far more so than his Labour predecessors at the Department of Education who followed instructions from Blair’s highly active Number 10.

There would be a female candidate, almost certainly Theresa May, who would have withstood the unpredictable pressures of being Home Secretary for five years, an unusually long time for that position. Probably Boris Johnson would stand too, an election-winning Mayor of London. Even he will have faced one daunting, formative challenge by then, navigating the route full of land mines that is becoming an MP again.

That is a weighty line-up, in marked contrast to recent Tory leadership contests that have been closer to a form of light entertainment. In terms of exposure to the bright lights of the political stage, they are a more tested range of candidates than Labour’s in 2010. The winner might offer leadership of depth, substance, subtlety, flexible conviction and authenticity – all of which are required to widen the Conservatives’  appeal.

The opposite applies to Labour. If it were to lose, the unexpected discipline that followed the 2010 defeat would unravel. The party would be broke financially and without any clear sense of direction. All hell would break loose. But scale of hellishness would be greater for Cameron and co if the Conservatives were to win.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent