Thursday, October 04, 2007

Could Cameron really survive an election defeat?

Amid the ongoing welter of election speculation, one piece that caught my eye today was from Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, in which he argues that while David Cameron's Blackpool speech showed him to be a Prime Minister in the making, he is not yet one that is ready to take over the job in less than a month's time.

It's an interesting thesis in that it rests on the idea that Cameron could lose a general election which the Tories were once expected to win comfortably yet still survive as party leader.

But is he right? Well, history - particularly that of the Tory Party - would strongly suggest otherwise.

The last party leader to be given a second chance after losing one election was Neil Kinnock (1987 and 1992), but he was leader of the Labour Party which traditionally has a more tolerant attitude to defeat. The only post-war Tory leader to be given two bites at the cherry was Edward Heath (1966 and 1970), and this may have been influenced by the fact that he had only been in the job a year when the first of those contests took place.

There is a common consensus that had she lost the 1979 election, even Margaret Thatcher would have been swiftly despatched in favour of a more traditonal, reassuring figure like Jim Prior or Francis Pym.

So could Cameron really buck this trend? Well, I suppose it depends partly on the alternatives.

Some on the right still hanker after a David Davis leadership, but he will be in his 60s by the time the election after next comes round. Liam Fox is the likeliest right-wing challenger, but he has always seemed to me to lack ruthlessness.

Meanwhile William Hague has said repeatedly he does not want the job, certainly not while the party is still in opposition. Chris Grayling is the dark horse, but he scarcely rivals Cameron in the charisma stakes.

It will also, of course, depend on the closeness of the result. If Cameron can succeed in turning Gordon Brown into a John Major figure, dependent on a wafer-thin majority and ever-fighting to beat back the tide of the inevitable Tory advance, then I guess he may well continue in the job.

But even then, I don't expect it will be without a fight.

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5 comments:

septicisle. said...

It would be sheer lunacy to get rid of him even if he loses. Yesterday's speech, while not an election winner, showed that there's no one currently in the Conservative party that could get anywhere near such a wide appeal.

Ted Harvey said...

There is no way Cameron would survive an General Election defeat. His faltering attempts to subject the party to a much-needed make-over have generated much emnity for him within the Party.

As one of the Gruniad journos wrote, the Tory 'unfaithfull' Right are keeping their mouths shut in the face of a quick election threat.
But there is little doubt that this same Right loaths Cameron, like they seemed to loath every Tory Leader after a while in recent years.

Letters From A Tory said...

Not sure Cameron will move over if he can reduce Brown's majority at the next election. Then again, I don't see any obvious replacements at the moment.

UK Daily Pundit said...

Funny you should mention Neil Kinnock getting a second chance. BBC Parliament has been re-running the 1987 election today. Just watched a Dr John Gilbert giving Robin Cook a hard time over Trident.

Anonymous said...

Hang on a minute. It is true that no Tory leader since Heath has survived an electoral defeat. However no Tory leader since Heath has made any attempt to stay as leader after electoral defeat.

The phrase "jumped before they were pushed" is nothing more than speculation.