Late in 2012, I said that a Conservative majority in 2015 is all but impossible, given the split on the right, the unity of the left, and the vote distribution of our electoral system. This isn’t to write off David Cameron’s chances of returning to Downing Street after the next election: he may well end up leading the largest single party again, and either re-form the Coalition, lead a minority administration or find some other means of forming a government. My view may well turn out to be wrong, but I’m far from alone in holding it.
Do some of the Prime Minister’s closest colleagues and senior allies believe it, too, suspect that the Party is heading for Opposition – and, more importantly, find it difficult to conceal that they do? James Forsyth’s column in this week’s Spectator, which has been widely picked up this morning, helps to frame the question, coming as it does after a steady trickle of reporting and commentary about the future leadership ambitions of Boris Johnson and George Osborne – and the role Michael Gove is reportedly playing of supporting the latter’s and opposing the former’s.
I will spare readers the allegations, the denials, the politics, the details, the personal histories and the psycho-analysis: James surveys the landscape thoroughly. All these are worth exploring in due course, but for now it is enough to highlight a point that is in danger of being missed. Far less of this would be happening if the dramatis personae believed that Cameron were poised to win next year – especially the Mayor who, unlike the two Cabinet members, is not one of the Prime Minster’s close friends.
If writers on this site take a view on a matter, they owe it to readers to put it across. Tory Ministers and, yes, Mayors are in a different position. They have a collective responsibility to the Party as well as to the Government, and part of it entails proclaiming the possibility of outright victory – whether they believe it or not. This duty (which in my experience they stick to) is compromised when the enthusiasm and activities of their supporters run out of control – especially when these are respectively concentrated on knocking the credentials of Boris and the behaviour of Gove.
The problem would be lessened were the Mayor to make up his mind whether or not he will stand for the Commons at the next election – and do so quickly. This would quell the uncertainty that is helping to fuel the speculation. Note by contrast the comparative absence of similar problems for Labour. Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umanna: all may doubt whether Miliband will make it to Number 10, but they doing a better job of keeping their problems off the screens and out of the papers than the Conservatives are doing with their own. The longer these stretch on, the more likely they are to help bring about the Miliband premiership which all concerned strive every day to prevent.