“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?’ ‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.’ ‘The dog did nothing in the night-time.’ ‘That was the curious incident,’ remarked Sherlock Holmes.”
The Conservative Party has issued a joint statement by the Brandon Lewis, Chairman of the Conservative Party along with Cheryl Gillan and Charles Walker, Vice-Chairmen of the 1922 Committee about the forthcoming leadership contest. They will be responsible for arrangements adding:
“None of us will be candidates in the leadership election, nor will we support any candidate. Our focus will be on facilitating a full, fair and frank debate and contest. We have discussed this proposal with the Chairman of the Conservative National Convention, who is also content with it.”
The most interesting point is the lack of any reference to Sir Graham Brady, the Conservative MP for Altrincham and Sale West. As the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, one would usually have expected him to have a central role in managing the proceedings. The only explanation would seem to be that Sir Graham intends to stand himself. Obviously, he is well known and well liked among backbenchers to be able to hold the position he does. His outspoken support for grammar schools is a popular cause among the Party membership. While on the issue of Brexit, he can point to his amendment regarding arrangements for the border with Ireland to show his unifying credentials. He remains a longshot. But then they used to say that about Jeremy Corbyn.
There had been some suggestion that Lewis might also be a candidate. But he has now made clear with this statement that he will not be.
The statement indicated that a new Leader will have been chosen by the end of July. It says:
“After the Prime Minister has resigned as Leader of the Conservative Party, we will begin the process to elect a new Leader. The timetable for this is set by the Executive of the 1922 Committee after consultation with the Party Board, which includes representatives of the voluntary, Parliamentary and professional party. We intend that the Parliamentary stages of the contest – which involves determining the final choice of candidates to put before all members of the party – should begin with the close of nominations in the week commencing 10 June.
“Successive rounds of voting will take place until a final choice of candidates to put to a vote of all party members is determined. We expect that process to be concluded by the end of June, allowing for a series of hustings around the UK for members to meet and question the candidates, then cast their votes in time for the result to be announced before Parliament rises for the summer.”
On Saturday, I urged that the contest should be as open as possible with the public encouraged to attend hustings around the country. I am pleased to see this suggestion has been taken up:
“We are deeply conscious that the Conservatives are not just selecting the person best placed to become the new leader of our party, but also the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. That is a solemn responsibility, particularly at such an important time for our nation. We will therefore propose that the leadership election and hustings involve opportunities for non-members and people who may not yet vote Conservative to meet the candidates and put their questions to them too.”
That is welcome. Having a large number of big meetings for the final two contenders will certainly be an organisational challenge. But it should not be an excuse for delay. The Brexit Party has shown how much ground can be covered with an intensive schedule over less than a month. It is simply that the candidates will have to work hard. A test of their resilience will be all to the good.