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Westlake Legal Group > David Gauke MP

Ex-Tory MPs split three ways on the question of compelling advisers to publish private correspondence

The Government was defeated in this evening’s vote on Dominic Grieve’s proposal that a named list of advisers should publish their private correspondence, by 311 votes to 302. The motion was proposed under Standing Order 24, the mechanism for backbenchers to seize control of Commons business.

No Conservative MPs rebelled in the vote, although some former Conservative MPs voted in favour of Grieve’s motion: nine who now sit as independents, two who now sit as Liberal Democrats, and one from the ever-changing TIGfC (The Independent Group for Change, since you didn’t ask):

 

Independents

Heidi Allen

Guto Bebb

Nick Boles

Ken Clarke

David Gauke

Justine Greening

Dominic Grieve

Sam Gyimah

Oliver Letwin

 

Liberal Democrats

Phillip Lee

Sarah Wollaston

 

TIGfC

Anna Soubry

 

Interestingly, there was evidently a degree of divided opinion among the former Tory MPs sitting as independents. Seven of them – six of whom lost the whip last week – voted with the Government:

 

Independents

Richard Benyon

Steve Brine

Greg Clark

Charlie Elphicke

Stephen Hammond

Caroline Nokes

Rory Stewart

 

In addition, one Labour MP voted with the Government, against the motion:

John Mann

 

The remaining former Tory MPs who lost or resigned the whip last week – Philip Hammond, Richard Harrington, Margot James, Anne Milton, Amber Rudd, Antoinette Sandbach, Nicholas Soames and Ed Vaizey – did not vote.

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The rebels – 21 Conservative and two Labour – on the Letwin SO24 motion

Tory rebels

Here are the 21 Conservative MPs who rebelled to vote for the motion seizing control of Parliamentary business from the Government:

Alistair Burt

Anne Milton

Antoinette Sandbach

Caroline Nokes

David Gauke

Dominic Grieve

Edward Vaizey

Greg Clark

Guto Bebb

Justine Greening

Kenneth Clarke

Margot James

Nicholas Soames

Oliver Letwin

Philip Hammond

Richard Benyon

Richard Harrington

Rory Stewart

Sam Gyimah

Stephen Hammond

Steve Brine

The BBC reports that the Chief Whip has begun to phone round each of them informing them that they have lost the Whip.

Labour rebels

Two Labour MPs – John Mann and Kate Hoey – rebelled against their own party to vote with the Government.

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Stewart Jackson: No Tory acting in good conscience can back this ploy to defy the people

Stewart Jackson was MP for Peterborough from 2005-2017 and was Treasurer of the 1922 Committee 2015-16.

At 4.25pm yesterday, the Brexit Phoney War came to a long- and grimly-anticipated end. Battle commences in earnest today.

Not for the war weary voters, many of whom not unreasonably imagined three years ago that their decision to vote to leave the European Union, in an historic plebiscite, to rejoin the world as an independent, free and self-governing nation for the first time in 46 years, would be respected and honoured. They have long despaired of our Parliamentarians keeping their word and delivering a speedy Brexit. For this reason, Parliament’s reputation with the electorate is at a record low and many mild mannered people want to see the back of our modern Rump Parliament.

Yesterday, at a speech at Policy Exchange, it took a former foreign leader, Australia’s recent premier Tony Abbott, to articulate and crystallise the case for Brexit and British boosterism and renaissance after 31st October, in a way fresh and inspiring and absent from our own domestic discourse.

Meanwhile, for the political classes in SW1, yesterday was the denouement for which they had been waiting since Theresa May’s defenestration and Boris Johnson’s unlikely ascendance in June. It arrived with the publication of Hilary Benn’s EU (Withdrawal) No 6 Bill.

Seldom has the House of Commons seen such a deeply cynical and fundamentally dangerous piece of legislation, which might just as well be entitled the Usurpation of Awkward Referenda Bill No 1. It is the last throw of the dice for the Europhile elite in Westminster and Whitehall and the universities, trades unions, multinational boardrooms, charities, newspapers and TV and radio studios of the UK.

It contains an “enslavement clause,” no doubt the product of collusion and subterfuge with Benn’s friends in Brussels, which actually states that the EU can choose the length of an Article 50 extension – without a limit – and that our Prime Minister must be compelled to agree such a draconian demand.

Yes – three years after British voters decided to leave the EU, Conservative MPs and others will vote for an Act of Parliament which hands over that decision to the EU. This is nothing less than a slow-motion cancellation of Brexit. At the very least, it is a shameless ploy to give the EU an open-ended break clause until Remainers can conjure up the courage (if ever) to seek to Revoke Article 50 or to legislate for a second referendum. Meanwhile, the public would be shut out and ignored. Which Conservative MPs could contemplate giving it their support?

Did anyone say #StoptheCoup, maybe? Or “constitutional outrage”?

Make no mistake, at least three Conservative MPs – David Gauke, Philip Hammond and Alistair Burt, all former Ministers – have sponsored a Bill which seeks to de facto nullify the 2016 EU Referendum result, via primary legislation and without another referendum.

They tell us that they want to avoid a “crash out (sic)” Brexit – even though they have voted three times in statute law for legislation which would clearly and conceivably and most likely have this effect, in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

The idea propagated in last night’s Evening Standard by another ex-Cabinet Minister, Greg Clark, is that after 38 months we need to spend another few months “debating” Brexit! The Commons and the Lords have had endless opportunities since June 2017 to not just reject Theresa May’s ‘deal’ but substitute an alternative – and they have spectacularly failed. Indeed, the myth that Parliament has been excluded from the Brexit process is patently a canard.

Gauke, Hammond and their fellow rebel MPs all stood on a manifesto at the last General Election which solemnly promised that they would adhere to what the voters had willed, after a referendum that, inter alia, Peter Mandelson, Michael Heseltine, John Major, George Osborne, Sadiq Khan, Heidi Allen, Dominic Grieve, Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron had all described as a unique, once in a lifetime event.

It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that many of them simply lied to their voters in 2017.

Frankly, these Remain refuseniks have contributed to this disastrous stasis and borderline national humiliation and near capitulation under Theresa May; a situation in which her appalling surrender deal – written in Berlin and passed to the then Prime Minister by Olly Robbins for dissemination to the Cabinet – was actually compared by Yanis Varoufakis to that inflicted on a conquered nation following wartime defeat.

They have undermined and then broken Cabinet collective responsibility and the basic tenets of Cabinet Government, in a way which would have embarrassed Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell; connived to starve Government departments of adequate funding to prepare appropriate contingency measures in the event of No Deal; worked with opposition parties to undermine their fellow Ministers in the Commons; plotted directly and indirectly with our direct EU interlocutors to cripple the UK negotiating stance and subvert our national interests; engaged in direct negotiations outside their remit with Ministers of a foreign government (Ireland) behind the back of the responsible ministerial team; and helped a deeply flawed and biased Speaker traduce and destroy Parliamentary conventions in order to subvert a referendum result in which voters participated in good faith and in the belief that their votes really mattered (for once).

These holdouts have little intellectual case for their actions; their moral or political rationale is threadbare. Whatever one thinks of Dominic Grieve or the Liberal Democrats or the SNP, they have always at least been fairly shamelessly insouciant in their contempt for the choice the voters made in 2016.

In all good conscience, the likes of David Gauke and Philip Hammond are now indistinguishable from them. They are all preparing to support a Brexit Blocking Bill but they cannot answer the straightforward question:

“What comes next?”

That is because it’s effectively unanswerable. The Withdrawal Agreement has thrice failed to pass the Commons and as a result of their disloyalty and duplicity in seeking to “cut the legs off” the Prime Minister’s negotiating strategy, the European Union has in essence no incentive and will wilfully refuse the chance to relent in its own tough stance. Furthermore, Theresa May’s abuse of the Royal Prerogative in extending Article 50 a full six months, without being mandated so to do by the Commons, was on the strict basis that such an extension would not be for the purpose of further Article 50 negotiations.

They’re obviously playing for time and hope their voters won’t notice their disreputable undemocratic antics. All the time, the corrosive rust of public disgust and opprobrium spreads across our politics and government, and taints all parties and all MPs. It will do so until we quit the EU.

This week, finally we will see if I’m wrong and whether these MPs demonstrate their vaunted principles and really do sacrifice their careers, without, as it happens, even the sure knowledge that their desperate and squalid Bill ever reaches the Statute Book. My guess is it never will.

I certainly don’t want anyone to leave or be thrown out of my party – and certainly not talented and decent people with whom I have been privileged to serve in the past as a Member of Parliament.

We are a broad church indeed and all the better for it but as the Prime Minister has asked:

“Whose side are you on?” Corbyn and the Establishment or the people?

For those who erroneously believe that honouring the biggest democratic vote in British history has turned our party into ‘an English Nationalist Party’, and Boris Johnson, who became Prime Minister with a mandate of two thirds of the party membership on an 87 per cent poll and the support of over half of our MPs, an ersatz Trump, my question is simply: why would you want to stay and carry our colours in such circumstances?

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WATCH: David Gauke says it’s wrong but not a coup

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The Moggcast. “Can we trust Boris?…Yes, he’s deeply trustworthy.”

You can also listen and subscribe to the Moggcast on iTunes, through our YouTube channel, or through the RSS feed here, as well as on Spotify and via numerous leading podcast services.

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The shuffle doesn’t just mould the Government, it also shapes the Select Committees which scrutinise it

If you look down our lists of Cabinet members and other Ministerial appointments, you’ll see a lot of blue. Not in a Party sense, but because that’s the colour code we chose to indicate MPs who supported Boris Johnson in the leadership contest.

So far, an outright majority of those appointed as members of the new Government were Johnson backers. That’s not entirely a shock: politician appoints supporters, to thank them, and wants a team of people who support his central and most controversial policy in place shortly before navigating choppy waters. But it’s fair to say there has been some discussion – not least over the case of Penny Mordaunt – of the impression that this Prime Minister has been rather more harsh on people who backed candidates other than himself.

The shuffle moulds the Government, most obviously. But don’t forget that it also moulds Parliament and the nature of the scrutiny the Government will face from its committees. Selectively promoting your supporters has a knock-on effect. Ministers cannot stand for Select Committee chairmanships, for good reason – so, in a nice bit of constitutional balance, the more Johnsonites (Borissians?) who are appointed to the Government, the fewer there will be available on the backbenches to stand for those committee chairmanships which must be held by Conservative MPs.

Add in the departure from the frontbench of various experienced ministers – David Gauke and Philip Hammond, for example – and the potential for trouble becomes clearer. The more loyal to the Prime Minister the Government is, the higher the proportion of the potential pool of Tory committee chairmen becomes who are, for one reason or another, liable to be somewhat more awkward. And it would hardly be beyond the realm of possibility for Labour MPs to be tempted to vote on exactly that basis, along with any disgruntled Conservatives.

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Johnson’s shuffle. If one asks for decisiveness – for an end to drift – don’t complain when it’s delivered.

ConservativeHome offered Boris Johnson advice on his coming reshuffle over a month ago.  Whatever you do, we said, shuffle with purpose.  Every single member of your new Cabinet must be signed up to leaving the EU on October 31 – without a deal if necessary.  Do or die.  All together now.  Band of brothers (and sisters).  No more Theresa May-era mass resignations over Brexit policy, totting up in the end to over 50, even without taking into account the very last ones.

A question this morning is whether or not the new Prime Minister has followed that train of thought to the point where it crashes into the buffers – and drives uncontrollably through them, leaving a trail of wreckage and corpses in its wake.  For he not only fired those Cabinet members who couldn’t support the policy (those that were left, anyway), but went on to sack many of those who surely could have done, or would at least have made their peace with it.

Jeremy Hunt, Liam Fox, Penny Mordaunt, Damian Hinds, David Mundell, James Brokenshire, Karen Bradley, Jeremy Wright – all of these would presumably have rallied round the new leader.  Two of them, Fox and Mordaunt, were 2016 Brexiteers.  The latter was prominent within Vote Leave.  One of them, Brokenshire, was a Johnson voter in the leadership election.  Yet the new Prime Minister deliberately chose to bundle them up in no fewer than nine full Cabinet sackings.  Greg Clark hung on until the end, while Chris Grayling went of his own volition. That brings the total to ten.

This was the bloodiest Cabinet Walpurgisnacht in modern history – making Macmillan’s night of the long knives look like a day trip to Balamory (although technically the changes marked the start of a new Government, not a shuffle within the old one).  Add the ten to the departure of Theresa May, Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Rory Stewart and David Lidington, and one reaches 15.  And that’s before getting into the dismissal of MPs entitled to attend, such as Mel Stride and Clare Perry.  That’s ten Conservative MPs alienated and in some cases added, perhaps, to the core of perhaps 25 ultra-rebellious Tory Soft Brexiteers and Remainers.  And the Government’s majority soon looks to dwindle to one.

There are many ways of assessing the replacements for the departed 15 or so.  For a start, there is ethnicity.  To Sajid Javid is added Rishi Sunak, now to be Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Alok Sharma at International Development plus, above all, Priti Patel at the Home Office (and of those entitled to attend there is James Cleverly, the new Party Chairman, plus Kwasi Kwarteng).  Then there are women: to Patel, we can add Liz Truss at Trade, Andrea Leadsom at Business, Theresa Villiers at Environment, Nicky Morgan at Culture, Amber Rudd at Work and Pensions.  This is Johnson’s briefed-in-advance “Cabinet for modern Britain”.  May had only three female members of her full Cabinet: Rudd, Mordaunt, Bradley and herself.  Javid was the only ethnic minority member.

As for the changes themselves, they seem to us to be a mixed bag.  Sunak, Cleverly, Leadsom, Robert Buckland at Justice, Ben Wallace at Defence: these are good appointments.  Julian Smith will know the Northern Ireland scene well from his work as Chief Whip.  Alister Jack is presumably in because Johnson wants a Leaver at the Scottish Office.  Nicky Morgan at Culture can take as her motto the saying of Leo X: “God has given us the papacy – let us enjoy it”.  Robert Jenrick, with Sunak one of three authors of a pro-Johnson leadership endorsement, has a big promotion to housing.  Their co-signatory, Oliver Dowden, will be a Cabinet Office Minister “entitled to attend”.

He will be among a swelling group of people: no fewer than ten, including Jacob Rees-Mogg as Leader of the House.  The new Prime Minister is doing nothing to make the Cabinet more compact.  The site would have preferred to see Theresa Villiers back at Northern Ireland rather than pitched in to Michael Gove’s shoes at Environment.  The big experiment will be exposing Gavin Williamson to the electorally-sensitive world of teachers and parents.

But if you want to locate the key to this reshuffle, it isn’t ethnicity, or gender, or finding horses for courses.  Rather, it is support for Johnson himself – and for Brexit. Rudd is the only declared Hunt voter to survive.  Morgan plumped for Gove.  Everyone else voted either for Johnson, right from the start of this contest, or at least after elimination themselves (if we know what they did at all).  Furthermore, 15 out of the 32 people eligible to gather round the Cabinet table voted Leave in 2016, compared to seven out of 29 in May’s last Cabinet.

Dom Raab at the Foreign Office – First Secretary of State, to boot – plus Patel, and Michael Gove at the Cabinet Office, working hand in glove with Dominic Cummings, while Steve Barclay hangs on at DexEU.  These are all general election-ready, Vote Leave veterans.  One has the spooky sensation, looking at this Cabinet and leadership, that the year is somehow 2016 – and that we now have the Government that we should have had then, ready at last to counter the charge that Vote Leave scurried away from Brexit, rather than manning up to deliver it.

Yes, the slaugher is spectacular.  And yes, the demotion of Hunt was unwise – though perhaps not as much so as his own refusal to take responsibility in government for our armed forces.  But look at it all another way.  Johnson stood accused of being a soft touch – indecisive; yielding; vacant.  So one can scarcely complain when he wields – not least before those who look on from abroad – the power that the premiership still has.  Brexiteers are accused of not taking responsibility.  After this shuffle, they can’t be: Johnson and Patel and Raab and company are unmistakably, unmissably in charge.

Remainers and Leavers alike can converge on a shared point.  Vote Leave helped to create Brexit.  Let their leaders now own it.  If one asks for decisiveness – for an end to drift – one can scarcely complain when it’s delivered.

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Johnson’s reshuffle. Live Blog. What will happen to Hunt?

9.45am

We are opening this live blog earlier than is perhaps proper.  Boris Johnson will not kiss hands until this afternoon, after Theresa May’s final PMQs, and a last statement from her outside Downing Street.  He is not Prime Minister yet and therefore cannot formally begin his reshuffle.

However, we can identify some themes and points even at this stage.

  • There will be at least three Cabinet resignations today – Philip Hammond, David Gauke and Rory Stewart are set to depart before Johnson takes office – and there are therefore at least three vacancies round the Cabinet table.  David Lidington will presumably refuse to serve under a Government committed to an October 31 No Deal: ditto, surely, Greg Clark.
  • Julian Smith, who as Chief Whip is entitled to attend Cabinet, is clearly moving up down or out.  That’s because the appointment of a new Chief Whip has been briefed out: Mark Spencer.  Spencer is Number Three in the current Whips’ Office, has served in it since the 2016 election, and is thus very experienced in terms of this relatively inexperienced office.  The key to the appointment seems to be, as so often, in trust: Spencer has served as Johnson’s whip, and the two men get on well.  He is low-profile – which one wants in a whip – has been doubling up as Deputy Commons Leader, and is a former Remainer.  That his appointment has been welcomed on Twitter by both Rory Stewart and Steve Baker is a sign that Spencer has an ecumenical appeal among his colleages.  We also read the appointment as a sign that Johnson expects most of his trouble to come from the pro-Remain wing of the party, and wants to combine reach to it with continuity in the Whips Office.
  • Elsewhere, there is a mass of rumour and speculation, which this blog will try, not entirely successfully, to avoid getting drawn into.  Buzzfeed has a scorecard of conflicting lobby predictionsWe made some recommendations over a month ago, based on the premis that Johnson’s Cabinet members must, repeat must, be committed to leaving on October 31, if necessary without a deal (which raises the question of whether Amber Rudd is now reconciled to this position).  Johnson said that such is his intention when interviewed by this site.  Needless to say, this site will also be keeping a record of which of our ideas have been followed up – if any.
  • Having cautioned against reshuffle briefings, there are two that looks reasonably solid.  The first is that Johnson will appoint “a Cabinet for modern Britain”.  In crude political terms, this means he is seeking to escape being framed by his opponents as a narrow right-winger – a British Trump fixated on a nativist version of Brexit.  In crude appointment terms, that means more women (Theresa May’s Cabinet has only four full women MP members) and more ethnic minority members.  Names to watch for therefore include: Priti Patel, Alok Sharma, Andrea Leadsom, and perhaps Esther McVey, Lucy Frazer, Rishi Sunak and Victoria Atkins.  Either Theresa Villiers or possibly Nicky Morgan could also return, but it is unlikely that both could do so.
  • The second briefing is of a stand-off between Johnson and Jeremy Hunt (which this site can confirm).  The former has reportedly decided to demote Hunt, in effect, by offering him Defence, which the latter is resisting.  For what it’s worth, our take is that the new leader would be wrong to seek to move Hunt down a rung because, if the Foreign Secretary is prepared ultimately to back leaving on October 31, Johnson will need all the senior support for this position he can get.  And after all, Hunt has just nabbed a third of the membership vote in the leadership election.  And our view is also that Hunt would be wrong to refuse Defence: it is a very senior post, if not a great office of state, and many MPs, not to mention Party members, would take a poor view of Hunt being unwilling to take responsibility for our servicemen and women.  Especially after the defence spending aspirations that he expressed during the leadership contest.
  • Finally at this stage, moving Hunt into Defence would mean moving the recently-appointed Penny Mordaunt out of it.  Such a plan would be consistent, given Johnson’s stress on promoting women, with a move up for Mordaunt into a great office of state.  But she was a Hunt supporter during the leadership election, and she and Johnson reportedly don’t get on.  That is an ominous storm-cloud.

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Chris White: What will the new Prime Minister’s Parliamentary options be on Brexit?

Chris White was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House. He is now Managing Director of Newington Communications.

Boris Johnson will have the happy task today of speaking to colleagues and asking them to serve in his new administration. Yet the honeymoon period for our new Prime Minister will be vanishingly brief.

As Henry Newman outlined yesterday in his article on this site, the palatable options open to Johnson are narrow indeed. He has categorically ruled out extending Article 50 – leaving either the agreement of a revised deal, or leaving without a deal as the only realistic outcomes that he can pursue.

How will MPs react? There are now just 100 days before October 31st, when the UK, under the existing legal default, will leave the EU without a deal. If no revised deal can be agreed, and the new Prime Minister reiterates his commitment to leave without a deal, then MPs seeking to stop a No Deal exit will have to decide whether they want once again to try and “take back control”. Here’s how they might do it:

Opposition Days/Business of the House motions

The easiest option would be for MPs to use an Opposition Day debate to seize control of the Commons timetable, allowing time to debate a Bill that would mandate the Prime Minister to seek an extension should a No Deal exit be on the cards at the end of October.

MPs led by Oliver Letwin and Yvette Cooper achieved such an outcome with the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.5) Act in April, when the Commons passed all stages of the Bill in both Houses in five days, proving that backbench MPs can act to seize executive power for a specific and tightly drawn Bill.

However, the last attempt to do this in June, when MPs used an Opposition Day debate to move a motion that would have given them control of the Order Paper on a later day in the month, failed to pass by 11 votes. With a number of Conservative MPs having resigned during the last week or so, such as Alan Duncan, Margot James and Anne Milton, as well as Cabinet Ministers such as Rory Stewart, David Gauke, Greg Clark and Philip Hammond being expected to do so today, the numbers are likely to be much closer if any similar attempt is made in the future.

The biggest problem with this plan is that the scheduling of Opposition Days is in the hands of the Government, and I doubt very much that the new Chief Whip, Mark Spencer, plans to award any before November 1st.

MPs could instead amend any Business of the House motion to give time for debating of an Extension Bill, as they did back in January for the first “Grieve amendment”. Once again, the Government whips will be wise to this trick, and every effort will be made to schedule only general debates, or non-amendable motions over the next few weeks.

SO 24 Emergency debate

The next option is a ‘Standing Order No. 24’ debate. These debates permit an MP to ask the Speaker to allow time for an emergency debate on a particular topic. Traditionally, such debates are unamendable and are not voted on but, at a UCL Constitution Unit debate that I spoke at yesterday with Hilary Benn, he openly talked of this as an option.

Clearly, the Speaker feels there is enough leeway in Standing Order 24 to allow him to award an emergency debate on an amendable motion. This is the most likely course of action – though with very little sitting time before October 31t, it remains to be seen whether MPs have left themselves enough time to get legislation through, and whether the gambit is watertight.

Vote of no confidence

Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, if the Commons defeats the Government on a motion “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”, a 14 day process is triggered in which an alternative is sought. That alternative Government must win a motion “That this House has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”, or else a general election will be triggered. By convention, only the Leader of the Opposition can table this motion and request it for debate the following day, which he has only done on one occasion this year.

The generally accepted timescale has been that, for an election to be held on October 24th, the last Thursday before October 31st, then a motion must be tabled by tomorrow for consideration on September 3rd, the first day back from the summer recess.

Yet if a vote were to be held, and Johnson’s administration were to lose, and were no alternative Government found during those 14 days, then the incumbent Prime Minister would have the power to delay the election beyond October 31st. The accepted timetable relies on the Crown proclamation and dissolution happening virtually on successive days.  But the exact timing of these would remain in the gift of the incumbent Prime Minister, who could choose to delay.

Therefore the last day for tabling of a vote of no confidence to guarantee a change of Government through an election is today, not September 3rd, and the Leader of the Opposition’s dithering has virtually guaranteed that this cannot be used, unless MPs knew they could form an alternative Government in those 14 days.

Conclusion

If Boris Johnson wants to pursue a No Deal exit, then he will have a fight on his hands with MPs. Whilst the options for MPs are narrowing, with Opposition Days, Business of the House motions ruled out, and votes of no confidence extremely unlikely to work in the short timescale, MPs will turn to new procedural devices to try and change the legal default. Recent attempts over the last few weeks haven’t been very productive, but with the Speaker willing to allow the House to ‘come to a view’, it is very hard to predict whether or not they will be successful.

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James Frayne: The new Prime Minister won’t triumph on Leave votes alone. Here’s how he can win some Remain supporters over.

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

It’s not impossible that the Conservatives will need to fight both a general election and a referendum in the next year. It was therefore vital that the Party picked a candidate with a record of successful campaigning – and who believes in the Brexit cause. Jeremy Hunt ran a decent campaign and deserves a serious job, but Party members have chosen the right candidate.

While I’ve been making the case for Boris Johnson’s appointment on these pages for two years, his arrival in Number Ten complicates the Conservatives’ electoral strategy – and the Party must be considering how best to adapt it. They should be exploring full, Clinton-style triangulation.

I stress “explore” because the truth is, we don’t have a clue about where public opinion is at the moment. It would be an understatement to say the polls are a mess. We only know a few things: that the public remains completely divided on Brexit; that the broad Conservative base (activists plus regular voters) has fractured since the Government missed its own self-imposed Brexit deadlines; that there is a risk this broad base will remain fractured if the Government doesn’t deliver Brexit “on time” (although this timetable is probably more flexible than people have said), and that, until recently, the Party has been polling strongly amongst working class and lower middle class Leave voters in the Midlands and North – more so than amongst Remain voters in large cities and across the South.

Everything else is clouded in doubt. As Johnson arrives with his Eurosceptic reputation, we don’t know, for example, if the Southern and urban Remainers who have reluctantly stuck with the Conservatives will now peel off in great numbers to the Lib Dems; we don’t know if Johnson’s record will be enough to keep Midlands and Northern working class and lower middle class Leavers onside, or whether they will be watching the antics of Hammond, Gauke etc and now proclaim “they’re all the same”; we don’t know if there are particular, non-Brexit policies that will appeal to these Remainers or Leavers, and we don’t know if middle class Labour voters are getting sick of the failure of Labour to deal with anti-semitism within the Party ranks. We don’t know any of this and it is hard to say when we will. Not, presumably, until Christmas when Boris Johnson has been Prime Minister for a while (itself an assumption).

But while there is great uncertainty, the Conservatives cannot just sit patiently on the sidelines and watch the action unfold before coming to a decision on their broad governing and campaigning strategy. They have to deliver Brexit  – but they also have to prepare and execute a programme that is going to be good for the country and, yes, let’s be realistic, for their own electoral prospects.

So what should they do? With the polls so messed up, all anyone can do at this point is to sketch out a governing and campaigning hypothesis on the basis of careful thought – and put it to the test.

For five years at least,  I have been advocating a strategy that focuses hard on working class and lower middle class voters in provincial England. I emphatically would not junk this approach; these voters will likely form the basis of the Conservatives broad base for the foreseeable future.

However, for positive and negative reasons, under Boris Johnson, this needs adapting. Positively speaking, these working class and lower middle class voters are, assuming that the Conservatives deliver Brexit (or are seen to die trying), temperamentally more positive towards Johnson than Theresa May.

And not just on Brexit; Johnson instinctively understands the importance of the NHS and schools, he understands public concerns about rising crime, he is unembarrassed about being English or about English history (something that has not been sufficiently explored) and he doesn’t obsess about political correctness. These voters aren’t “locked down” – far from it – but Johnson starts in a good place with them. More needs to be done to keep this voters onside, and I will be setting out some ideas on how in the coming weeks.

Negatively speaking, there’s no denying that Johnson starts in a terrible place with Remain voters full stop – and particularly those from urban, liberal-minded, middle class backgrounds. These are the people that associate – wrongly, but there we are – the Brexit cause with racism and intolerance. He is in a more difficult place than May with these voters, and it would be a disaster for the Party if vast numbers of them peeled away. Johnson needs a high-impact, high-visibility, immediate strategy for these voters – showing that he is the same person that ran London in an inclusive, centrist way.

Which brings us back to Clinton’s triangulating strategy of the mid-1990s. Back in those days, Clinton created a campaigning and governing strategy designed to appeal both to partisan Democrats and to floating voters that leaned Republican. Early Blair did the same, and this is what Johnson’s team should be considering. The Conservatives should deliver Brexit whatever happens, develop a longer-term strategy to turn the Midlands and the North blue, but also launch an assault for liberal-minded Remainers.

What might this entail? The Government is going to have to look again at increasing NHS spending – given the side of that bus, further NHS spending (with reform) is going to be hard to walk away from. It should look to develop a suite of environmental policies that incentivise good behaviour and that wrestle the issue away from the very hard left. The Government should also launch, along the lines of the GREAT campaign, a global PR campaign to encourage the best qualified workers to move to a modern, tolerant, post-Brexit Britain. And the Government should look at making it easier for new parents, at a time when they’re financially stretched, to secure loans for childcare. There will be many other alternatives, but you get the point.

The Conservatives must continue their transition towards becoming the provincial workers party, but the creative energy in the short-term should be directed South.

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