Andrea Leadsom is right. A Conservative leadership coronation would be bad for the party and bad for the country, says Comment Central.
Despite Theresa May’s commanding lead in Tuesday night’s ballot, her supporters should resist calling for her rivals to pull out of the race. While such a move would undoubtedly deliver short term benefits, it would only serve to exacerbate the deep divisions that exist in both the Conservative Party and the country as a whole.
Proponents of a coronation argue it will bring an end to the ongoing political and economic hiatus and provide the country with the leadership and stability it so urgently needs. This is undoubtedly true. But it will do nothing to heal the deep divisions the referendum result has caused to this country.
Depriving the 150,000 or so Conservative Party members of their say in who is best to lead the party and govern the country would look like an establishment stitch-up, and leave Brexiteers feeling cheated. A symptom of precisely the sort of disconnect between the country and its leaders that the referendum has revealed. It would also seem counterintuitive to appoint a candidate who backed ‘remain’ (albeit half-heartedly) to replace a serving Prime Minister who stood down because he didn’t favour the leave campaign.
Those favouring a quick result argue the outcome would be a foregone conclusion. And that should May secure an unassailable lead among party grandees, it would be inconceivable that she would not be victorious with the membership as a whole. But this is naïve to the fact such a contest is fraught with uncertainties. Unlike MPs, the party membership will be confronted with a two-horse race, offering the second-placed candidate an opportunity to secure the support of those uncertain about the frontrunner. Besides, recent Conservative Party history contradicts this argument. In 2001, ardent europhile Ken Clarke lost to the fiercely eurosceptic Iain Duncan Smith in the membership vote, despite the former winning the support of the majority of his parliamentary colleagues. This point is even more pertinent should the final contest be a head-to-head fight between a remainer and a Brexiteer (as seems likely).
It may be the case that the attraction of Theresa May, a eurosceptic remainer, is alluring to the membership; that they deem her to be the best candidate to reunite the party. But this is far from certain. And it is important the party membership should be the ones to decide.