It is a cliché that Tory MPs “are the most sophisticated electorate in the world”. In reality they are duplicitous, disingenuous and risk averse, with careerists swayed by herd psychology driven by rumour and misdirection. Or rather, they were.
As Nic Watt confirmed on Newsnight, real-time online publicly available lists of declarations sourced from social media, contacts and the leadership campaigns themselves have made things more transparent. They have reduced the potential for MPs to double or triple pledge their support in private and ended the bluffing that characterised Tory machine politics in the past. Andrew Mitchell’s claims “of we have it in the bag”, Heath’s surprise defeat, Liam Fox’s confident claims of victory – none of this will happen nowadays. Because of the existence of online real-time data, available to all via a browser – a public service pioneered by this website. There is now less opportunity to bluff.
Here is some insight into what has happened in the last few days: the Rishi campaign has decided in their wisdom to freeze Guido out – no briefing, no contact, effectively pretending we don’t exist as a fact of political life. Petulantly putting us in the penalty box for giving Rishi a hard time in the last leadership campaign. We started reporting and publicly recording the support of MPs for Boris on Thursday, and by yesterday evening the Rishi campaign was instructing their supporting MPs to contact us to confirm their support for him. As our records showed support for Rishi catching up with and then pulling ahead of Boris, his campaign reminded supporters to confirm their pledges to us. All can now see the relative strength of candidates’ support.
In this morning’s Times, Matthew Parris today claims that
“Momentum is being manufactured through creating an impression that Johnson is already on his way to victory. Mysterious reports on social media suggest he’s surging ahead among those MPs who are declaring — but the identities of some of these are undisclosed. They will (we’re assured) reveal themselves “later”. The sense of movement this creates is giving those many Conservative MPs who still keep their own counsel the idea that this man is a winner, and (say quieter MPs to themselves), “we’d better declare for him early, as we know he rewards supporters and freezes out the rest”.
Copy which Parris obviously filed yesterday afternoon before we showed Rishi surging ahead that evening. Unhinged analysis, shown to be so, as events unfolded before the ink was dry on his claims.
MPs who have not pledged can be seen by all sides. They are either genuinely undecided – waiting to see which way the wind blows – or biding their time for Machiavellian reasons, or simply ransoming their vote for the highest bid or best favour. What MPs can’t do is double pledge any more. If they tell a campaign they are backing their candidate the campaign expects them to go public. If they don’t go public, they are suspect.
As the pioneers of real-time transparency in this form, we decided to record the preferences of MPs who are whips or 1922 Committee officials or hold offices in the party which require them to be publicly neutral. Which is why we record higher numbers than our rivals. We verify those pledges directly even when campaigns assure us. Which is why when last night we hit 100 for Rishi, the Rishi campaign immediately confirmed to the media they had passed the threshold, despite other media organisations being well behind with their figures. We note with satisfaction that now some of those same media organisations are switching to quoting using our public plus private figures methodology.
Yesterday the site was visited three quarters of a million times, such was the demand for data.* This kind of transparency is now a fact of political life, the game has changed. Changed for the better…