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…
Hardline centrist pundits who consider themselves to be homme sérieux have wasted no time in rushing to judgement on Liz Truss’s character and prospects:
“No vision, no charisma, no real plan: Labour has nothing to fear from Liz Truss” is the headline on Polly Toynbee’s article that will no doubt set the tone for many Guardian stories to come.
As Allister Heath pointed out this morning:
“It is astonishing that pundits with no understanding of economics dismiss the Prime Minister’s ability in this area: she actually worked as an economist for Shell (ideal in the current climate) and as an economic director for Cable and Wireless. The first accountant ever in No 10 – she holds the qualification from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants – she is more financially literate and comfortable with complex policy matters than almost all of those who patronise her. The fact that she is reflexively written off as lightweight, a dilettante even, is more a reflection of the bizarrely misogynistic and classist minds of some of her more extreme critics than of any objective reality.”
Britain faces challenging economic times, in Liz Truss we have someone far better qualified to address the nation’s troubles than are her opponents. Her enemies are likely to find out, not for the first time, they underestimated her.
Matthew Parris discusses Penny Mordaunt’s appeal on Radio 4’s Today Programme…
“She’s a bit of a mystery I think to all of us, in her favour she has an attractive personality, she is obviously fun, she sounds like a good sport, but on the other side of the balance, I think the thing she’s got to rebut is that she is flaky, the politics of the shallow end, she was once a magician’s assistant. You can’t cut the deficit in half.”
Matthew Parris self-diagnoses as a Remainiac:
“There’s no denying it. My spirit is restless and I must confess. This Brexit thing is driving me slightly mad. And I do mean that clinically: not as a rhetorical flourish. My mental state, like that of so many I know on both sides of the Remain/Brexit divide, is capable of medical diagnosis. A shaft of insanity has pierced our interior lives. I really am becoming a Remainiac… I know I’m boring my readers; know there’s almost nothing left to be said; know that the voice in my head, my mother’s voice, telling me I just need a good night’s sleep, is right… Is it not the first and clearest indication that the balance of one’s mind has been disturbed that, when having done all one reasonably can to achieve a result, one simply cannot let something go? What is the point of waking up at 3 a.m. and fretting sleepless until sunrise that we are leaving the European Union?”