Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Home Secretaries and Prime Ministers

When Harold Macmillan became Prime Minister in 1957 he appointed his rival Rab Butler (pictured) as Home Secretary despite the latter really coveting the job of Foreign Secretary. At a dinner on his first evening in the job, Butler was bluntly reminded that Home Secretaries rarely become Prime Minister. Years later he protested in his memoirs.

There are exceptions but in the last one hundred and fifty years only three former Home Secretaries have become Prime Minister - Herbert Asquith (Home Secretary 1892-1895), Winston Churchill (1910-1911) and Jim Callaghan (1967-1970). And all of three had subsequently served in other big jobs - Chancellor of the Exchequer for Asquith, Foreign Secretary for Callaghan and a wide array of offices for Churchill.

In modern times the Home Office has developed a reputation as a place where ambitions and careers go to die. This is not entirely fair as a perusal of the list of Home Secretaries over the last century or so will reveal, with a fair number going on to other senior jobs including Chancellor, Foreign Secretary, Leader of either House or even party leader. But it also includes some of the regular "almost men" of British politics such as the missed leadership hopes of Butler (1957-1962), Roy Jenkins (1965-1967 & 1974-1976) and Ken Clarke (1992-1993) whilst Alan Johnson (2009-2010) seems destined to forever be speculated upon for every Labour leadership election.

But in earlier centuries the situation was very different. Between the post's creation in 1782 and 1855, no less than eleven holders also served as Prime Minister in their career. By contrast Foreign Secretaries numbered eight. Chancellors numbered eight (a number somewhat inflated as until 1841 every Prime Minister in the Commons served as their own Chancellor). War and the Colonies Secretaries, a post not created until 1801 and split in 1854, numbered seven. Some of the same men appear on multiple lists (the Duke of Wellington was once simultaneously Prime Minister, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and War and Colonies Secretary!) but the Home Office stands out as one of the biggest jobs in government.

Not that all its holders were on the rise. Two Home Secretaries, Lord North (1783) and Lord Sidmouth (1812-1822; formerly Henry Addington, pictured), were former Prime Ministers. The Duke of Portland (1794-1801) was between premierships. Wellington (1834) was a caretaker Prime Minister holding the fort until Sir Robert Peel (a former Home Secretary 1822-1827 & 1828-1830) could return to London. The height of the post's importance to careers came in the late 1830s when both government and opposition were headed by former Home Secretaries, Lord Melbourne (1830-1834) and Peel.

Only three sitting Home Secretaries have gone on to become Prime Minister (a number that changes tomorrow). Lord Shelburne, the very first Home Secretary (1782), became Prime Minister after a few months upon the death of Lord Rockingham. The aforementioned Melbourne smoothly succeeded Earl Grey in 1834. And Lord Palmerston formed a government upon the collapse of Lord Aberdeen's coalition in 1855.

For Palmerston though the Home Office was something of an anomaly in his career. He had spent nineteen years at the War Office in successive Tory governments and was then Foreign Secretary in every Whig cabinet from 1830 until his resignation in 1851 that led to the downfall of Lord John Russell's first government (Russell had been Home Secretary 1835-1839). When the Whigs and Peelites formed a coalition government in December 1852, Palmerston's inclusion was deemed essential for it to survive yet divisions on foreign affairs remained. When the government collapsed after less than three years, Palmerston formed one of his own and governed, apart from a brief Conservative interlude, until his death in 1865. He was succeeded by his rival, Russell, who resigned a year later when the government was in array over franchise reform.

Russell's final resignation was the definite conclusion of a long period of the Home Secretary being main office for Prime Ministers. Since then many Home Secretaries have managed to make it into other offices but few have gone on to the premiership. The department itself has also acquired an unfortunate reputation, especially in the later years of the Blair/Brown government when a succession of Home Secretaries saw their careers crash and burn.

Theresa May's (pictured) longevity in the Home Office is little short of amazing. She currently has the sixth longest total service in the job and the fifth longest continuous service (Peel's service was in two parts, 1822-1827 and 1828-1830). Had the Conservative leadership election continued until September as planned then later this week she would have overtaken R.A. Cross's first period in office (21 February 1874 to 23 April 1880 - i.e. the second Disraeli government) and next month she would have completely overtaken James Chuter Ede's time (3 August 1945 to 26 October 1951 - i.e. the entirety of the Attlee government). The only two longer continuous serving Home Secretaries after that are Portland, whom she would have overtaken at the end of next May (by which time she would also have overtaken Cross's total time - he also served 24 June 1885 to 1 February 1886), and Sidmouth, whom she would have had to serve until the end of 2019 to overtake. (Peel's total tame would be exceeded in 2018.)

I doubt Theresa May is particularly disappointed about missing out on climbing even further up the list of longest serving Home Secretaries. For tomorrow she becomes the first Prime Minister to have been Home Secretary in thirty-seven years and the first to go straight from the Home Office to 10 Downing Street in 161 years. That is an even more remarkable achievement.

Friday, July 01, 2016

How does the Conservative leadership election work?

I've had a few questions come my way that are all basic variants on this point so here's a quick run-down of the rules:
  • A vacancy is created either by the incumbent resigning (or dying) or else by the parliamentary party passing a motion of no confidence. To force a vote on a motion, 15% of MPs (currently 50) have to write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee requesting one. These requests can be made separately. The motion is voted on by secret ballot and a no-confidenced leader is ineligible to stand in the resulting leadership election. (For some reason, Labour friends have been very interested in this part of the rules. I can't imagine why.)
  • To stand candidates need to be proposed and seconded by MPs taking the Conservative whip; the nominations are public.
  • If more than two candidates stand, there are a succession of ballots of Conservative MPs with the least popular candidate eliminated each time.
  • If a ballot ties for a least popular candidate, it is held again and if it ties again both the least popular drop out.
  • Candidates may also withdraw of their own free will during the rounds.
  • Once the list is reduced to two, the election goes to an all member ballot across the country. To vote, members must have been paid up for at least three months and properly recorded on the party's list.
Since five candidates are standing there's invariably speculation about how much support is needed to get through each round. This is not the easiest question to answer. In theory a candidate needs 1/5 of MPs rounded up to get through the first round, 1/4 up for the second round and 1/3 up to make it to the final two - these figures are 67, 83 and 111 respectively.

But it gets a little more complicated as this is not a quota or transferable vote system. So if one candidate gets significantly more votes than they need in one of these rounds, it reduces the votes needed for other candidates to survive.

Conservative Home is keeping a running tally of MPs' support for the five candidates. Using the current figures at the time of writing (adding in the candidates' own votes) we get Stephen Crabb 22, Liam Fox 8, Michael Gove 18, Andrea Leadsom 18 and Theresa May 87 with a massive 177 MPs still to declare. On these figures May is already assured of reaching the third ballot even without attracting any more support and no-one else is certain of surviving the first.

(I stress on these figures. Past leadership contests have seen some candidates' support drain away due to events and they've had the humiliation of being voted for by fewer MPs than on the running tallies.)

But because of May's showing on these figures, it slightly reduces the target for others. The other candidates would now need only 62 MPs to survive the first ballot, though still 83 for the second. A practical example is the 2001 contest - to be sure of a place in the final two a candidate needed 56 votes on the last MPs' ballot. But as Ken Clarke got 59, this reduced the number needed for his rival to 54 - a figure Iain Duncan Smith reach exactly, beating Michael Portillo by just one vote.

The potential for tactical voting is all too clear. If one of the candidates clearly has more support than necessary, then some of their supporters may be tempted to vote for a different candidate in order to get a more winnable final two. This possibly happened in 2005 when David Davis's campaign was sinking and he was shedding votes between the first and second ballot. In the end he made the final two by just six votes over Liam Fox.

However tactical voting can backfire. In 2001 Michael Portillo was rumoured to have been knocked out by tactical voting by those who thought Ken Clarke would have a better chance against Iain Duncan Smith. History shows how that one turned out.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

My choice for the next Conservative leader is...

Undecided.

Yes I know that's not exciting. But it's the question I'm getting asked the most at the moment so I wanted to put the answer out there.

As we've seen this morning the list of candidates has changed quite a bit and is not settled until nominations close. So it's foolish to rush to make a decision on this.

I will consider all candidates, whether they campaigned for Leave or Remain, who have the right vision for this country, who are credible, who are competent and who can bring unity and take us forward.

But please don't fill up my inboxes with endless forwarded messages and copy & pastes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

This is not a Newham I recognise

Seriously it's not. That image is of Whitechapel Road in Tower Hamlets - the old Royal London Hospital building is prominent on the left. If this Daily Mail article can't even get the right borough (and it's far from alone in using this image), what hope accurate reporting?

Tonight BBC1 is broadcasting Last Whites of the East End about the white residents of my home borough Newham. This is the borough with the lowest proportion of "White British" residents (although they're still the largest single demographic) and has experienced a lot of population movement in the last fifteen years, with many moving out settling in boroughs further east. This is a subject that should be handled sensitively but I fear will instead spawn many kneejerk ignorant articles and posts.

So I'll just say one thing up front. I live just off Green Street (where Upton Park tube station is) and I have never thought I am in Baghdad or any other hypersensational comparison. The only time I have ever been scared around Green Street has been when West Ham were playing Millwall.

In a way the old Newham lives on in another form. It contains Stratford, which gave the last half of its name to "Walford". You can even find a real life street called Albert Square here (sadly no Queen Vic pub). And the E20 post code is now a reality, covering the Olympic Park in Stratford. But EastEnders doesn't remotely reflect modern life. It's an extension of a glamorised past projected forward, not some hidden corner.

I will be watching the documentary with interest to see how accurate a portrayal it gives or whether it sensationally plays with fire. I know I am far from the only person in Newham who wants to make sure the wider world sees an accurate portrayal.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

If you thought Donald Trump was nuts...

Currently Ted Cruz is being looked on as a potential saviour of the world, the last man with a chance to stop Donald Trump. But it seems he has his own bizarre moments:



What a tosser. A gun is a tool not a toy. And what sane country allows anyone, even a political, to play with a machine gun?!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Ronnie Corbett RIP

I have just heard the news that Ronnie Corbett has died. He was a childhood favourite.

In tribute, here's the best known Two Ronnies sketch, "Four Candles":


Monday, February 29, 2016

Can you name the Tanaiste?

I bet most of you can't and some are probably even wondering who or what the Tanaiste is.

The answer is they're the deputy prime minister of Ireland and the current holder, though probably only for a few more weeks, is Joan Burton.

Does it say more about our media or our own consumption of it that whilst the finer details of the battle for the nominations in the US Presidential election has been all over the news, the election just held in Ireland has mostly passed the British media by.

Perhaps that's because Irish politics is hard to understand for many - try explaining the differences between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for starters! Or just why the Labour and Green parties are treated by members of their British counterparts as rather embarrassing relations they don't really want anything to do with. And then there are all the independents, some with rather interesting styles and approaches.

Or it could be because the personalities are little known. Enda Kenny and Gerry Adams are names people here have heard of. Micheál Martin rather less so. And then it falls off a cliff, though in the case of Michael Healy-Rae that's probably not a bad thing.

But whatever the reasoning, the result is that the political deadlock in Ireland with a big blow to the traditional party system, a hung Dáil, lots of parties refusing to work with each other and many independents, some with broad political visions and some merely hunting for pork for their own constituencies, is probably not going to feature much in our news in the weeks to come. And so we won't get that much of a chance to see an alternate way of doing things in a parliament elected by our electoral "reform" [sic] movement's preferred system.

However we don't just have the mainstream news these days,.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

In the referendum I will be supporting...

Vote Leave.

I'll go into more depth in the months to come but I am deeply unconvinced that it is possible to achieve any meaningful reform for the European Union. Meaningful reform would involve a massive rolling back of federalism and an end to the nonsense that to be "constructive" [sic] in Europe we have to meekly accept every power transfer. That's a culture that's not going to give up easily. The choice is clear - ever closer union or withdrawal. There is no third option.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

How do you pronounce "LGBTory"?

A trip into the world of acronyms, logo designs and wordplay.

So how do you pronounce "LGBTory"? Is it "Ell Gee Bee Tory", "Ell Gee Bee Tea Tory" or "Ell Gee Bee Tea Ory"?

Over the years the language, names and acronyms of much to do with lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (and more) matters have frequently changed. The acronyms seem to grow every few years - there's one monster of "LGBTTQQIAAP" that is impossible to remember or say correctly.

But problems also affect LGBT (let's stick to that for here for now) groups. Frequently they find changing acronyms and emphases can cause their own names to come under scrutiny. Initialisms can make it worse as they often lend themselves to pronounceable acronyms and/or fancy logo designs that get mucked up by extra letters.

One of the better known cases was the Liberal Democrats' LGBT group using the short name Delga for many years long after the long name had stopped being "Democrats for Lesbian and Gay Action", a hangover from the days when the newly merged party got in a mess with its name but also because "Liberal Democrats for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Action" is hard to turn into a pronounceable acronym. Eventually in 2011 they became "LGBT+ Lib Dems".

I seem to recall, but can't find a quick chronology to hand to be sure, that the "Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights" was using that title for a number of years after it had formally adopted LGBT as its full scope. It is now "LGBT Labour".

Conservative LGBT groups have been particularly prone to names that make for good acronyms and/or logos. The original "Conservative Campaign for Homosexual Equality" later renamed itself the "Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality" because someone forgot the party hasn't been "Tories" since the 1830s and thought "Torche" made for a fancy acronym. It kept that name until ending in the mid 2000s, long after the rest of terminology had moved on. I forget if the name outlasted the party's old torch logo.

The current Conservative LGBT group also annoyingly uses "Tory" but it's also gone for a portmanteau effect by combining LGBT & Tory to become "LGBTory".  Unfortunately it's got the needs of the logo and the text muddled.

"LGBTory" is frequently written and often spoken as that. And many people don't see a clever portmanteau but rather the omission of Trans. Language matters - if a whole group is left out of the name they naturally wonder if they're also left out of concern.

Now portmanteaus are not uncommon - here's one from the 1990s Doctor Who spin-off video Downtime:



But the name of the institution in the dialogue, in the contemporary novelisation by the original author (one of the Missing Adventures if you're looking) and on the DVD sleeve (sorry I haven't seen the VHS sleeve in many years) is "New World University", written clearly as two separate words. Logos often omit characters that are often present in text - commas are especially likely to be left out.

LGBTory's logo doesn't use multiple coloured letters or an "L" shape to emphasise the joint use of the "T". And what's good for a logo design isn't necessarily good for running text or especially Twitter which frequently destroys the subtlety of capitalisation. It's unsurprising that many ask about Trans or protest about its exclusion.

Currently LGBTory is consulting on a proposed change of name. It's time to correct this unfortunate situation and also take the opportunity to move away from the outdated word "Tory".

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