At about 17:15 hrs GMT today, we will hear the results of the first-round of the Conservative Party leadership contest, with the candidate with the least votes being knocked out of the running.
As someone who is observing across the political divide, I hope the candidates do well. But I hope the eventual winner knows what they are inheriting!
The Conservative Party leadership has been an office secured by election since the mid-1960s, after the furore caused by the 'choosing' by HM the Queen of the 14th Earl of Home to be the next (Conservative) Prime Minister, after Harold Macmillan resigned in 1963.This was on the advice of ministers and apparently went over the wishes of the Parliamentary and National Conservative Party. It was the last time the Queen appointed a Prime Minister on the advice of ministers, and ever since has made such appointments after that individual has been elected by their party (If that party is in office), or by the British people in a general election.
So how has the elections of Conservative leaders gone in the last forty years?
Sir Alec Douglas Home (As he became known after having to quit his Earldom on becoming Prime Minister) quit as Conservative Party leader in 1965, a year after the Party was defeated by Labour in a general election. It is rumoured that he quit under the face of a 'coup d'etat'. He was succeeded by Edward Heath.
(BBC News Online)
Who lost the 1966 general election to Labour, but won in the succesive 1970 election. Only to be defeated in the Feb 1974 general election. As no party had overall control, the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, called for another general election that October. Heath lost this election as well and his enemies (mainly to the right of the party) sought to replace him. Margaret Thatcher challenged him for the leadership in 1975, and Heath resigned after securing eleven less votes from Thatcher in the first ballot.
Margaret Thatcher went on to win three general elections (1979, 1983, and 1997). However her abrassive personality when conducting business, the multi-issues of the Poll Tax, Europe, a growing economic recession, and possibly economic sanctions against South Africa, made her very unpopular. Her bulldozing style of dealing with cabinet ministers who stepped out of line also turned fatal. In 1990, her Deputy (In name only, given the way she treated him), Sir Geoffrey Howe resigned over her inflexible attitude on Europe. A week later he gave a devastating resignation speech in the House of Commons (As writer John O'Farrell put it, it had the anger of the 'Sex Pistols' in the voice of Eyeore). Michael Heseltine, a former cabinet minister who resigned over the issue of Westland, launched a challenge for the leadership the following day and on the first ballot Thatcher had less than four votes to secure her victory, thus precipitating a second ballot. She resigned two days later. Others came into the contest as a result and John Major won on the second ballot.
(BBC News Online)
After winning the 1992 general election. Major faced a variety of problems caused by the long-term ill-effects of Conservative government. High interest rates, decimation of a no of industries, not least the Coal industry, and Europe, which was tearing the Party apart like Earth-plates causing an earthquake. In June 1995 Major 'resigned' the Tory leadership and sought reelection on a 'Put up or shut up' manouvre. John Redwood, the right-wing Secretary of State for Wales, resigned from the cabinet and stood against him. He ended up with 89 votes to Major's 218.
Following the colossal defeat faced by the Conservatives in the 1997 general election, Major resigned the leadership. He was succeeded by William Hague, who led the party to colossal defeat in the 2001 general election.
(BBC News Online)
He was succeeded by Iain Duncan Smith,
who led the Party through poor showings in opinion polls, lack of respect from fellow Conservative MP's, possible sniping from Shadow Cabinet members (It is thought that an inaccurate smear camapign concerning Duncan Smith's wife and expense claims was made by Liam Fox's researcher), all of which led to a motion of no-confidence from Conservative MP's. Duncan Smith was then defeated by 90 votes to his 75.
He was in-turn succeeded by Michael Howard who won by acclamation (no one else stood for the leadership). After the defeat of the Conservative Party, Howard announced his resignation.
So my advice for the next Tory leader! Watch your back, you will be leading a Party that is slow to forgive when things go wrong.