A no confidence vote in May is possible

John Rentoul has now commented on twitter that I am right when I say that there is no provision in the Conservative Party constitution preventing a fresh vote of no confidence in Theresa May – the prohibition is ONLY in the 1922 Committee’s rules.

In fact the Conservative Party’s Constitution only provides that there shall be a leader and for electing the leader.       These provisions are in Schedule 2 of the Constitution – page 19. 

This is the printed version I have found – it may have been changed but such documents as I have found do not suggest any change to the relevant sections on leadership of the Party.   

The Conservative Party does not like transparency. The Constitution is not readily available. When changes were proposed in 2017 Conservative Home obtained a document that had not been generally released or put on the internet.   There has always been a strong whiff of Stalin’s Kremlin to CCHQ or its predecessor Conservative Central Office; not surprisingly an admiring Khrushchev commented “If I were British I would vote Conservative” 

There is nothing at all in the Constitution about removing a leader.   IF THE NO SECOND NO CONFIDENCE VOTE provision were in the Constitution then the provisions of Schedule 9 to the Constitution would apply to any change – see Page 49 – which is why people are talking of a petition of 10,000 members.    But as anyone who reads the constitution can see there is no such provision

The House of Commons Library, in response to an FoI  request, produced some pages – Rules of 1922 Committee.docx – of what it says are rules of the 1922 Committee, but is not sure of their provenance.  As you can see they are marked in handwriting “desk copy” and the first page is in fact the Schedule from the Constitution.  However the subsequent pages (which start a new numbering of paragraphs).   

It is in this document that one finds provisions for a vote of no confidence by MPs, as part of a document that is headed PROCEDURE FOR THE ELECTION… This follows  a copy of Schedule 2.  

Paragraph 7 provides that if a Leader fails to obtain a majority in a confidence vote “he shall resign”.    I leave it to m’learned friends to decide whether this mandatory provision actually forces a Leader to resign absent anything to incorporate it into the Constitution.    In Paragraph 6 there is the oft cited provision about no further vote “for at least 12 months”.  

Assuming that these are the rules of the 1922 Committee then it must be for the 1922 Committee to change the rules by whatever procedure that it has for so doing – a question that perhaps should be asked as these rules do not seem generally available.    It is possible that the Leader of the Party has a formal veto over changes – Churchill certainly felt able to lay down what was and what was not allowed to the Committee but hesitation in issuing orders even when he had no legal power to do so was not one of that great man’s vices.   There was a fracas after the 2010 election about whether ministers could attend and vote in the committee elections.  

If what the Commons Library produced is not the 1922 Committee Rules, they must be some form of Memorandum of Understanding between the Party and the 1922 Committee and it looks as if the only people able to agree to this for the Party is the Board.    In which case either the Executive of the 1922 or the Committee as a whole (party of the one side) and the Board of the Party (party of the other side) must be capable of reaching an agreement on a new MoU without going through the need to amend the Constitution. 

Unless there is something that gives Theresa May a veto over change in the procedure (and she may of course as I signalled above not be obliged to take any notice of a procedure purporting to require her to resign absent a requirement in the Constitution) then it is open either to the 1922 (either the Executive or the Whole Committee, which might be every Conservative MP or just backbenchers or possible every Cons MP except cabinet Ministers) or to the 1922 and Board acting together to alter the procedures to allow a new election.  

So it is wrong to say that there can be no second no confidence vote in Theresa May’s leadership before the year end.   While the route to this might be difficult or easy, and without the Conservative Party and 1922 Committee being rather more open than they have been to date it is impossible to say, it is clearly possible for the no second no confidence vote rule to be modified or annulled.

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