Theresa May can be challenged NOW

The often repeated claim that Theresa May’s leadership of the Conservative Party cannot be challenged until November is simply wrong.

The Conservative Party Constitution provides that the initial stage of any leadership contest is a matter for the 1922 Committee. The Constitution does not set down what the 1922 Committee Rules must say, either specifically or in a general provision, for instance requiring that any amendment must be approved by anybody other than the 1922 Committee.

Rule 10 of the Constitution says that there shall be a Leader, elected in accordance with Schedule II. Schedule II does state (paragraph 2) that a Leader “resigning from the leadership..shall not be eligible for re-nomination” but beyond that is silent on the process for forcing a leader out of office. The Party Constitution does not seem to contain any rule imposing a 12 month delay. (I am quoting from an edition of the constitution published in 2004 but no change was proposed in the discussion draft circulated in November 2017 so I assume none was made. (I cannot find a constitution on the Conservative Party website or the electoral commission website.)

This strongly suggests that the rule that prevents a no confidence motion being moved within 12 months of November 2018 is simply one made by the 1922 Committee.

The Commons Library, in response to a freedom of Information Request, has published its desk copy of rules of the 1922 Committee relating to the leadership of the party, with a caveat that they may be out of date. Rule 6 of this disclosure contains a provision that prohibits a further no confidence ballot within 12 months of one being held. Unfortunately the disclosure does not show the full rules of the 1922, including the provisions for amending the rules

It is almost certain that the 1922 Committee can change its rules of its own volition. It would be very surprising if it could not. Although the history of the Committee records peremptory orders from the Leader of the Party – Churchill certainly had no hesitation in giving it orders – it would be extraordinary if it were not able to change its rules if a majority of MPs wanted to..

In that case, if the members of the 1922 (and I cannot be sure whether for this purpose all MPs count, or whether some or all ministers are excluded) were to vote to remove or suspend rule 6, or amend it in some way, then there could be another vote of confidence in the leadership of Theresa May in the near future. The delay would be the time it takes to amend or suspend rules of the 1922 Committee under its own rules.

In 349BC the Athenian orator Demosthenes had to get round a law that restricted the use of public money and prevented it being used to mount an expedition to defend Oynthos, a city under attack from Philip of Macedon. He could not propose using the fund – but he could propose repealing the law that prevented proposing to use the fund for defence. Those Conservative MPs who want to change the leadership can do so.

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