The Blog

If '#CameronMustGo', Does the Tory Party Have Anyone up to the Job?

In the first 10 days of #CameronMustGo trending on Twitter there have been in excess of half a million tweets using the hashtag. Behind in the polls, with Ukip snapping at his ankles like a Pekingese, the mass vote of no confidence in the prime minister is the last thing he needs as he hurtles towards the general election...

In the first 10 days of #CameronMustGo trending on Twitter there have been in excess of half a million tweets using the hashtag. Behind in the polls, with Ukip snapping at his ankles like a Pekingese, the mass vote of no confidence in the prime minister is the last thing he needs as he hurtles towards the general election.

It was a mixed blessing when #CameronMustGo briefly left the UK trending list last Thursday afternoon, after prominent Tory Andrew Mitchell was found by a court to have verbally abused a policeman. The name Andrew Mitchell trended for a while, along with #Plebgate - a reference to the location on Downing Street where Mitchell abused the officer and reportedly called him a "pleb" when prevented from riding his bicycle through a big gate. Interestingly, Mitchell didn't deny using expletives in his outburst against Constable Toby Rowland but denied using the word pleb.

The high court judgement against Mitchell, in libel proceedings against The Sun and a counter claim brought by Constable Rowland against Mitchell, was extremely bad timing for the Conservative Party. It came just days after Tory grandee David Mellor was exposed for verbally attacking a London taxi driver in the most pompous, snobby and ludicrous manner imaginable in the 21st Century.

Despite Mitchell, who has been expressing embittered indignation at allegations against himself for two years, being the recipient of great scorn on Twitter, there ultimately proved to be enough room on the trending list for both him and Cameron. By Thursday evening #CameronMustGo had returned to the top of the trending list, with many tweets also containing the hashtag #ToriesMustGo.

The right wing press have been outraged by #CameronMustGo trending. Amusingly, some commentators were incensed that mere voters should be allowed to express a view about politics within their country. Because, of course, only a tiny privileged minority sitting in newsrooms owned by shadowy multimillionaires should be allowed to do so. Given how threatened the old school papers are by online media, it might have been galling to have to write about a grassroots Twitter phenomenon at all. So the bitterness was understandable, yet at odds with the eagerness in which the traditional media normally poaches stories from Twitter.

The most recurrent themes in the #CameronMustGo tweets have been: increasing inequality, mismanagement of the NHS and privatisation of services, attacks on the poor and the disabled, sluggishness at responding to claims of a powerful paedophile ring involving politicians, inability to deal with Europe and control immigration, weakness in responding to crooked financiers and Cameron's tendency to ignore questions in Parliament.

These issues incensing such a large number of people are clearly a problem for the Conservatives, but the appearance of many #ToriesMustGo tweets after a few days into #CameronMustGo highlights a deeper issue. Cameron going is one thing but it's debatable that the Conservatives have anyone waiting in the wings who could hope to lead a government.

As many of the problems articulated in the #CameronMustGo tweets relate to economic inequality - and many specifically to how the rich have got richer while many poorer people now rely on food banks - it seems unlikely that George Osborne would be seen by many as a good candidate to replace Cameron. The architect of austerity has been unpopular throughout the electoral term, but has been looking particularly foolish and insincere recently. Having had his bold claims of winning Britain a rebate to our EU bill widely dismissed as tall tales, he ultimately skulked away from Europe with his tail between his legs after abandoning a legal challenge to protect bankers bonuses.

Osborne's pre-autumn statement claim of finding a further £2 billion a year for the NHS has also been received with raised eyebrows. It appears that much of the money is not 'new' at all but would be taken from elsewhere in the health budget - and additional money taken from bank fines was Labour's idea. Struggling voters are tired of Osborne claims of conjuring up money and well aware that the Government has failed to control the deficit despite the austerity we have endured - not least because many people have got poorer so tax receipts are falling.

Theresa May is a name that gets mentioned often in discussions about Cameron's replacement. This is rather strange considering the many controversies she has been caught up in since becoming Home Secretary. More than 18 months into the job she refused to take responsibility for border checks being relaxed and instead subsequently dissolved the Border Agency. In 2012 May became only the second Home Secretary in history to be convicted of contempt of court - for disregarding a legal agreement to free an Algerian man from an immigration detention centre.

In many peoples' minds May will always be linked to the slow motion car crash that ensued when Abu Qatada seemingly ran rings around an army of QCs at the Home Office's disposal to avoid deportation. Like a mischievous spectre with a law degree, he haunted May for most of this electoral term. At the moment, however, the biggest shadow hanging over Theresa May is her management of the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Five months after the inquiry was announced there is still an ominous gap where the chair should be, the two previous chairs having resigned after accusations that they are too close to Establishment figures likely to come under scrutiny.

Some on the right of the Conservative Party hope Boris Johnson will be the next leader. This seems unlikely to happen, however, unless the Tories lose the 2015 election. His father has previously insisted that rules should be changed to allow Boris to participate in a leadership battle without even being elected as an MP. This level of entitlement is fascinating but Johnson also has other hurdles to jump before becoming a prime minister.

Assuming that Boris succeeds in the pesky democratic process to become an MP, it is debatable that he would be widely trusted as a safe pair of hands for the country. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since he was sacked in 2004 by then party leader Michael Howard for lying about an affair. And he may have lost public sympathy in the years it has taken him to gain the forgiveness of some in his party.

Media coverage of Boris has changed over the years and he has gone from fluffy panel show buffoon to being described as a "nasty piece of work". The well documented history of getting sacked from The Times for falsifying a quote and telling a friend plotting to get a journalist beaten up that he would provide the man's address cast doubt on Johnson's integrity. Recent revelations about his handling of a billion pound London property deal involving a Chinese company and a questionable tendering process have also raised concerns.

Given his chequered history, it says something about the Tory Party's desperation that Johnson is regarded as a realistic solution to the party's woes. It is perhaps of greater concern, however, that more names are being uttered as potential defectors to Ukip than viable Tory leaders.