Thursday, 28 August 2014

First Thoughts on Douglas Carswell's Defection

Today has seen the news that Douglas Carswell, MP for Clacton, has defected to the UK Independence Party, and will contest a by-election.

A short while ago, I questioned the Daily Mail's idea of how Boris Johnson could become Prime Minister, but had a caveat - namely Newkip. To sum up, if there were to be a small contingent of UKIP MPs in Parliament after the May 2015 general election, then Conservative MPs who voted against a Conservative/Liberal Democrat Queen's Speech and lost the whip as a result could either defect straight to UKIP or form a new party that would have a relationship with UKIP akin to that between the Liberals and the Social Democrats in the 1980s.

At this point it may seem very odd to talk about one of the most pointless elections in the United Kingdom in the 21st century - the Northern Ireland Assembly election of November 2003. With no devolution, it didn't have a role to fulfill. But, look at Lagan Valley. Top of the poll there was the Ulster Unionist Party's Jeffrey Donaldson, the sitting MP for Lagan Valley.

And look closer - failing to be elected as a Democratic Unionist Party candidate was Andrew Hunter, at the time the MP for Basingstoke. Donaldson and Hunter had one thing in common - neither of them were MPs for the parties they were standing for in the Assembly election.

Hunter had been Conservative MP for Basingstoke since the June 1983 general election, but had lost the Conservative whip in October 2002 when he confirmed he would contest the Assembly elections for the DUP, but didn't become a DUP MP until December 2004. Donaldson had been UUP MP for Lagan Valley since the May 1997 general election, but in June 2003 he - along with Antrim South's David Burnside and Belfast South's Martin Smyth - resigned the UUP whip in the House of Commons.

In the June 2001 general election, the UUP ended up 1 seat ahead of the DUP. The June 2003 defections put the DUP ahead - but surely this would be temporary.

In January 2004 Donaldson did something that was game-changing - he defected to the DUP (Burnside and Smyth followed this by accepting the UUP whip again). The DUP's lead over the UUP could no longer be a temporary thing. And at the May 2005 general election, the DUP returned 9 MPs, to the UUP's 1, Sylvia Hermon in Down North.

I remember realising a couple of things at the time - Donaldson's defection was bad news for the UUP. But I thought it would be bad news for the then leader of the DUP, Ian Paisley.

This might sound odd - after all, Paisley had achieved the position of being leader of Northern Ireland's largest party, and in in October 2005 was appointed to the Privy Council, being given the honour traditionally awarded to the UUP leader, as if the Establishment was recognising the DUP as the voice of Unionism.

Alongside Donaldson, Arlene Foster, who had been elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Fermanagh & South Tyrone - and is now the Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Investment - also defected from the UUP to the DUP.

So, why had I considered it to be bad news for Paisley? Yes, the DUP would be getting stronger and bigger, but it is easier to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond. A Bennite might welcome the 1997 election as finally bringing a Labour government, but would also know that this was a larger Labour in which Bennite views were in the small minority. Paisley's party could grow - with Paisleyism becoming a minority viewpoint.

And, in a similar fashion, Donaldson and Foster were the modern, younger, professional politicians who could bring over the sort of middle-class Unionists who traditionally voted UUP.

Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader and Member of the European Parliament for South East England, has been chosen as UKIP's candidate for Thanet South. Just imagine if he wins.

UKIP MEPs seem to focus on silly stunts at the European Parliament and have poor attendance records. Such an attitude won't go down well in the House of Commons. Picture Farage arriving at Westminster next May as the MP for Thanet South, and then being greeted by his parliamentary colleague for Clacton - who will have a decade's experience of being an MP, and knows the hard slog and committee work and debating Bills and constituency surgeries. And if UKIP is in discussion with other Conservative MPs about defecting, then Farage would arrive to find an established contingent of UKIP MPs who have been together as a group for months, with a parliamentary leader, receiving Short money, getting used to their parliamentary leader being allowed to ask a question at Prime Minister's Questions, and all the things that are part and parcel of being a minor party in the House of Commons. The more Conservative (and maybe Labour Eurosceptic) MPs who defect, the bigger the pond that Farage would find himself in, full of experienced MPs with him as the newcomer.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

If There Were A New Boundary Review, Would The Hampshire Constituencies Survive?

It is fortunately rare that oodles of parliamentary time is spent on an Act of Parliament which becomes law but which has no impact - and we had the Parliamentary Voting System & Constituencies Act 2011 which fell into that category. It had two purposes:

  1. A referendum on switching from Single Member Plurality (often called "First Past The Post") to the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons
  2. Changing the way that boundary reviews are carried out, so the House of Commons is fixed at 600 MPs and all constituencies (with rare exceptions) are within 5% of the electoral quota

In May 2011, a switch to AV was rejected in a referendum.

And a clause in the Electoral Registration & Administration Act 2013 postponed the Boundary Commissions submitting their reports from 2013 to 2018 - effectively meaning that May 2015 general election would be held on the current constituency boundaries.

One of the controversial aspects of the Act was that the constituency boundaries would be constantly reviewed - every 5 years the Boundary Commissions would be submitting reports to Parliament (which could, in theory, vote them down). This led to concerns about constantly changing constituencies, with some wards constantly flitting from constituency-to-constituency, the way Chandlers' Ford is often treated as a problem to be fitted in somewhere.

The Boundary Commission for England did draw up proposals, and I am using the 2014 electorates to examine one issue - supposing these proposals had gone ahead and been approved, would they be viable for the May 2020 general election?

Begin by looking at the number of constituencies that each English region would have:

Region Constituencies
Boundary Commission report On 2014 electorate
Eastern England 56 56
East Midlands 44 44
London 68 69
North East England 26 26
North West England 68 68
South East England (excluding the Isle of Wight) 81 82
South West England 53 52
West Midlands 54 53
Yorkshire & Humberside 50 50

As can be seen immediately, if the Boundary Commission proposals were introduced, then in the next review, London and South East England would each gain a seat, while South West England and the West Midlands would each lose a seat, meaning that there would be constituency changes in those regions at least.

The electoral quota would be 76,970, and on a 5% rule, constituencies would have to be within 3,848 electors of that - so the minimum size is 73,122 and the maximum 80,818.

We can now break down South East England:

County Constituency entitlement Nearest integer Difference from quota
Berkshire 8.02 8 235 over
Buckinghamshire 7.31 7 3,462 over
East Sussex 7.63 8 3,584 under
Hampshire 17.29 17 1,291 over
Kent 16.34 16 1,648 over
Oxfordshire 6.25 6 3,238 over
Surrey 10.86 11 995 under
West Sussex 7.86 8 1,337 under

If you add up the integers, we get 81 - so one less than the 82 that South East England would be entitled to. The reason for this is that South East England would be entitled to 81.57 constituencies, so when you start dividing it up and rounding to the nearest integer there is no surprise that we would be a seat out.

There are some counties - Buckinghamshire, East Sussex and Oxfordshire - where the average constituency size would be close to the maximum or minimum allowed. Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire would be entitled to 13.57 seats between them, and so together could have 14 constituencies (rather than the 13 if treated separately) with the average being 2,379 below the electoral quota.

The proposed pairing of East Sussex with Kent would be entitled to 23.97 seats between them, and if they had 24 constituencies, then the average would be 96 below the electoral quota.

This gives the constituency allocation for the sub-regions as:

Sub-region Constituencies
Boundary Commission report On 2014 electorate
Berkshire & Surrey* 19 19
Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire 13 14
East Sussex & Kent 24 24
Hampshire 17 17
West Sussex 8 8

[* The Boundary Commission proposed a Spelthorne constituency that would cross the Berkshire/Surrey border]

We should also note there are local authorities which would be the right size for one constituency - Crawley, Lewes, Shepway, Tunbridge Wells, West Oxfordshire and Worthing. Not all of these would be reasonable - Lewes separates Brighton & Hove from the rest of East Sussex (and the Boundary Commission proposed splitting it between Brighton East & Seahaven and Lewes & Uckfield).

The Boundary Commission proposed keeping Worthing split between Worthing East & Shoreham and Worthing West. A single Worthing seat would cause disruption - looking at the map of South East England it seems that Arundel & South Downs would have to be split up.

The Commission proposed splitting Shepway between Dover & Deal (just one ward - North Downs East) and Folkestone & Hythe (which contains only one non-Shepway ward - Saxon Shore from Ashford).

The Commission proposed splitting Tunbridge Wells between The Weald and Tunbridge Wells.

Crawley and West Oxfordshire are coterminous with the constituencies of Crawley and Witney.

Next we can look at the electorates of the proposed constituencies based on current figures:

Constituency Electorate From quota
Aldershot* 81,595 +6.01%
Basingstoke 81,277 +5.60%
Eastleigh 80,686 +4.83%
Fareham 77,982 +1.31%
Gosport 80,552 +4.65%
Hampshire East 73,574 -4.41%
Hampshire North East & Alton* 78,868 +2.47%
Hampshire North West 82,328 +7.03%
Havant 79,459 +3.23%
New Forest East 73,377 -4.67%
New Forest West 73,679 -4.28%
Portsmouth East 77,963 +1.29%
Portsmouth West 72,334 -6.01%
Romsey 81,390 +5.74%
Southampton Itchen 74,712 -2.93%
Southampton Test 79,469 +3.25%
Winchester 81,131 +5.41%

[* After the Boundary Commission drew up its revised proposals, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England drew up a new set of wards for the District of Hart. Hence some new Hart wards are split between the proposed Aldershot and Hampshire North East & Alton constituencies. The figures I've given may not be totally accurate]

Most constituencies are above the electoral quota - that's just a feature of Hampshire being a little bit too small for 18 constituencies.

One thing that stands out is the way that Hampshire's population centre-of-gravity is shifting northwards. In part this could be a new era's "M3 rule" - it used to be said that the Liberal Democrats won by-elections in seats on or near the M3. And the first impression is that the population is increasing along main rail lines (the line from London Waterloo to Exeter St Davids) and the M3. Unlike the Local Government Boundary Commission - which asks councils for predicted future electorates - the Boundary Commission for England has no power to consider this, only being allowed to take into account the electorate at one fixed point in time.

It is clear that if the Boundary Commission's proposed constituencies had been implemented for the May 2015 general election, then there would need to be a redrawing for the May 2020 general election as 5 constituencies are now larger than the maximum and 1 smaller than the minimum.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Howard & Hilda From Hemel Hempstead - The Double Standards Of Authoritarians

I was a bit bemused by Richard Littlejohn's column in today's Daily Mail:

How many times have we seen young Asian men with backpacks pass seamlessly through security while Howard and Hilda from Hemel Hempstead are forced to stand and watch as the contents of their hand-luggage are examined with forensic precision?

Ooh, the cliches.

Having flown several times, I can tell you the number of times I have seen "young Asian men with backpacks" (define Asian please. Russian? Chinese? Indian? Arab?) walk through airport security whilst elderly couples have their hand luggage examined with forensic precision.

None. Nil. Nada. Zilch.

Anyway, if Howard and Hilda have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to fear.

I notice something about those who loudly call for more authoritarian measures, always with the "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" argument that is designed to shut down any libertarian reasoning using the ad hominem logic - if you don't support a toughening up of security, then clearly you are a bad person who is worried that something will come to light.

And that is that it seems fine that any new powers the police might get are used against people who "look a little bit Muslim" or are anything "different". But when they get used against people who are decent, respectable, white, i.e. "like us", then it's wrong.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Is "Missy" River Song?

On Saturday evening, I went to the cinema to see Doctor Who's Season 34 opener - Deep Breath. At the end, we are introduced to a strange character calling herself - and credited as - "Missy", played by Michelle Gomez, although in publicity material she has been referred to as the Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere.

I am wondering whether Missy is River Song.

The final two stories of this season will be In The Forest Of The Night and Dark Water/Death In Heaven.

There have been a couple of times where forests have been connected with River. Firstly, her debut was in Season 30's Silence In The Library/Forest Of The Dead (were there Silence in the library? I don't recall seeing any). And it is during Season 32's A Good Man Goes To War that we learn she is Melody Pond - in the Gamma Forests, as the TARDIS told Rory Williams in The Doctor's Wife, the only water is the river.

Dark Water - so, does the water here refer to River, and, as the Gatekeeper, are we faced with a River who is a much darker character?

If we recall River's fate, it was to spend forever in a computer-generated reality in the Library (is this the Nethersphere?). And those who had been killed on her expedition were uploaded to the computer thanks to their data ghosts.

No doubt, in 3 months time, I'll be proven wrong....

Where Are The UKIP Voters Coming From?

If you've been following my blog, you will know that I have been working on projecting the May 2014 European election onto the constituencies used for the May 2010 general election (and which will be used for the May 2015 general election).

One thing is the surge in UK Independence Party support, and from the types of constituencies they "won" in May, there seem to be various strands of support.

The first one is what we can call the Maggie-Tony-Nigel voters. Seats which fell to Labour in the May 1997 landslide, have returned to the Conservatives and in May were won by UKIP. The impression here is that these were areas where the Conservatives did well when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and were won over by Tony Blair when he became leader of the Labour Party, becoming key in Labour winning the 1997 general election, and stuck with him in June 2001. By the May 2005 election, Blair had become jaded and tired, and these voters were losing faith in him, half-heartedly turning back to the Conservatives, while waiting for something else to come along. One thing that is striking is just how fickle these sorts of seats are - the Conservatives could lose their 2005 and 2010 seats easily.

The second one is the rural Tories. Another striking feature are true-blue rural areas falling to UKIP. Whether this is due to the Conservatives being seen as more urbanised, or for another reason (UKIP's stance on HS2?), I cannot be sure.

The third one is the radical Western Liberals. Even as early as the May 1999 European elections, it was clear that UKIP were doing well in parts of South West England which had Liberal Democrat MPs. And this has accelerated. If you want your politics to be slightly anti-establishment, you're not likely to vote for a party that is in Government.

The fourth one is the Northern Old Labour. What is noticeable is that UKIP topped the poll in seats which stuck with Labour through its lowest point - the June 1983 general election. Why abandon Labour now? Well, consider where Labour was ideologically in 1983 - one of its major policies at the time was to withdraw from the European Communities (the collective term for what were then the European Coal & Steel Community, the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Economic Community). And there was still quite a socially conservative strand reflecting general working-class values. Labour is now socially liberal and pro-EU, and for these voters UKIP offers them the Labour Party from an earlier era.

I appreciate these are quite broad generalisations, but the impression I get is that UKIP has been drawing its support from these different groups.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Queen Of The rUK

I was interested to see a suggestion in a letter in The Times that if Scotland were to vote for independence, then there would have to be someone from Scotland as that country's Governor-General.

In April 1199, Richard I, the King of England, died, and he was succeeded by his brother John, who held the title of "Lord of Ireland". From that point, the King of England was also Lord of Ireland. Under the Crown of Ireland Act 1542, the Irish Parliament recognised Henry VIII as being King of Ireland.

In March 1603, Henry's younger daughter - and last remaining legitimate descendant - Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland, died. Under the terms of his will, if this happened, then the throne would go to the descendants of Mary, the youngest of his two sisters. Mary had, unsurprisingly, died a long time before her niece (just under half a century earlier, in June 1533). Neither of Mary's sons achieved adulthood, so we need to look at her daughters. The elder was Frances, who had died in November 1559, and she had had 3 daughters - the eldest of which, Jane, had briefly been Queen. The second daughter, Catherine, had died in January 1568, being married to Edward Seymour, the nephew of Henry's third wife, Jane.

If Henry's will had been followed, then the next Edward Seymour, Catherine's 41-year-old son, would have succeeded Elizabeth as Edward VII, and today we would have Teresa Freeman-Grenville as Queen.

However, the elder of Henry's sisters was Margaret, who had married James IV of Scotland, and hence was grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots. And upon Elizabeth' death, Mary's son, James VI of Scotland, became King of England and Ireland. This is the Union of Crowns. Note that England and Scotland were legally distinct countries (as indeed was Ireland - to which we come to later).

You might notice that I have not mentioned Wales - at the time, it was part of the Kingdom of England.

In May 1707, the Kingdoms of England and Scotland united to form Great Britain.

In January 1801, Great Britain and Ireland united to form the United Kingdom - which reduced in size when the Irish Free State was created in December 1922.

First thing to note - and very important to note - there is no such person as "the Queen of England". Hasn't been for the past 307 years. In discussions about Scotland's future, have no time for silly ideas that Scotland would have to lose the Queen if it becomes independent. It was the Scottish royal family that got the English throne, not vice versa.

When it comes to discussing Scottish independence, we have been here before. As I have mentioned, the United Kingdom used to be a bigger place until about 92 years ago, when 26 counties in Ireland became a separate nation. There is nothing new in the issues independence raises.

It is true that the Irish Free State, as per Article 60 of the 1st Schedule of the Constitution of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) Act, 1922, had a Governor-General to exercise regal functions on behalf of George V. The post's functions were abolished under the Constitution (Amendment No. 27) Act 1936 and in December 1936, Domhnall Ua Buachalla left office (by giving Royal Assent to that Act) and was not replaced. The post of Governor-General was abolished by the Executive Powers (Consequential Provisions) Act 1937.

But Scotland is a slightly different case to the Irish Free State. The monarchs of England (and later Great Britain) were the monarchs of Ireland from 1199 to 1707 due to conquest. In 1603 the Scottish monarch became also the English one. The Royal Family had no personal residences in Ireland, while in Scotland there is Balmoral - a place I have visited a few times, mainly to see Crathie Kirkyard where my great-great-great-grandfather, John Spong (who was Queen Victoria's travelling tapessier) is buried. There is a royal presence in Scotland which there wasn't in Ireland. Scotland is a home for the royals.

Scotland is not like Canada or Australia or New Zealand - all of which were British colonies which became independent while keeping the British monarch as head of state. Scotland is an old nation. It existed before the United Kingdom was thought of. It has never been a British colony.

A Governor-General for Scotland would send the message that the Queen is - as she is gratingly referred to by ignorant people - "the Queen of England". That the granddaughter of a Scottish duke has a looser connection with Scotland than she does with rUK. That Balmoral is her holiday home for when she is in ex-pat mode.

If Scotland becomes independent, then the Queen will be head of state of both nations - Scotland and rUK - equally. It will be up to her, Edinburgh and London to sort out how she divides her formal time.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Moonlit Perseids

This morning, I went out at 1/2 past 4, and the sky looked like (image from Heavens Above):

My aim was to see some of the Perseid meteors, which were at maximum last night. In about 20 minutes out there, I just couldn't count the number I saw. It was zilch, zero, none...

There were two problems. First of all, it was getting light. Secondly, the Moon makes the sky bright. If we look at the lunar phases around the Perseid maximum for this year and the next two we have (with the times being in British Summer Time/Central European Time):

Year New Moon First Quarter Full Moon Last Quarter
2014 3.13pm 25 August 1.50am 4 August 7.09pm 10 August 1.26pm 17 August
2015 3.53pm 14 August 8.31pm 22 August 11.43am 31 July 3.03am 7 August
2016 9.45pm 2 August 9.21pm 10 August 10.27am 18 August 4.41am 25 August

As we can see, this year the Perseid maximum was between Full Moon and Last Quarter - when the Moon will rise after sunset and still be up at sunrise. Next year it'll be just before the New Moon. In 2016 it will be between First Quarter and Full Moon - when the Moon will rise before sunset and have set by sunrise. As you can see, the area where the Perseids tend to be seen (such as Cassiopeia, Auriga, Aries, Triangulum, Pegasus, Andromeda, and Perseus itself) is higher in the morning sky, so in 2016 there would be a window of darkness between moonset and when it gets light.

There is an interesting cycle with the Moon. Some time back, I noted the synodic month - the period of 29.530589 days, the average time from New Moon to New Moon.

Now consider 3 calendar years. If they don't contain a leap year, then they have 1,095 days. If they do contain a leap year, then they have 1,096 days. 37 Synodic months is 1,092.631793 days - so this is 2 days 8 hours 50 minutes (or 3 days 8 hours 50 minutes) short of 3 years. So, if you have a New/Full Moon or First/Last Quarter on one day one year, then 3 years later on, you should expect it re-occur 2 to 4 days earlier. We see this as this year the New Moon is 25 August, and in 2017 the Great North American Solar Eclipse is on 21 August.

When it comes to meteors, ideally you need dark skies in the morning (most meteor showers come from parts of the sky that are higher in the morning than the evening). This means you the Moon to be setting during the night - the earlier after sunset the better. For that you need the Moon to be waxing - that period between New Moon and Full Moon (the 2016 conditions) - or for it to be so close to New that it doesn't get very high in the dawn sky (the 2015 conditions). As a rule of thumb, expect lunar conditions to repeat 3 years later - which is an OK rule of thumb as long as you don't use it for long periods. So, we should expect the 2017 Perseids to be affected by moonlight, the 2018 Perseids to be around New Moon and the 2019 Perseids to be between First Quarter and Full Moon.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Sorry Daily Mail, But Boris Won't Become Prime Minister Your Way

There is one thing about majority Government - whether under a single party or a coalition - and that is that it is quite boring. When you have a minority Government there is the excitement of whether this will be The Vote or The Rebellion which brings it all crashing to the ground and leads to the Prime Minister to make that trip to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament. And then the excitement of the election campaign itself...

Sometimes, the more excitable newspapers like to jazz it up a bit by talking about plots - and the Mail on Sunday is at it again, with an article on how Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, could become Prime Minister:

Supporters of Boris Johnson are plotting to install him as Tory leader by mounting a Commons ambush after next year’s General Election, The Mail on Sunday has learned.

A hard core of pro-Boris Tory MPs are privately vowing to force the Prime Minister to quit if he tries to form a second Coalition with the Lib Dems.

The Friends Of Boris (FOBs) then expect their man to sweep to victory in a party leadership contest before calling a second Election during the honeymoon period to capitalise on his popularity.

followed by:

With every major opinion pollster predicting the Conservatives will fall short of a majority at the Election, the pro-Johnson MPs are already ‘war-gaming’ their strategy after the May 7 vote next year.

The FOBs believe that up to 100 Tory MPs would vote with Labour against the Queen’s Speech of a second Coalition – enough in a hung Parliament to kill the agreement at birth and force Mr Cameron to resign, they say.

One leading pro-Boris Tory MP told this newspaper last night how he and his colleagues would combine with Labour to vote down any Tory-Lib Dem legislative programme in the Commons.

He said: ‘The best party strategists can hope for is a repeat of the 2010 result when we were the largest party but with no overall majority. But we won’t tolerate a second deal with the Lib Dems. So I, and many colleagues, would vote down a Coalition Queen’s Speech.

‘With Boris’s backing, as many as 100 of my colleagues would do so. That would be more than enough to defeat it and Cameron.’

The MP said that Mr Johnson would then be the unstoppable candidate in the resulting Tory leadership contest, saying: ‘Boris is unassailable – he would storm through the leadership race.’

Interesting article - although what is missing is the Daily Mail's obsession that Adam Afriye, MP for Windsor, aka "the British Obama", would be a stalking horse.

Yes, there is the excitement of stalking horses standing against Conservative leaders, with the aim of ensuring that the leader realises they are unpopular among their party's MPs and so resigns, leading the way for the real candidates to step in at the second round. The House of Commons' guide to Conservative leadership elections outlines what the rules have been for the past 16 years. None of this stalking horse giving their name and those of 2 supporters to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee business - that went out last century.

For Prime Minister David Cameron to be ousted as Conservative leader, 15% of Conservative MPs - and this is those in receipt of the Conservative whip (an important matter that I shall return to later) - need to write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee to request a "no confidence" vote in the leader. Then there is the vote on that. If the leader wins, then the process cannot be repeated for another 12 months. If the leader loses, then there is a leadership election in which the defeated leader cannot be a candidate.

If there is more than one candidate by the deadline (which is noon on a Thursday) then there is a leadership election on the following Tuesday. Unlike the old system - the one with stalking horses - all candidates need to be in this first ballot. No longer can someone throw their hat into the ring after the first ballot. The days of biding your time and waiting for someone else to finish off the leader are long gone.

If there were 4 or more candidates, then the lowest-placed one drops out automatically (others may choose to) and doesn't go through to the next round (unless there is a joint lowest-place, in which case no candidate has to drop out). These ballots happen on Tuesdays and Thursdays until there is a vote with 3 candidates.

There is then a vote of the party membership between the top 2. If you look at previous results, then you will see firstly that the most obvious candidate does not always win, and secondly that the gap between second and third can be very small. Before suggesting that someone can "storm through" a leadership race, remember that storms can blow off-course.

So, consider the scenario where the Conservatives are the largest party in a hung Parliament. And rather than go for the uncertainty of a minority Government - however exciting this might be for headline writers who see politics as a game - Cameron revives the current coalition. This is followed by a backbench rebellion over the Queen's Speech in which the Government is defeated...

At this point, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 comes into play. The last defeat on a King's Speech was the Conservative Government in January 1924, which had lost its overall majority in the previous month's election - but note that the actual motion was:

That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—

Most Gracious Sovereign, "We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament. But it is our duty respectfully to submit to your Majesty that Your Majesty's present advisers have not the confidence of this House."

The 2011 Act provides two circumstances when there can be an early election:

  • More than two-thirds of the House of Commons (this would be 434 or more MPs) pass a resolution calling for an early election, or
  • The House of Commons passes a motion stating “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government” and in the next 14 days does not pass a motion stating"“That this House has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”

The idea that Johnson can win the Conservative leadership election, go "Crikey, I'm Prime Minister" and rush off to Buckingham Palace to be asked to form a Government and then a few weeks later goes back to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament is a pipe-dream. Yes, draw on all the 1974 examples you like, but 1974 is nearly half a century ago, and the law has changed.

Suppose that Johnson does lead a backbench rebellion, with around 100 MPs rebelling. Well, the Whips' Office won't sit there and do nothing. Very quickly there would be around 100 Independent MPs there. Without the Conservative whip, these cannot be among those whose letters to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee calling for a "no confidence" motion in Cameron are taken into account. He would effectively be back where he started from, leading a parliamentary party around the size of the one he inherited from Michael Howard back in December 2005.

Now consider the methods of the 2011 Act, beginning with the second. A quick "no confidence" motion in the Government is passed (maybe with Cameron asking a backbencher to introduce one), thanks to Labour and this new grouping of ex-Conservatives. The Explanatory Notes emphasise that the intention of the 14 day period is to allow an alternative Government to be formed without an election. But an intention isn't law. There is nothing to say that Cameron must resign as Prime Minister in these circumstances - just sit out the 14 days and agree with the Queen on a dissolution and election date.

The Scottish Parliament is a bit more advanced with this. As the Scotland Act 1998 makes clear, the First Minister must resign if the Parliament passes a "no confidence" motion in the Scottish Executive. This - together with the election of a First Minister-designate by the Parliament and dissolution if the Parliament fails to elect a First Minister-designate within the statutory timeframe - is something that needs to be copied at Westminster.

If Cameron does the correct thing after a "no confidence" motion and resigns, then the Queen would invite Ted Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, to see if Labour could form a Government - either alone or as a coalition. In the 14 day period, the House of Commons either passes a confidence motion in the new Government - which means that Labour continues in office - or doesn't, in which case there is a general election, where those ex-Conservative MPs would not be able to stand as Conservative candidates. Yes, some might get re-elected as Independents, but others might lose badly, or see the Conservative vote split to allow Labour or the Liberal Democrats to win the seat. While rebelling on a "no confidence" motion might sound exciting, for many of these this would be career suicide.

So, the more sensible rebels would back Cameron in such a "no confidence" motion, to avoid the election where they lose their seats, and see him continue with the House's confidence.

What about the first method of the 2011 Act? The thing to note is that the end result would be very similar - if there is a general election, then the rebels would be ex-Conservative MPs standing. However, they need 434 or more MPs for this to work. If you are a grouping of around 100 MPs, then this is less than one-sixth of the membership of the Commons. To get the support for this, they need to win over around 330-340 MPs - which is more than half the membership. While some of these may come from minor parties who are not fans of the Conservatives, for it to work Labour need to be over the 300 MPs mark - and hence the largest party in Parliament, if not forming an overall majority on their own.

Now, if Labour is forming the Government then there cannot be a Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government putting forward a Queen's Speech for Johnson et al. to rebel over. But, if Labour were the largest party.....

Consider the situation where Labour becomes the largest party, but Cameron and the Liberal Democrats agree to form a new coalition. We already have had 4 years of Labour arguing that no-one voted for the Government, and these voices would become louder, and resonate more, if it appeared that Labour "won" the election by coming first, but was kept out of office by a horse-trading deal in smoke-free rooms. A chance for an early election would be grasped by both hands, and well, if there are ex-Conservative MPs opposed to Cameron who are willing to be useful idiots, then so much the better for Labour. We woz robbed, but here's your chance to right that wrong. Vote Labour.

Note that if there is an early election, then the Electoral Registration & Administration Act 2013 ensures that that election would be held on the same boundaries as May 2010 and May 2015 - boundaries which have a bias towards Labour.

In all this, there is another group which might be in the House of Commons, and which would benefit from there being an election in the months after the May 2015 general election. Even if their number of MPs is in single figures, the UK Independence Party could claim momentum. Nothing succeeds like success, and UKIP could go into a late 2015 or early 2016 election demonstrating that it can win seats.

I would add something to this. People my age and older can remember the Liberal/Social Democrat Alliance, from which the Liberal Democrats emerged. The Liberals provided the idealism and the inexperience, while the Social Democrats provided the former Labour Government ministers. If there is even a small UKIP set of MPs, this could set the stage for a newKIP, with UKIP playing the role of the Liberals and the ex-Conservatives the role of the Social Democrats. OK, pretty much unlikely, but this does seem to be the only set of circumstances in which rebelling on the Queen's Speech would not be career suicide.

Incidentally, the 2011 Act protects Conservative MPs who rebel on the Queen's Speech. By ensuring that Cameron cannot cut-and-run, this means that rebels can spend the following 4 years or so to build bridges again and get to the stage where the whip is returned to them.