Isabel Hardman

Tory leadership row brewing over CCHQ ‘stitch-up’

Tory leadership row brewing over CCHQ ‘stitch-up’
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Inevitably, the Tory leadership contest is developing a row about process and possible stitch-ups. Party grandees have been suggesting limiting the number of candidates to prevent ‘chaos’ (which suggests an interesting reading of the current political turmoil as not being chaotic). Iain Duncan Smith thinks there should be a higher threshold for nominations and more candidates knocked out at each round, while members of the 1922 Executive committee are also proposing limiting the numbers of candidates to around a dozen.

There is a split though on whether this would be fair or whether the ‘widest debate possible’ is more important. Incidentally, it was the ‘widest debate possible’ argument that got Jeremy Corbyn onto the Labour ballot paper, though of course Tory MPs have an opportunity to knock out candidates once they feel they’ve had that wide debate and want to get on with the business of presenting worthy would-be Prime Ministers to the party membership.

I’ve spoken to Charles Walker, who is one of the Executive members organising the contest, and he has batted down the idea of a limit on candidates, saying: ‘There’s a leadership contest and anyone is allowed to enter and it is going to be a wide ranging debate and the more voices we hear from across the party the better.’

But I hear tell of another brewing row about the way the contest is being organised. Some MPs and activists are concerned about the involvement of CCHQ and party chairman Brandon Lewis. They feel the party operation and Lewis in particular are biased against certain candidates and shouldn’t have anything to do with the process. One tells me: ‘There is concern about whether this will be an independent process because the view is that Theresa May has corrupted so much of the parliamentary party through patronage and briefings against many on the Brexit side.’

The one thing that aerates Brexiteers more than anything else is the suggestion of a stitch-up, so this row could really catch fire.