It won't be until approximately 4pm that we will know if Michael Howard (the leader who is 'forgotten, but not gone') has succeeded in reversing the 1997 democratisation of the Conservative Party. We do already know, however, that the threats employed by the anti-democrats on the party board were exaggerated. Warnings that there would be chaos and no chance of a new leader being elected until the new year (if the existing one-member-one-vote rules were not scrapped) were simply not true. Pro-democracy campaigners like Lord Hodgson and John Hayes MP refuted these warnings at the time but CCHQ is now admitting it, too (now that the ballot papers are safely gathered in). Today's Telegraph reports:
"Conservatives still aim to have a new leader by Christmas even if the party decides to retain its lengthy one-member, one-vote electoral system, it emerged last night... Francis Maude, the party chairman, previously warned that opting for no change could delay the leadership result until the New Year while the MPs-only solution would deliver a new leader by mid-November... But in a significant climbdown last night, party sources confirmed that even with the existing mass ballot, Mr Howard's successor should be in place by "early December".
If the Howard-Maude-Monbiot axis succeeds today it will be a victory - not for the merits of their disenfranchisement scheme - but for CCHQ's groundless threats. If the axis fails we have a great opportunity to start fashioning the mass participation party that the internet age can enable. Whatever the result a little more poison has entered the bloodstream of the Tory Party because of the unnecessary nature of the contest and the ways in which rank-and-file party members have been set against MPs. The Times reports the possibility of a legal challenge to the way in which the ballot has not been independently overseen. There has also been the huge financial strain that Michael Howard's delayed leadership election has produced. Today's news from Lord Ashcroft only underlines the precarious final situation that Michael Howard will leave his poor successor.