Sir: Prue Leith’s short interlude as a Conservative party member and subsequent resignation underlines a feature of the current membership and the impact of resignations (Diary, 30 July). The Johnson era has seen the continuing decline in party membership brought about by the resignation of many members who were dissatisfied with the evidence of endemic dysfunctionality by the Prime Minister.
The consequence is that the membership is likely to be dominated by Johnson diehards. Liz Truss is certainly focusing on them. Those who did not renew their membership but are still likely to be Conservative supporters in a general election are now disenfranchised. Sir Charles Walker is right to call for an overhaul of this electoral process.
A return on Rishi
Sir: Your cover showed Rishi Sunak in a ‘mad dash’ (30 July) to persuade the 160,000 Conservative members to vote for him. I have a cunning plan which could help him. This week Oddschecker tells us that the odds offered on who will win the leadership vote are 5/1 for Sunak and 2/9 for Liz Truss. The bookmakers are so confident of a Truss victory that a bet on her of £9 would win just £2. If you put £9 on Sunak, you’d collect £45 if he succeeds.
Does anyone remember when Clement Freud stood to be an MP for the Isle of Ely in 1973? He was the outsider, but persuaded his local electorate to put bets on him to win at 33/1, and then to vote for him in droves. It worked! Freud boasted that Ladbrokes paid for his office staff for five parliamentary sessions. If only 80,001 Conservative members could be persuaded to have a punt on Sunak and then vote for him, that would really be one in the eye for the pollsters.
Blagdon, North Somerset
Sir: Douglas Murray rightly deplores the Conservative party’s ‘brutally inefficient leadership contest’ (‘The ruthless inefficiency of the Tory party’, 23 July). How different it would have been if Michael Howard’s wise reform plans had been adopted. As a last service to the party he had brought back from disaster, Howard worked assiduously before his resignation as leader in late 2005 to garner support for the kind of leadership election rules that a sensible and reasonably efficient party should have. MPs would spend a couple of weeks sounding out opinion in their constituencies; the results would be weighed up by the 1922 Committee chairman, and the two most popular candidates made known; MPs would then vote. Michael Spicer, then 1922 Committee chairman, noted in his diary on 27 September 2005: ‘Leadership rule change ballot produces a majority in favour of change of about 61 per cent, which is not enough (63.6 per cent needed).’ Why has no one sought to build on the foundations that Howard created to equip the party with a scheme that avoids the disaster likely to occur if MPs do not choose the leader?
House of Lords, London SW1
Lost at sea
Sir: Once licensed, oil and gas produced in the North Sea belongs to the licence-holders (‘Power struggles’, 30 July). It does not belong to the British state and therefore is not ‘ours’. The licence-holders are free to sell their output to the highest bidder in world markets – and do so. They are mostly multinational and state-backed oil and gas companies, including some owned in part by the Russians and the Chinese. That is the basis on which any company invests in the first place. North Sea exploration and production certainly creates jobs here (although fewer than in the past) and generates income, but it does not add to our energy security and cannot solve the crisis facing us, which is one of price and supply. This can only be addressed effectively on an international basis.
Former energy secretary and former minister for international energy security,
A hornets’ nest
Sir: When I was a child during the war, we lived in the wilds of Worcestershire, and once had a hornets’ nest in our attic (Notes on hornets, 23 July). They weren’t like wasps which in a fruit-growing region were a constant pest, but kept themselves to themselves, and we treated them with a wary respect. They caught flies, which was a useful service – trying to keep flies out of the kitchen was an endless problem before modern insecticides. I did feel a bit nervous when, one morning, I went up to the attic and found six of them sunning themselves on a window. Fortunately they paid me no attention, and I swiftly withdrew. They would sometimes fly through the house, and I remember them making a noise exactly like a very small Lancaster bomber.
Sir: Rory Sutherland (The Wiki Man, 9 July) espoused the joys of driving off the beaten track to find new places. I have also done this with trains. When living in London I once went to King’s Cross and looked at the departure board for the first destination on a non-express train that I didn’t know. I duly bought a ticket for Arlesey in Hertfordshire and alighted to find there is a guided walk along the River Hiz to Hitchin from where I caught a return train home. I did the same thing in Brussels and arrived in Mons to find I was the only tourist visiting the Van Gogh house museum there. Although the countryside in these places was not first-rate, the lack of tourists and excitement of finding peaceful or interesting new places at random is an experience I would recommend.
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