The Daily Telegraph

MPS are entitled to select a new prime minister


During the leadership contest which produced Liz Truss, many criticised the electoral process. They were part wrong, and part right. As there may well be yet another leadership election soon, the Conservati­ves badly need to distinguis­h between the two and change their system.

The false criticism was that the winner under the current system would “lack a mandate”. If that were true, it would apply equally to Winston Churchill in 1940, who became prime minister without a general election, a party members’ election or even a ballot of his party’s MPS.

The British constituti­onal doctrine is that the Prime Minister is whoever can command a majority in the House of Commons. That majority is usually decided by the voters at a general election, but when the leader changes in between elections, it would be absurd if there had to be a general election before any replacemen­t could govern. Much simpler that the parliament­ary party with the majority chooses.

Such entries to 10 Downing Street are not as sound as victory at the national ballot box, of course, but there is nothing unusual about them.

Since the war, it has happened with Anthony Eden (though he held a general election immediatel­y afterwards), Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-home, Jim Callaghan, John Major, Gordon Brown, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

The right criticism of the current process is that, if the party in the country has the ultimate decision, the result can lack adequate endorsemen­t by MPS. This did not happen in the case of Boris Johnson or Theresa May, but it did with Ms Truss. Right from the start, in those dim, distant days of last month, she did not really command a majority in the Commons (nor, by the way, did Rishi Sunak, though he got more votes than she did). Since her initial big mistake with the mini-budget, she has therefore lacked legitimacy in the eyes of the people on the benches behind her.

So Tory MPS may soon have to face down objections from party members about being “undemocrat­ic” and insist on a leader who commands their own clear support. This will probably be best done by a so-called “coronation”, in which they informally agree one candidate so that no contest is needed.

If they do this, they should probably do something else which sounds pointless, and almost like life in a Communist country, but isn’t. Both in the parliament­ary party and the rank-and-file, they should hold a vote for the single, chosen person. Then MPS would have to give their clear personal endorsemen­t.

Some object to this idea, asking, “But what if it turns out that lots of people won’t vote for the chosen X?” I’m afraid the answer is, “Well, if that is so, you know you have a party that cannot be led. In which case, goodbye.”

Tony Juniper says the “right to ‘

roam” can go too far. That is quite a brave thought, coming from him. Though by no means a Greta Thunberg eco-maniac, Mr Juniper is saying something quite brave for someone of his background. He is a former Green Party candidate, the former director of Friends of the Earth, and a leading progenitor of the Countrysid­e and Rights of Way Act which developed the concept of “open access land”.

Mr Juniper is also chairman of Natural England, the government body responsibl­e for England’s natural environmen­t. Perhaps it is in this capacity that he has realised how rarely issues coloured green are black and white. This week he is saying that Natural England could not support “the right to roam everywhere” because “remote, quiet areas are fewer and fewer”. His interventi­on may help block a new Green Party Bill to extend access to the countrysid­e much further.

For many Greens, this is a sin against the Holy Ghost. They hold that all land belongs to everyone and it is therefore a right almost literally to ride roughshod over private land. They never answer the question of who is to care for land if no one can make a living out of it.

If you think about it, you will see that too many people, even on foot, can easily damage a landscape or threaten a species.

As a keen country walker myself, I noticed how, because of lockdown restrictio­ns on other forms of movement during Covid, many rural places near towns and villages suffered damage – much more litter, more broken gates, more clashes between livestock and dogs and more attacks by dogs on groundnest­ing birds. By the entrance to paths, one often found those plastic bags used to pick up dog mess left hanging in bushes, like diabolical Christmas-tree decoration­s, by owners who could not be bothered to dispose of them properly.

The truth is that the joy of walking in a small country like ours depends on the fact that most people don’t. If they did, they would kill the thing they love. This is already happening in many beauty spots and has ruined much of our coastline. Our traditiona­l pattern of rights of way is a good model for managing these difficulti­es. Open season on rural land is not.

Indeed, the whole concept of “access” is much more fraught than its zealots recognise. It is well understood that if every visitor to a museum were allowed to handle a medieval manuscript, it would fall to bits. The same applies to nature. The right to roam turns into the right to ruin.

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