The race is on for the top job in British politics as an ever-increasing number of Tory hopefuls throw their hats into the ring. But who will be the next Prime Minister?
The battle for the Conservative Party leadership is heating up, as the British public wait with baited breath to see who will succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister. The list of MPs who have declared their intention to run grows longer every day, but only the candidates with the most support from their fellow MPs will make it through to the final vote. Once the long list of candidates is whittled down to two, over 120,000 Conservative party members will vote to decide the future leader of the United Kingdom.
To date, a grand total of 13 MPs have put their names forward, creating a very crowded field in the race for Britain’s top job. With Brexit dominating every aspect of the campaign, and the Conservative party on the verge of implosion after a disastrous result at the European elections, there’s simply no telling what might happen.
The Bookie’s Favourite
The current leader of the pack is Boris Johnson, former London Mayor, former Foreign Secretary and ardent Brexiteer. Boris is perhaps better known for his bumbling manner and endless stream of gaffes during his tenure in the Foreign Office than for his political acumen. Nevertheless, he commands a huge amount of support among the Tory grassroots, so if he makes it on to the final shortlist, he’s likely to walk into Number 10 without too much difficulty.
However, Boris divides opinion like no other British politician, and although he might be the bookie’s favourite, he hasn’t yet done enough to garner the support he needs from his fellow Conservative MPs. Despite his recent attempts to woo the Tory moderates by showcasing his traditional conservative values, many Conservative Remainers fear the hard Brexit that seems inevitable if Boris becomes Prime Minister. To make matters worse, he was recently summoned to court to respond to accusations of misleading the electorate during the 2016 referendum campaign. The associated scandal could mean that Boris risks crashing out of this race before the final phase.
The Front Runners
As the situation stands, Boris’ main rivals for the Tory crown are Dominic Raab, the former Brexit Secretary, and Environment Secretary Michael Gove. Gove’s perceived betrayal of Boris in 2016 hasn’t won him any favours, and his disastrous tenure as Education Secretary means he is wildly unpopular with the public. However, Conservative MPs rate his political acuity and tactical mind, and he is seen as particularly adept at handling complex issues such as Brexit. Gove voted for May’s deal while still maintaining his Brexiteer credentials, and is consequently seen as someone who is able to compromise and potentially unite the opposing factions within the fragmented Tory Party.
Dominic Raab, on the other hand, is an out-and-out Brexiteer who is pushing for a swift exit from the EU, even without a deal. Raab has been campaigning furiously, appealing to traditional and centre-right Tories in order to position himself as leader-in-waiting. However, Tory moderates and Remainers are mobilising to vote tactically in order to avoid Raab’s hard Brexit, and it remains to be seen if he can command sufficient support among MPs. Similarly, the former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom is also gunning for a swift, no-deal Brexit. While her public profile has improved dramatically since her abortive leadership campaign of 2016, her inability to articulate a clear strategy for a no-deal Brexit in her recent media appearances haven’t done her any favours.
Middle of the Pack
Until last month, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt appeared to be a likely successor to Theresa May, but in recent weeks his campaign has taken a significant downturn. In particular, his inability to think of any reason why people should vote Conservative in the recent EU elections has caused many MPs to lose confidence in his leadership. Similarly, although Home Secretary Sajid Javid is campaigning hard among his fellow MPs, he is unpopular with voters. Although a number of MPs have declared for him in recent days, it’s hard to see him mounting an effective challenge to either Boris or Gove.
Perhaps one of the most surprising candidates in the Tory leadership race is Rory Stewart. While he may be an Old Etonian like David Cameron and Boris Johnson, Stewart’s background is far from conventional, comprising a stint in post-war Iraq, a trek across Afghanistan and a bestselling travelogue. Eschewing his colleagues in Westminster, Stewart is travelling around the country speaking to the electorate and posting his conversations on social media. His eccentric profile and ability to connect with people outside the Westminster bubble is endearing him to voters, but he’s unlikely to drum up enough support to make it into the top two.
A number of other Tory MPs have declared their intention to run, but in this increasingly crowded field it’s hard to see any of them making a real impact. Matthew Hancock, Health Secretary, has hinted at a Brexit plan that involves the revival of May’s unpalatable Withdrawal Agreement, a strategy destined to alienate a significant chunk of the parliamentary Conservative party. Kit Malthouse, the housing minister, has a reputation for consensus building over Brexit, but he lacks clout within the party.
James Cleverly, Esther McVey and Mark Harper have all launched campaigns calling for fundamental change in the Tory Party, reaching out to working class voters beyond the traditional Tory heartlands. However, they have been unable to mobilise support from their peers, as Brexit still dominates every political conversation. Finally, the only candidate running on an explicit ‘Remain’ ticket is Sam Gyimah. He has pledged to legislate for a second referendum, with three options on the ballot: no deal, May’s Withdrawal agreement and remain. While this bold platform will appeal to the remain-voting electorate, he will probably find it difficult to win any backing from within the ranks of his own party.
As it stands, therefore, it seems likely that Boris Johnson is well on his way to Number 10. However, nominations for the contest will stay open until the week of the 10th of June, after May officially steps down. With more Tory hopefuls joining the pack every day, the Conservative landscape could easily shift again before members are given the opportunity to vote. As the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics.