This is a strange time in British politics – and given what’s gone on over the course of the past three years since the EU Referendum, we don’t make that statement lightly. During that time, we’ve had an ill-judged general election which left the Conservatives with a minority Government, more ministerial resignations than at any point during post-war history within the country, protracted negotiations with the European Union that feel like they’ve lasted a lifetime, and ultimately a delay in the projected date than Britain will lead the European Union. The country has packed ten years’ worth of political news into less than a third of that time, and it’s still not over.
Boris Johnson is now Prime Minister in name only. Besieged on all sides, able to please nobody, and battered by dreadful results in both European and local elections, he finally called for the next referendum. In theory, that should have a crystal clear outcome who is leading the country to the next step. In a country already gripped by political deadlock and staring down the barrel of a No Deal Brexit, it could have happened a lot sooner, or not happen at all. Plenty of candidates have already made it known they want to step into his shoes, and they’ll shortly be asking their colleagues to vote for them.
Trying to identify a winner at this point may be a fool’s errand, as there are a few candidates who appear to have the backing to make a run of it, but here are our thoughts on who the major players are, and what they represent. We wouldn’t recommend betting on them, as given the nature of the contest, anything could happen. You’d get roughly the same odds as you’d get by putting money in an online casino game and seeing how the reels landed for you. Ironically, betting on a casino or All Sister Sites would at least give you a chance of getting a result you were happy with. Given the outcomes the Tory party has had at the most recent elections, there’s a fair chance that nobody in the British public will be completely happy with the ‘prize’ they receive as a new leader here.
Let’s start with the obvious choice – Boris Johnson. He has the highest profile of all the candidates, is the best known, and is the clear favorite among the party membership. If he makes it to the final ballot, he’ll almost certainly win. The only question is whether his fellow ministers will eliminate him before he reaches that point. Believed to favor a hard Brexit, and experienced on the international stage as Foreign Secretary, it’s believed he’d have the best chance of beating back the Brexit Party if a snap General Election was called. He has high-profile support from Jacob Rees-Mogg, Johnny Mercer, and Gavin Williamson.
The Home Secretary will campaign on a platform of law and order, and will point to what he believes is a patriotic track record during his time in office. He’s tightened up the law where it relates to espionage and spying, and courted a lot of positive press attention when he rejected the plea of ‘ISIS bride’ Shamina Begum to return home from Syria. He’s comfortably over the threshold needed for support from MPs, but his main issue might be attracting support from a party membership who are often viewed as being Islamophobic – even though Javid claims he’s not a practicing Muslim.
The most likely of the female candidates to get the top job is former television presenter Esther McVey. She has less experience than many of her rivals for the position, and has spent considerably less time in senior cabinet positions, but her pro-Brexit stance saw her resignation as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when she disagreed with Theresa May’s approach to handling Brexit negotiations, which played well with Tory voters and members. She’s likely to present herself as being less elite and out of touch than some of her opponents, and therefore more relatable to the average voter.
Jeremy Hunt is the man who replaced Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary when Johnson resigned, and has a huge reserve of experience to draw upon from his time as Health Secretary, but that may be precisely what stops him from becoming Prime Minister. Although he’s politically as conservative as they come, the public at large viewed him as a terrible minister for health, and marched against his handling of the NHS on numerous occasions. Doctors and nurses spent more time out on strike during his tenure there than at any point in history. Unlikely to win an election, and therefore unlikely to become Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson might already have become Prime Minister if it weren’t for Michael Gove. After the resignation of David Cameron, Johnson was the clear favorite, but Gove stuck a knife in his back by running, and scuppered his chances. In doing so, he split the camp among members and fellow ministers. He’s seen as being the most cerebral of the candidates, and possibly the most politically capable, but his polling indicates that he’s also the least likable among the public at large. He might be the best person for the job on paper, but that alone won’t win him the leadership. He’d need to be outstanding at hustings.
Dominic Raab may yet prove to be a good outside bet, but somewhat muddled the public’s perception of him with his actions during the past year. The former Brexit Secretary was directly involved in negotiating the much-despised Withdrawal Agreement, and then resigned, stating he couldn’t vote for the deal he’d just negotiated. Sometime after that, he voted for the deal. Despite that, his stance on reducing income tax and improving employment protection for pregnant women and mothers could be a popular one. David Davis is one of his backers.
Aside from the candidates mentioned above, it’s likely that Andrea Leadsom, Matt Hancock, Mark Harper, and Rory Stewart will stay on the ballot that appears in front of ministers, but none are considered to have a wide enough base of support to achieve victory. If we were forced to predict an outcome, we’d say Boris Johnson will get it this time around – but then the early favorite for Tory Party leadership never seems to end up the winner.
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