The word around the camp fire is that we are probably just weeks, or maybe months, away from a Tory leadership contest (they even have a wikipedia page up about it already!). Theresa May is widely seen as a lame duck, whose job at the moment is to basically turn on and off the light of her office and that’s about it. Her advisers are gone, leaving her alone and vulnerable. Her recent announcement regarding the future rights of EU citizens was rejected by the EU. In part because it doesn’t go far enough. But also because the EU realises that it doesn’t matter what she says as she won’t be in the job for much longer.
So given such circumstances I thought it might be a good idea to review some of the runners and riders in the upcoming leadership contest. For those who aren’t vampires familiar with how the Tory leadership process works, there’s a first round of voting by MP’s which eliminates the candidates one by one until only two remain holding the still beating hearts of their opponents. Then there’s a 2nd round where senile bigoted pensioners the party faithful decide between the two.
So after a posh Etonian Bullingdon boy got the country into an awful mess, what could possibly go wrong if the Tory’s pick another Etonian Bullingdon boy as PM. Certainly Boris is very popular with the base and he’s a good deal more charismatic than Theresa May….then again a corpse has more charisma than her! Certainly he could take on Corbyn and have a good chance of winning an election. However, he’d be a risky bet I’d argue.
Firstly brexit. During the campaign Boris promised the sun the moon and the stars to the country. He made many contradictory promises ranging from the hardest of hard brexits to the softest of them. Initially he even suggested a leave vote won’t mean the country leaving as he could use that to negotiate a better deal (the EU intervened at this point and said what you see is what you get a leave vote means you are leaving). Now he could do this because as we now know, he didn’t actually want brexit. He saw it as merely a means to an end to wound his old rival Cameron, while earning himself some browning points for an eventual leadership challenge after he’d gracefully lost.
The problem for Johnson now is that in any election campaign his lies will come back to haunt him. He made promises he can’t possibly keep. If Corbyn had any sense (perhaps there’s labour’s problem, he doesn’t!) his first question in any debate with Boris will be “so when are we getting our £350 million a week?” and basically take it from there, roll out all of Johnson’s lies during the referendum campaign one after the other.
Also there’s a substantial “anybody but Boris” movement within the Tory party. Many just don’t like him. They consider him too ambitious by far, too unprincipled and too incompetent. And there’s the usual toff infighting. At Eton he was Hufflepuff, they were all slytherin. But either way, there’s a significant number of the old guard in the smoke filled rooms who do not want him, which includes the Barclay Brothers (who are already canvassing for David Davis) as well as Rupert Murdoch. So while he’d likely win if he can get through to the second round of voting, the chances are he won’t make it through. He’ll be quietly knifed in the same way Gove knifed him last time. And we still don’t know what exactly went on between Gove and Boris. If there’s some sort of dirt he was threatened with, then its reasonable assume that threat will be made again.
Also while I could see him winning an election because lots of people think it would be a laugh to see what Boris gets up too. But on the other hand, if the country is reeling from brexit or some other crisis and the view is that we need a grown up in charge, then a Tory party led by Boris Johnson could well lose. So while he’s in with a shout, it would be a risky bet for the Tories to choose him.
So Gove’s main selling point is….I don’t know either! But certainly his main claim to fame is that he’s the guy who knifed Boris last time. But that means that the pro-Boris brigade will support anybody but him. So its possible that he and Boris might essentially take one another out. In fact that’s probably why he’s back in the cabinet, so May has him plotting away against Johnson rather than plotting against her. Its like in King’s landing, you have little finger and…the fat one!…who are constantly plotting against one another and essentially countering each other in the process. Meanwhile Cersei Lannister Theresa May get’s on with her job.
And a reference to GoT is appropriate because the fact is he’s a sneaky lying two faced wee git. If he became PM they’ll be issuing stab proof vest to anyone going into Downing street. It would quickly become a place of intrigue with back stab and front stab happy courtiers plotting against one another, while the country burns around them.
And like Boris, he faces a problem in any election over all the lies he told during the EU referendum. Now while Boris might be able to dig himself out of that with the odd joke or Latin quote (a tactic that will wear thin over a month long campaign), Gove isn’t sufficiently charismatic (and way too stupid!) to do that.
So I would take a successful campaign by him as a sign the Tories have decided they want to take a sabbatical for awhile and are happy to let labour take over and sort out this brexit mess for them.
The Brexit secretary David Davis, whom I will hence forth refer to as Dave2, is another possible choice, seen as the right wing establishment’s preferred pick. And he’s even picked up an endorsement from Nigel Farage. While he did back brexit during the referendum, he largely kept his head down as he tried to avoid making enemies.
However as brexit secretary Dave2 is in a bit of a tight spot. Inevitably as part of the brexit process the government is going to have to make a lot of unpopular decisions and agree to things that will anger the Tory party base, as well as the rest of the country. And while the other candidates can dodge the issue to some extend, as brexit secretary Dave2 can’t. His signature will literally be on the offending documents. Indeed I assumed when he was appointed that he was given this job because he had no political ambitions beyond it, much as how Alastair Darling was given the task of fronting the no vote in the Scottish indyref. This is the sort of job you take on if you don’t mind ending your political career.
So I can’t really see him winning, either the leadership contest nor an election. But then again, with the right media support anything’s possible I suppose. With the Tories its not what you know but who you know that counts.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Phil Hammond has very much been the grown up in the room of May’s cabinet. He campaigned for remain and has spent the last year lobbying for as soft a brexit as possible. He’s also rowed back on some of his predecessor’s harsh austerity measures. If the Tories are going into an election facing a backlash against both brexit and austerity, they could do well by put him on the podium to say, look I didn’t start the fire, but I’ve been doing my best to put it out.
Of course Hammond’s greatest strength is his greatest weakness. He’s way too sensible to win a Tory leadership contest. The Tory party base, i.e. Daily Mail readers, don’t want some smart arse mansplaining to them why all their right wing fantasies are bollix. So I reckon he hasn’t got a huge chance of winning. This would create problems for the Tories however.
There’s a lot of Tories who think the lunatics are being allowed to take over the asylum. And a lot of them have coalesced around Hammond. It was widely expected that if May did win the election and get a large majority she’d have to pick between the Hammond brigade or the Boris brigade. And the expectation was she’d sack Hammond. So if he were to be treated badly this could be the sort of thing that would upset apple carts and lead to massive infighting, perhaps even a party split.
One possibility is him and perhaps Dave2 taking over as a sort of Triumvirate (with perhaps one of the other candidates, other than Boris, as the third) for the duration of brexit talks giving time for
Boris to be disposed of a younger candidate to emerge, upon which time they resign and hand over power just before an election.
Another remain supporter in the running is Michael Fallon, the defence secretary. He’s largely stayed out of the brexit fray, much like Theresa May did prior to the referendum. So he can portray himself as the sensible compromise candidate that everyone can unite around. He’s reasonably experienced, having been appointed a junior minster by the wicked witch of Finchley Thatcher and then serving as a minster under John Major.
However he has a few skeletons in his closet. Firstly, as mentioned, he served in the Thatcher and Major governments. That’s like applying for a job in the South African government and putting on your CV how you used to do the same job during the apartheid regime. Recall how badly Michael Howard (another ex-Major cabinet member) performed in an election, largely thanks to comedy sketches like this. These are memories the Tory party have spent the last two decades trying to get the electorate to forget.
Secondly, there’s the expenses scandal. Now okay, lots of politicians got their hand caught in the cookie jar during that. Even Corbyn got caught out for a cheeky claim for a pair of wall hangers for his Azaleas (ok I’m making that one up, but its the sort of thing you could see him getting caught for). But Farron claimed for the mortgage on his house! Oh, and this is despite the fact that he lives just down the road from London in Seven oaks (about 30 minutes away by train). And he was chairing the Treasury select committee at the time of the scandal! This is fox in charge of the hen house sort of stuff. So he comes with a lot of excess baggage that could play very badly in any election.
Of course this is the problem with the Tories. There’s going to be Tories reading this and thinking, well what’s wrong with that? Everybody fiddles their expenses or taxes, don’t they? Ah….no! The majority of the electorate can’t afford a second home, or even a mortgage on the home they live in. This sort of stuff plays very badly in an election and could easily swing it the way of Corbyn in a tight race.
In addition there are several dark horses to consider. Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson is a good example. She’s actually managed to convince some Scots to vote Tory, which is a bit like talking an Inuit into buying a fridge freezer or a chicken to go into a KFC. Currently the rules say she’s not eligible as she’s a lying thieving jock not a member of the Tory party (the Scottish conservatives are a separate party from the Tories). She’s also not an MP and thus couldn’t be PM. However that could all change.
Amber Rudd is an obvious successor to May. But I’d argue she’s out of the running given how she only avoided a visit to the job centre a couple of weeks back by a margin of a few hundred votes. Any sort of a swing towards labour, and post Grenfell that’s almost certainly happened already, and she could lose her seat. In any election she’ll be spending most of her time knocking on every door in her constituency trying to hang onto her job. She’ll have no time to do anything else. And she still might fail, particularly if the lib dems and labour were to do a deal giving labour a clear run against her. So by electing her, the Tories could be facing another Michael Portillo moment come the next election.
Another dark horse is Stephen Crabb, who stood last time. His main selling point is….rugby? I don’t know he could maybe try a different approach to brexit talks, a bit like this bit from Flash Gordon.
There’s a couple of others in the running Liz Truss (the Tory cabinet’s official bimbo, given how the tabloids are constantly printing pictures of her arse!), Jo Johnson, Nicki Morgan or Priti Patel. All those in this list haven’t really screwed up too badly and won’t upset any of the major factions within the party if they won. Of course that in of itself is what probably rules them all out, the Tory party base don’t want a little miss sensible bossing them about.
Then there’s Nadine Dorries a member of the so-called “red Tory” faction. She has in the past written off Osborne and Cameron as a pair of “posh boys” who don’t live in the real world. She’s sat on a number of important committees which have investigating the expenses scandal and tax evasion. So she knows where the body’s are buried. If the Tories are looking for an insurgent populist Sarah Palin of their own, she’s your candidate….if you can look past the fact she’s a flaming fruitcake who believes in abstinence only education and has filed multiple private members bills against abortion. So, like Boris Johnson, I doubt she’d make it through to the second round, the party establishment will see to that.
Put up or shut up?
So my assessment is that its difficult to see who will win. Boris Johnson is certainly the leading contender, but he’ll likely falter early. If he gets taken out, then it becomes a bit more of an open contest. Who wins will largely depend on how soon the Tories expect to be fighting an election and whether or not they want to win it. They might pick a sensible candidate, in which case the centre ground voters will swing behind the Tories and labour will get wiped out in a snap election.
But the danger for the Tories is that the swivel eyed loon brigade will back some nutter (like Andrea Loathsome Leadsom or Nadine Dorries) or a hard brexiter (at a time when the aftershocks of brexit are starting to impact on voters) and all but guarantee that they lose the next election.
Indeed, its worth finishing with a poll, which suggested that a change of leadership might actually hurt the Tories chances rather than improve them. Which does raise the possibility that May might pull the old Johnny Haymaker, resign and then apply for the leadership again and tell the party “put up or shut up”. So in the end they might find they are stuck with her, which needless to say slashes the odds for labour to win the next election.