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Conservative party runners and riders

30th June 2017

So much to look forward to this summer – the next round of Brexit talks mid-July, the consultation over our future immigration system, the second reading of the Repeal Bill... Sadly, I fear the unity very briefly on display during yesterday’s Queen’s Speech vote may be short-lived. For as the Government grapples with how best to approach these key issues in the weeks ahead, Conservatives will have a welcome pause during which they can consider if Theresa May’s position is truly tenable in the short-term. Prepare to read ‘Conservative leadership rivals on manoeuvre’ in every paper on every Sunday from now until September. 

With open Cabinet divisions over Brexit, and no one unifying candidate, is the ‘coronation’ of one to avoid the party’s third leadership election in three years possible? Although the least bad option, I suspect not. There are of course a long list of logical reasons why, above all else, the party should fall behind Theresa May and keep her in place at least until 2018: it would be self-indulgent for the party to take up any further time on another ‘inward’ looking event; the country (and markets) need stability not more unknown quantities; and at the very least she can shoulder the negativity throughout the negotiations and be jettisoned at a later date to make way for a new candidate who can sell a positive post-Brexit vision to the country when we go to the polls again. 

But say this summer’s milestone events are particularly difficult for May. Past performance suggests that they will be and I’m unsure if not crumbling at the dispatch box during the first PMQs will be considered an ‘assured performance’ by many, no matter what is being briefed. When more and more pollsters report that Corbyn has overtaken her on the key question of ‘who would make the best Prime Minister’ and May appears to be unable to effectively stem the wave of Corbyn support, will the party be forced to conclude that action is needed more promptly or they risk long-term damage to their electoral fortunes. No.10 should have been able to make hay while the sun shined over Corbyn addressing festival-goers on armed forces day, but with May so weak and so diminished there is not the stomach for the combative approach needed to halt Labour’s advance and, more importantly, offer a compelling Conservative alternative. 

When the time comes – and my money is on a lot sooner rather than later – there are a number of runners and riders putting themselves in the frame:

Boris Johnson
The only ‘personality’ that could fight a presidential style campaign against Corbyn. His leadership ambitions are no secret, but he is popular and divisive in equal measure, both with voters and his party. 

David Davis
The bookies favourite, his lead role in the Brexit negotiations are his strength and weakness. On the one hand, he believes Brexit will improve the country’s fortunes and could offer the positive vision needed which remainers have never managed, but why distract him from his crucial day job at this stage.  

Priti Patel
Refused to deny speculation that she would run for the Tory leadership. One of the ‘younger generation’ being suggested who could offer a fresh face for the party, unencumbered by the baggage of other candidates. Others that fit this bill include Dominic Raab.

Phil Hammond
The care-taker leader. Businesses would welcome the move given his softer vision for Brexit, but would ‘spreadsheet Phil’ offer voters the the warmth and charisma they found lacking in the Maybot.

Amber Rudd
One of the few who impressed during the otherwise disastrous election campaign, her slender majority means realistically she would have to form part of ‘dream ticket’ as chancellor. 

Liam Fox
Rarely rules himself out of leadership race so why start now. Remains popular among party membership.

Katie Thrift

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