Theresa May is finished. The election's shocking result for the Conservatives, and the prospect of a weak and wobbly minority government is an embarrassing outcome to an election that May did not have to call.
One of the few conclusions that everyone seems to agree on following this surprising general election, is that the current Tory leader will not be able to cling on for very much longer. Not only do the power-oriented Tories never forgive a defeat (even if it actually is a victory), but the catastrophic personal campaign the Prime Minister led also firmly puts all of the blame on her.
We do not know when a leadership election will happen, or whether it is a matter of days, weeks or months, but May’s exit from party leadership and 10 Downing Street is all but inevitable. A mere year after the last battle over the reins of the world’s oldest political party, the stage is set for another hard-fought, possibly brutal and bruising campaign.
MPs and party members will already be thinking about their preferred candidates and some of the leading figures in the party are said to be actively preparing for the event. But what options do the Tories have? What do the candidates stand for, why should the party chose them, and what are their weaknesses?
Boris Johnson MP – Foreign Secretary, Leave
- Leave supporter in a party that seems unhappy about being led by a (former) Remainer.
- Hugely charismatic and popular.
- Managed to get elected twice in London, where the Tories were hammered in this year’s general election.
- Tainted by the very controversial ‘350 million pounds’ referendum pledge.
- Unlikely to appeal to the Remain voters the Conservatives need to win back.
- A ‘deeply divisive’ figure.
Boris’s pitch is that he’s Boris – a unique political figure and quite the opposite of Theresa May, who doesn’t engage with the public, doesn’t answer questions and has no charisma. His brand of liberal conservatism could mean that he attracts support from the metropolitan voters who deserted the Tories, whilst his vocal backing of Brexit appeals to the working-class Brexiteers who May hoped to win over in greater numbers. However, his role in the referendum and his not always prime ministerial demeanour might result in neither group being convinced by him.
David Davis MP – Brexit Secretary, Leave
- Safe option for Brexiteers.
- Already deeply involved in Brexit - the greatest challenge for the next Prime Minister.
- Experienced, and leading figure in the Tory party.
- Age – he would be 73 at the time of the next election in 2022.
- Davis would mean a continuation of the current Brexit course – something that seems problematic following the election result.
- Lost against David Cameron in 2005.
David Davis is the more traditional Leave option the Conservative party has. As Brexit Secretary, he knows the matter well – an advantage or disadvantage, depending on whether the current plans can be continued or not. His age and past leadership ambitions mean he can easily be portrayed as a man of the past, not something the Tories need in their leader.
Amber Rudd MP – Home Secretary, Remain
- Performed well during the campaign.
- Could win back Remain voters and liberal Conservatives.
- Sound economic background as a former investment banker.
- Vulnerable due to her tiny majority (346 votes) in Hastings & Rye.
- One of the staunchest Remainers in an increasingly Eurosceptic party.
- Her attacks on Boris could make it difficult for her to unite the party.
Rudd is the leading candidate of the liberal, centrist wing of the party. Her election would mean a more ‘Cameroon’ Tory party, although her European positions are rather difficult to reconcile with its new Eurosceptic mainstream.
Philip Hammond MP – Chancellor of the Exchequer, Remain
- Safe pair of hands.
- Neither part of the left nor the right wings of the party.
- Very experienced.
- Lack of charisma
- His push for a pragmatic, softer Brexit angers some Brexiteers.
- No fresh start.
Hammond is currently pushing for a softer, more economically-determined Brexit. After nearly being sacked by Theresa May only days ago, he could now emerge as a possible unity candidate with a proven track record in great offices of state. The Eurosceptic right might not be happy though.
Ruth Davidson MSP – Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Remain
- Arguably the most popular and charismatic Tory in the country.
- Hugely successful in Scotland in the general election.
- Strengthens the Union.
- Not in the House of Commons.
- Does not want the job.
Davidson is a very appealing candidate, especially for the left of the party. Her different style of conservativism and incredible successes in improving Tory fortunes north of the border prove that she could be exactly the type of leader the Conservatives need. However, there is no chance of this happening – she has no seat in the UK parliament and has no intention of going into Westminster politics.
Along with these leading candidates Cabinet members like Michael Fallon may also stand, and former candidates like Sajid Javid or Michael Gove could also fancy their chances. Then there is a new generation of Conservatives – Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and others – who will want to lay the groundwork for future leadership elections.
Johnson and Davis currently seem to have the best cards – but the Tories are notoriously unpredictable and Rudd or Hammond could also end up as May’s successor.
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