Ever since her somewhat Pyrrhic victory on the 8th June, it has been widely acknowledged that Theresa May’s days at Downing Street are numbered. The media were hunting for a successor within hours, musing over contenders such as Ruth Davidson, Amber Rudd and Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson. However, an alternative reared its greying head over the weekend, with The Sunday Times reporting that ministers now favour Philip Hammond as a potential ‘caretaker’ prime minister until the next election.
Well, why not? Mr Hammond may be the most modest politician since Clement Attlee, but his character and credentials make him easily as qualified as his competitors. His quiet persona is considerably more endearing than those of other senior Tories, whilst his generally innocuous reputation (aside from the odd house-related gaffe) provides little baggage with which to weigh him down. Indeed, his lack of concern over image sets Mr Hammond aside from the current PM, whose campaign suffered from her obsession with turning the election into a personality contest.
That’s not all ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ has to offer the Conservatives. As The Sunday Times noted, the Chancellor would potentially be supported by David Davis, the Brexit Secretary and current favourite to win a leadership race. This would help unite the party (Mr Hammond was a Remainer, Mr Davis a Leaver), whilst providing the latter with time to wrap up Brexit before succeeding as leader. It would also stump Boris Johnson’s chances of leadership by forming a united front against him.
If the Hammond pitch doesn’t convince the Tories to back the Chancellor, then perhaps the alternatives might. Mr Davis may be a favourite (despite the ‘It’s DD for me’ photo), but, according to a recent BBC interview, he plans to concentrate on Brexit before tackling anything else. One can see his logic – if he manages to make a success of Brexit (something one finds increasingly unlikely) he’ll be hailed as a hero and will be a sure choice for leader. An alliance with a ‘caretaker’ PM will give him a chance to keep his foot in the door for later on.
So who else is there? Well, there’s always Mr Johnson. Whilst the Classics-quoting former Mayor still manages to win the heart of many a Tory, his abilities are clearly limited. His brief time at the Foreign Office has left a trail of angered diplomats and frustrated civil servants, only helping to further tarnish our image abroad. Additionally, his reputation is still recovering from the referendum, in which he championed the now infamously false ‘£350 million to the NHS’ bus slogan. Combine this with a plethora of previous lies and scandals and one struggles to see why voters retain any respect for Mr Johnson at all. Perhaps it’s the funny way he talks.
Ruth Davidson, the Tory leader in Scotland, seems popular amongst many party members. Her belligerent oratory, fierce opposition to independence and notable success in the election make her a good choice. However, the Conservatives may be unwilling to deploy her so soon. The popularity she retains in Scotland is far too useful to sacrifice now, particularly as the SNP begins to sound the retreat. It’s been a long time since the Tories had such a charismatic leader north of the border, it would be unwise to let that change.
The other candidates are a lacklustre bunch. Liam Fox would garner a couple of votes in a leadership contest, but has never been a serious contender. George Osborne, an outspoken critic of Mrs May, is unlikely to make a reappearance now that the party is no longer the pro-EU, neoliberal organism he left last year. Amber Rudd is too unpopular and suffered from being thrown to the wolves by the PM during the leaders’ debate. Andrea Leadsom, the excruciatingly preachy challenger from last year, would probably lose the election five minutes into her first Radio 4 interview.
Of course, all of this is pure speculation. The only near-certainty is that Mrs May is unlikely to last long now the Tory party machine is out to get her. This means that Conservative MPs are going to have to make a decision, and when it comes to the crunch, their choices are limited. It therefore stands to reason that they would pick Mr Hammond as a temporary PM, with Mr Davis as his deputy. This quiet alliance would allow Mr Davis to get on with Brexit and Mr Hammond to keep the country ticking over before the next election, when either Mr Davis would step into the breach or a new rising star would take over.
It’s now up to the Tories to make their choice, pray that Brexit goes smoothly and hope that nobody calls a snap election. Because if anything goes wrong, it will take a lot more than a calculating chancellor or peroxide populist to save them.