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Conservative leadership contest

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Conservatives leadership challenge

Theresa May has finally stepped down as party leader. The race to succeed her as Prime Minister is on. The aim of this is to summarise the relevant candidates and to track progress in the campaigns.

The timetable of events is short, May’s last day as leader of the party was 7th June, although she intends, for now at least, to stay in post as Prime Minister until the election is resolved by 22nd July should it go that far. Theresa May was appointed without a party membership vote.

The election process is multi-stage, the first group of stages being votes by MPs with recent amendments specifying a minimum number of votes at each stage. At least one will drop out in any round until the final stage, a vote among party members.

A challenge for any potential successor will be to coordinate another timetable, that for Brexit. The current state of play is that Article 50, the mechanism for leaving the EU, has been extended until 31st October. Unless there is an alternative to the failed Withdrawal Agreement, the legal default position is to leave without a deal.

Parliamentary arithmetic and chronology makes life interesting and can be changed to a degree. Following the announcement of a new Prime Minister, assuming that this does take place on July 14th, there would ordinarily be just 3 days and a Monday evening before the summer recess.

We normally expect a short session in September, two weeks of sitting until rising again for the party conference season. Parliament returns to action in the second week in October, leaving a just over three weeks to pass outstanding Brexit legislation.

There is an alternative scenario which may depend on the outcome of the EU elections. The House of Commons can have a vote of no confidence which could lead to a general election. This would depend on two circumstances. The first is a vote of no confidence being passed. The second is and a majority of two thirds of the House agree to an election.

It goes without saying that current public opinion might mean that the current opposition may not wish to call a vote of no confidence. Alternatively, if 200 or so MPs feel that their seat is under threat, abstention.

There are several considerations for Tory MPs in selecting a new leader. Perhaps the most obvious is the candidate’s position on Brexit. Since there has been so much division within Conservative ranks. This part of the argument will take a high profile in the public part of the debate at least.

We can also expect to be told that performance records of the candidates, combined with experience, are also major features. Who will be most capable of uniting the part?

The less public side, at least during the MP voting rounds, will be perhaps less palatable to the public. Some candidates may privately hint at future ministerial posts, enhancing earnings prospects when leaving parliament. Bizarre alliances may be made to prevent progress of certain candidates. We can expect to hear in abundance about unity.

In the last party leader election, it will be remembered that Andrea Leadsom withdrew. At the first opportunity, she was promoted by May onto a Cabinet position. May, whose final Cabinet included 16 Oxbridge graduates out of 26 attendees, was herself given a ministerial job by David Cameron, also an Oxford graduate.

So who are the candidates? They are listed in alphabetical order of surname below:

Michael Gove

The first of many Oxford graduates, Gove will be remembered as the education Secretary at the time of tuition fee increases. Lauded by some of his supporters as a “radical”, his reforms were described by experts as “neo Victorian”.

Gove of course stood in the last leadership campaign, having promised to endorse Boris Johnson’s candidacy before announcing his own merely three hours before the deadline for nominations. In this he was supported by Tory defector, Nick Boles, and alternative leadership candidate, Dominic Raab.

MPs will point to his ability to savage sitting targets, recently in reply to a motion of no confidence, In earlier life he had done the same to a future monarch to who he will be expected to promise allegiance; Prince Charles.

A staunch advocate of May’s Withdrawal Agreement, despite any support in parliament, he will surely be considered an electoral liability, the negative image enhanced by revelations of his cocaine snorting history.

Matt Hancock

Oxford and Cambridge graduate Hancock has much in common with the outgoing leader, having had a short career with the Bank of England before slipping into the Conservative Party machinery. He is also transparent as a Remain supporter.

It might be seen as a benefit that he has kept a relatively low profile, currently as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in July 2018. Of his eight ministerial appointments so far, his longest serving was almost 18 months as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

There seems to be little to suggest that he would last any longer as Prime Minister.

Mark Harper

Oxford graduate Harper has a background as an accountant before entering politics. Having held three ministerial positions during the five years of coalition government, he went on to become Chief Whip.

He has been associated with a variety of controversial policies, including the lorry poster campaign targeting immigrants, resigning when his cleaner was found not to have permission to work in the UK.

He may lay claim to having reduced delays in benefit assessment for disabled claimants, although his constituency office was found not to have disabled access.

Jeremy Hunt

Oxford graduate Hunt is perhaps the archetypal establishment candidate, coming from a military family and a distant relative of both the Queen and Oswald Mosely. He may be best remembered for his long term role as Secretary of State for Health, handing over responsibility for funding allocations to NHS England under the guidance of Tony Blair’s Special Adviser.

Hunt is another who campaigned for Remain and appears to be welded to the three times rejected Withdrawal Agreement..

His attention to detail may be in question, having apparently misinterpreted rules over his agent’s living costs, as well as claiming living expenses at one home whilst also claiming mortgage payments at another. He has also had to apologise for being in breach of money laundering rules and failure to properly register interests.

He may be a popular candidate with other MPs though few would describe him as a potential general election winner. His drugs confession was to cannabis lassis.

Sajid Javid

Oxford graduate Javid is current Home Secretary having had a number of ministerial posts. Shackled by `collective responsibility’ he has been associated with support for May’s Withdrawal Agreement which may lose him appeal among the pro-Brexit wing of the party.

Much will be made of his ability to broaden the appeal of the party as he would become the first non Caucasian Prime Minister, therefore potentially perceived to add credence to Conservatives as the party of opportunity for all.

It may seem spurious to highlight that Britain has not elected a bald Prime Minister since Atlee in 1950 as candidates suck as Kinnock, Foot and Hague will testify.

Having been reported to have started his campaign early, it remains to be seen how he will be judged for ambition over principle.

Boris Johnson

Another Oxford graduate, Johnson starts the race as the bookmakers’ favourite, apparently a Brexiteer based on his resignation as Foreign Secretary after May’s Chequers “agreement” amongst Cabinet members in July 2018. He might be argued to have spoiled those credentials when voting for the third presentation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

In his favour is his electability, having been Mayor of London. A charismatic character, enhanced by a cosmopolitan family history, there is breadth in his appeal. He can also point to his establishment past, having studied at Eton and Oxford.

On the other hand, he can be seen as divisive in the party, Amber Rudd having brutally attacked him in the referendum debate although purporting to support him now. Rory Stewart has openly said he would not work under Boris.

Should Boris get through the MP votes, there is little doubt that he has huge appeal among party members.

Andrea Leadsom

Leadsom graduated from Warwick, one of only two non-Oxford scholars in the race. She has been here before, having withdrawn before the final hurdle to allow Theresa May a clear run. Since then, she has held two ministerial positions before resigning from the cabinet over her leader’s attempts to push through a withdrawal agreement.

During the referendum campaign, Leadsom was a high profile Leave campaigner. Her resignation was ultimately the key to kick starting the current leadership contest, one for the reasons being that the arrangement she had voted for no fewer than three times would not lead to a “truly sovereign United Kingdom”.

It is clear that Leadsom does not enjoy the same levels of support among MPs as she did in 2016,

Despite being renowned for her pizza club meetings. It therefore seems unlikely that she will progress very far. Her own drugs confession was restricted to smoking cannabis at university.

Esther McVey

McVey is the second non-Oxford graduate, as well as being the second female to stand as a candidate. If elected, she would be the first Conservative Prime Minister to represent a constituency in the North of England since Arthur Balfour in 1905.

Her credentials as a Brexiteer rank relatively highly among the candidates, having made her opposition to the Withdrawal Agreement abundantly clear in her cabinet resignation letter.

As an electoral asset, McVey must be amongst the strongest candidates in the leadership race, if voters can forget her association with the toxic Universal Credit. However, she must be considered as unlikely to make the final round given the lack of depth of support among MPs.

Dominic Raab

Back to the Oxford graduates, Raab gained a law degree before a career in practice. Whilst some will point to his willingness to jump into the shoes of David Davis following the infamous Chequers Agreement, Raab’s Brexit credentials remain among the strongest of the candidates.

A prolific writer on policy matters, even his opponents would describe him as radical, coherent and consistent, albeit as one considered to be on the right wing of the party.

Twice smeared with what have been seen to be unfounded claims, Raab has maintained his composure with a dignified resilience.

Outside the front runners, Raab may be considered as one for the future to chart a new Conservative approach. His biggest hurdle is to survive the MP rounds of voting which seems unlikely given the depth of support for alternative candidates.

Rory Stewart

Eton and Oxford educated, Stewart reeks of privilege. Among his clams to fame are being locked in Prince Charles’ toilet at Highgrove. Speculation had linked him, through his previous diplomatic career, with intelligence circles, a real life Johnny English perhaps? Stewart has certainly learned how to be anonymous.

When in Afghanistan, he met his wife Shoshana, then married to a professor volunteer for his charity. Shoshana was made Managing Director. Despite apparently sharing the same morals as Boris, Stewart has stated he would not be prepared to serve in a government led by his scholastic predecessor.

His voting on Brexit has been totally loyal to Theresa May, latterly adopting the idea of a citizens’ assembly from Gordon Brown.

Rory will probably be best remembered for opening the drugs debate, having confessed to smoking opium at an Iranian wedding. His most significant contribution to parliamentary debate might be argued to be his ministerial response to the proposal of the hedgehog as our national animal.

Summary

If the media are to be believed, we can expect to see a bloody contest, characterised by chicanery. Key to ultimate success is overcoming the internal network of MPs before party members have their say between the last two standing. The criterion of electability may not feature highly until then.

It remains to be seen how much Gove’s revelations will affect the outcome. He does not appear to have leached parliamentary support although the fact that his own drug abuse was Class A, linked to the world’s most violent supply chains, may have more impact on the public.

The Conservative Party has a history of resolving issues behind the scenes with a general election being a distinct possibility should the factions not be able to convince the public of unity behind whatever outcome is achieved.

It would be unwise to bet against a repetition of the process within a year, however, an Oxford educated male appears to be a racing certainty.

This post was originally published by the author on his personal blog: http://www.rexn.uk/2019/06/11/conservative-leadership-contest/

About Rex N

Profile photo of Rex N
Rex is a freelance writer in medical affairs, economics and sport. A former teacher and examiner of Economics, his interest in European Union affairs took root when discovering the depths of the Maastricht Treaty. He is a committed democrat having campaigned for a popular vote to decide on further integration measures, based on fact rather than spin.

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