So, we finally got there. It was either great fun while it lasted or like extracting all your wisdom teeth hour by hour, depending on your outlook. But Boris is ‘retiring’ and we need to look at who’s next.
First off, let’s just recap on the process. Any Tory MP can put their hat in the ring and the list will then be whittled down by their colleagues in successive rounds of voting until we are left with the last two standing. They will then be put to the Tory party membership in one member, one vote. So we have a ‘selectorate’ and then an ‘electorate’ to consider.
The Tories have a history of plumping for a leader who is the opposite of the last one in almost every way. Remember dull old Major followed the drama of Thatcher. Ultra bore IDS followed trailblazing Hague. The charisma vacuum that is May followed ‘Call me Dave’. And of course, Johnson himself took over from May.
Of the two groups that have a say over the next leader, the second lot – the party membership – can be easier to guess. With a choice between only two candidates, predicting which one they will go for is always going to be easier than guessing what 360-odd Tory MPs will do.
Two factors must be borne in mind when we discuss the ‘selectorate’, however. Without equal, Tory MPs are the most duplicitous voters ever because they all tell each candidate that ‘my vote is firmly for you’. Why? Because whoever wins is the person who can change their life forever. So they lie to all of them – and the main problem for each candidate is to try and work out which ones are lying. The second real problem is that each candidate bribes each supporter with promises of future roles: “I really think you would be an asset in the Foreign Office’. So with such impossible factors to calculate, at this stage, let’s just try and take a realistic overview of who could run and their main drawbacks that will be weighing on the Tory MP selectorate’s minds.
These tend to be the perennial believers in their own ability (which no one else has spotted). Into this group we can probably right now put Penny Mordaunt (who puts weightlessness into the meaning of lightweight), Steve Baker (the serial plotter who says that “serious people are now begging me to stand”) and Priti Patel (hahaha, literally lost for words).
Positioning for next cabinet role
Then there are those who throw their hat into the ring merely to be bribed by a more serious candidate with a promise of a better job in the next cabinet. Here we have to consider Suella Braverman (a good player but too inexperienced for now), Kemi Badenoch (ditto), Graham Brady (probably doesn’t want to be 1922 chairman for the rest of his life) and Tom Tugenhat (with no ministerial experience at all and a supporter base of one, including his wife and dog).
Which brings us to what we might euphemistically call the ‘big hitters’. And herein lies one of the problems that backbench Tory MPs have been struggling with: there is no obvious choice and all the candidates have major drawbacks. In turn:
Ben Wallace – He’s the membership’s current post-Ukraine crush; the man every Tory blue rinse wishes was married to their daughter. The obvious problem: no experience outside defence and security and no tribe of Parliamentary supporters to cajole Tory backbench MPs.
Jeremy Hunt – A solid candidate were it not for the fact very, very few Brexiteers will ever vote for someone they regard as an irredeemable Remainer.
Rishi Sunak – He has for months been the runaway favourite but recently it’s all been bad news: his hugely rich wife, his US green card whilst a minister, the fact that he is the only other MP after Bojo to have been fined for Partygate, as well as the ‘he who wields the knife’ and all that. And apart from all that, if those arguments were not enough, he seems unwilling to offer the thing that backbench Tories want the most: tax cuts.
Dom Raab – He’s sitting on one of THE most marginal seats in the blue wall and looks likely right now to lose it at the next election. No point in electing someone who becomes the No 1 decapitation target for any informal Labour/Lib Dem election plan.
Liz Truss – For some she’s too ‘Thatcherite scary’ and for others she has a ‘whiff of Theresa May’ about her. Lots of rhetoric and nice ‘iron woman’ photo ops but is she really a policy and leadership vacuum?
Nadhim Zahawi – He has been marshalling his troops for some time. He could be a contender and one with a back story to die for. But can he win over enough backbenches?
Sajid Javid – The problem with ‘The Saj’ is that he is so wooden, demonstrated by totally flunking his resignation speech this week, the easiest of open goals to score.
So, at this very early stage, Liz Truss and Nadhim Zahawi might look like the two the Parliamentary party could end up putting forward.
But, but, but…there is so much water to flow under the Parliamentary bridge, we will have to see how this plays out over the next few days.