Sunday, 26 June 2016

Will the Favourite Fall?

by Will Dry

Heseltine, Portillo, Howard, and Davis – all front runners, all beaten. There is already a 'stop Boris' WhatsApp group, who are preparing a campaign for Theresa May. However, Johnson looks set to overcome history once more. 

According to Guido's Tory MP tracker, 141 Tory MPs backed Leave. A further 10-20 can be added comprising of new ambitious MPs who will back the frontrunner, MPs who were closet Leavers – Sajid Javid etc, and Remainers who believe only a Leaver as PM will have the necessary mandate to govern. The big Conservative Leavers were – Johnson, Gove, Leadsom, Grayling, Fox, and Patel. Patel and Gove have stated they have no ambitions to run. The Telegraph has reported that sources close to Grayling have said he is unlikely to enter the race. That leaves Leadsom and Fox as Johnson's only credible rivals for the 'Leave' Tory MP nomination. Leadsom is a possibility, but Cameron has stated that the new Tory leader will be elected by the Conservative party conference, which occurs at the start of October. ConservativeHome is reporting that Conservative MPs will have selected two candidates by the 21st of July – which would make it very hard for an outsider like Leadsom to gain the necessary nominations. Also, bearing in mind the 'band of brothers' (and sisters in Leadsom's case!) mentality of the Tory Leavers, it is more likely that Leadsom will support Johnson, eying up the keys to the Treasury. Also, while some Leave MPs might not support Johnson, Fox is potentially as divisive, and is likely to lose momentum as Boris announces his candidacy next week and sucks up the majority of Leave MP nominations. 

May has to fight Crabbe for the Remain nomination. The 'Stop Boris' operation is coalescing behind Theresa May, a candidate who's serious nature both matches the times, and can be effectively contrasted against Boris' persona. Crabbe would be a sound leadership candidate had Cameron gone on to win the referendum. In order to win, he'd need to change the conversation from the upcoming Brexit negotiations (free movement, single market, trade deals), to the direction of the Tory party (One Nation Conservatism). Such a change is improbable considering the conversations of the country as a whole is going to be dominated by the terms of Brexit – the Labour party, to Scotland, to practically any form of political discourse. Thus, Crabbe is largely irrelevant – this is not his time. 
Assuming May is put to the Tory members, how would she fare against Boris? Tory members may respect her unwillingness to engage in Project Fear, but if the country is expecting a Leave Prime Minister – and the Tory membership were a committed constituency of Leave support, surely they of all people will elect a Leaver. The burden is truly on May/the Remainer's candidate, to produce a convincing answer to this question. One possible solution is to argue that Johnson himself signed a letter calling for Cameron –a Remainer – to stay on, and that shows it's about the candidate's experience and temperament rather than simply their position on the EU. If she can move the debate past the EU referendum, towards questions centring on her steady nature compared to Boris' perceived blustering baboonry, then there is a chance she can win. However, if the Eu referendum proved one thing, it’s that those who underestimated Boris as all-metaphors no substance were wrong – as the result shows, he presented a convincing argument on the grounds of sovereignty (which the Mirror poll shows was the primary motivation of the majority of Leavers).

Even if members show some propensity to buy into Theresa's message, the pro-Johnson forces may be simply too strong. The most interesting revelation of the weekend is the silence of Osborne. While some are interpreting this as George being a sore loser, he is more likely to be giving serious thought to his future. Tim Shipman reported that two Osborne allies stated that they may back Boris rather than join the Stop Boris operation. This initially seems counter-initiative, but in reality this could be the key to Tory unity: Cameron's closest ally joining forces with Johnson, who already has the support of Gove, would make Johnson almost certain to overcome the 'frontrunner always fail' rule. This unashamedly careerist move from Osborne is impressive – few other politicians could, days after losing a referendum because of a man who had squashed Osborne's own leadership ambitions, endorse that same man. 

So, whilst some believed Brexit would change the relative power bases of the Tory party, if Osborne and Gove, stand by Boris – it will more of a substitution of Boris for Cameron than an entirely new political landscape.  


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. And now Johnson’s gone. The post-Brexit landscape is beginning to make this week's episode of Game of Thrones seem timid by comparison.
    Perhaps Johnson's classical background and his current work on a Shakespeare biography should have alerted him to the dangers of getting too close to someone like Gove:
    Caesar: "Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
    He thinks too much; such men are dangerous"
    Et tu, Michael


Comments with names are more likely to be published.