The Battle for the Conservatives: New Heights or Wilderness Woes
Let’s not beat around the bush, the Conservative Party is in a state. They have plummeted almost 12% in the polls since February, with Theresa May suffering from approval ratings that are probably making Gordon Brown chuckle, and Westminster is giving her less leg-room than a Ryanair flight. In short, she’s toast. She started her premiership with higher approval ratings than Churchill, with a 20% lead in the polls, and the country staunchly behind her. She was the Iron Lady 2.0, an unstoppable juggernaut. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Now all eyes are on her successor, so who are the contenders?
The race to succeed Mrs. May started in June 2017, after her disastrous general election left her beholden to the DUP. The obvious frontrunner is Boris, a man famous (primarily) for his masterful takedown of a 10-year old Japanese boy playing rugby. Let’s be frank: he’s electorally toxic. He has made opportunism and disloyalty (both politically and personally) his brand. However according to YouGov, he is the most popular Conservative politician and UK politician currently. The bike-riding, hair-ruffling, bumbling buffoon has characterised himself as a loveable rogue, prone to shenanigans on zip-wires, football pitches and tennis courts. If he were to run, it is my view that he would just about get the support of his colleagues as a Brexiteer leader (something I believe could prevent Conservative annihilation). The membership vote, composed of 70,000 or so, a majority of whom back ‘No Deal’, would then hand him the keys to Number 10 where PM Boris would make ‘No Deal’ the government’s official position.
However, this choice stands in the face of the ‘Remainers’ in the party. The Amber Rudds, Matt Hancocks and Jeremy Hunts who are all trying, and in my opinion failing at covering their hatred of Brexit in a cloak of deceit. They are the Cameron-clique: Recycled in cabinet for 9 years and stifling anything that isn’t their wet brand of ‘progressive’ Conservatism: A complete oxymoronic juxtaposition. These are the leadership contenders who would say “you know what? The current Withdrawal Agreement is the best for the country”. Yet, they are tainted. Firstly, they are immediately associated to the monumental disaster of Brexit negotiations, tied to Theresa May, and secondly that they will be roundly demolished at any membership ballot. If one were to wriggle out of the net and win, then there would be little progress. You might see less of the hyped-up speeches which promise so much but deliver so little which have characterised the past few months. There may be a Meaningful Vote 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8... But I firmly believe that a Remainer is the exact thing the Conservatives do not need. Like Paris’ firefighters using gasoline on the Notre Dame, it cannot go well.
Then there are the other Brexiteer candidates. Andrea Leadsom, Dominic Raab and Michael Gove. Any of them have a shot at winning. But the prospect of Leadsom as leader is duller than dishwater. She is just not leadership material. Raab: a man who constantly looks like he’s had only 2 hours of sleep a night would not do much better. He is an opportunist who has a past of making insensitive comments about food banks and disabled people, topped-off by accusations of inappropriate behaviour towards women. That is putty in the hands of the opposition. Gove, despite his serious intellectual heft, has seemingly lost his Brexiteer credentials. He has caved into the Withdrawal Agreement and is therefore tarred with the same brush as his colleagues, Rudd, Hancock, Leadsom and Hunt. Plus, the narrative that he ‘stabbed Boris in the back’ still haunts him and he will be seen as the Brexit-lite candidate, the cheerleader of Chequers, and punished by the membership vote.
My perspective? This Cameron clique of Conservatives, like Cameron himself, must be gutted from the Cabinet, and refused entry to Number 10. New blood is vital for the electoral survival of the Conservative party. In my opinion Johnny Mercer: a Dove advert model, Penny Mordaunt: a Splash contestant, or the booming Geoffrey Cox: a terrific orator with a voice which makes me weak at the knees, have the best shots at reinvigorating the ailing party. In reality however, the contest will most probably be between Boris Johnson and hopefully a wildcard that has just been mentioned. In store for any of these possibilities is an unchangeable parliamentary arithmetic, despite a new direction for Brexit, be it a customs union, a ‘no deal’ or some other concoction. Irrespective of the outcome, it is safe to say the next Tory leader can sleep well knowing that after the premiership of Theresa May things can only get better.