Stephen McKenzie, a member of the Conservative Party and former Team2015 co-ordinator, takes a look at some of the possible candidates for the future Conservative leadership contest.
Conservative Home has George Osborne as the clear favourite to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, with their survey of hundreds of party members showing that Osborne is the most likely to win the support of the average member.
Yet with the decision being around four years away there is still a chance for international events, the difficulties of government and the chance of a rising star to knock Osborne off his position as the favourite. While some candidates are already prominent contenders, there’s still time for many lesser known names to shine.
Let’s immediately count out Nicky Morgan and Jeremy Hunt. Nicky Morgan has never polled over 5 per cent favourability. Within the party she is seen as being a less intelligent version of Michael Gove and is in fact less popular with teachers and unions than he was during his tenure as Education Secretary, with the recent junior doctors protests and potential for strikes in the NHS, he’s shattered that image and has helped to re-toxify the NHS as an issue for the Conservatives. It is very likely that he will face a cabinet demotion at some point, or a full return to the back benches.
I’m going also take a very controversial stand and suggest that Theresa May is done as a political force; although still ranking third in the ConHome monthly polls she has seen a drop of half in support over the last year from when she was clearly the favourite, and I believe her numbers will continue to drop. Her harsh stance on immigration has lost her support among the party moderates who previously formed a lump of her support while her attempt to win over right-wing votes will not work if other, more credible right-wing candidates such as Liam Fox decide to run. Her star will continue to fade and she has very little chance of making it onto a final leadership ballot.
The disappearance of Theresa May leaves a spot open for a good female candidate to run for the leadership. Within the cabinet there are some great options but the person who stands out the most as setting out a good pitch already and as rather a rising star is Amber Rudd. She is incredibly well liked behind the scenes within the parliamentary party and her decision to gut subsidies for expensive green energy has won her plaudits by the right wing of the party who hadn’t expected her to be the person to take up their cause. While her name recognition among the wider public is still low, her natural media presence and the fact she has four years to raise her profile bodes well for her leadership prospects.
Liam Fox remains the darling of the right wing of the party. Regularly polling around 15 per cent for the last four or five years, his star has never really faltered whether in cabinet or not. He has a powerful base of support within the parliamentary party and is considered a party heavyweight. Assuming he campaigns hard for the leave the EU vote, he could solidify his support from a large bloc of the party which would almost ensure he gets into the final ballot. Having said that, his chances of winning a popular party member vote would be low unless the popularity of the Cameron-Osborne leadership had plummeted by this point.
Sajid Javid is considered the model politician of the current generation of the cabinet. Great on TV and 2nd favourite among party members. However he is a close ally of Osborne and would be unlikely to run against him. If he did, his base of parliamentary support would be the same as Osborne’s which would make it harder for him to get onto the final ballot, although he would stand a decent chance of winning the membership ballot if he did make it.
Boris Johnson is of course one of the biggest names currently mentioned in the race for the leadership. I’m going to put my neck on the line and make another bold prediction: assuming the electoral system is the same as it is now, he will not make it through the parliamentary party vote and onto the membership ballot. Boris’s strength has always been with getting public support and exciting the activists, but within parliament he does not enjoy many friendships and has not earned the loyalty of many ordinary MPs. With Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader his chances of being picked are heavily reduced; the Conservative Party will want to contrast the anarchy of a Corbyn government with a stable, competent Conservative figure. Boris does not fit this role.
Other candidates may well appear by the time of the ballot. There may well be a cabinet reshuffle around the European referendum which could flip everything but my betting is still on Osborne taking the leadership in four years.