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by Caoimhe McElduff 19th November, 2018
3 min read

A Leadership Election?

Once again this week there is a front page splash on the mail bag of Graham Brady MP; chair of the ‘1922 Committee’ of Conservative backbench MPs and the only man in politics who can truly claim to know how close the Prime Minister is to the exit door of 10 Downing Street. A renewed threat to the Prime Minister appeared last week, as prominent Brexit-backing backbencher, Jacob Rees-Mogg, announced he had submitted his letter after May took to the Commons to sell her draft Withdrawal Agreement to MPs. However, despite assurances that the letters were in, the threatened leadership contest has yet to be called and May continues to push for her deal from Number 10. So, should Brady’s postbag finally fill up, who is set to throw their name into the leadership ring?

Jeremy Hunt – despite backing remain in the referendum, Hunt has since switched to support Brexit and has been vocal in recent weeks in his criticism of the EU in what seems like a bid to gain credibility with the Eurosceptic side of his party. He will appeal to the ‘One Nation’ Cameronite wing of the party as a political moderate and can rely on his political gravitas having served in the Cabinet since 2010.

Sajid Javid – a reluctant remainer, Javid too has switched to vocal support of Brexit. He will appeal to the mainstream right wing of the party and might follow the path trodden by former Home Secretaries Theresa May and Michael Howard to the Conservative leadership. His speech at this year’s Conservative Party conference was widely viewed as an audition for a leadership bid. Tussling for a similar voting base as Hunt, Javid remains ahead of Hunt in opinion polling of party members.

Dominic Raab – a Brexiteer, Raab enjoyed a swift rise through the Cabinet to take over from David Davis at DExEU, and like his predecessor, has taken a principled stance to resign from the role over the Brexit negotiations. This might well boost his appeal amongst the more hardline Brexit backers on the Conservative benches, who appear to be struggling to find a candidate after European Research Group leader, Steve Baker, suggested that they might ‘draw lots’ to find a leadership candidate.

Penny Mordaunt – also a backer of Brexit in the referendum, Mordaunt may be an outside bet. While her Cabinet pedigree is not as strong as the other contenders, the Department for International Development Secretary enjoys credibility on the Brexit question but could also have a wider appeal as a fresh face in the, otherwise tired, top echelons of the party.

Outside the main runners, another few may put their names forward, albeit with less chance of success:

Boris Johnson – despite enjoying strong support from party membership, Johnson will find it hard to make it on to the MP-voted two person ballot due to his unpopularity amongst his colleagues. Indeed, his appearance at party conference – deemed to be a bid for the leadership – was successfully overshadowed by Theresa May. Amidst all the chaos of the past week, Johnson has remained rather quiet, perhaps suggesting somewhat of a retreat – but for how long?

Jacob Rees-Mogg – like Johnson, Rees-Mogg enjoys the support of the membership and is prominent among the hard-line Brexit-supporting European Research Group. The ERG is faced with an uphill struggle to gather the numbers needed to get their candidate onto the final two-person ballot, as evidenced by its failure to (so far) amass the required 48 letters from its membership to trigger a leadership contest. By way of note, the ERG is estimated to have around 50-70 members, with a letter from the group to Theresa May attracting 62 signatories in February 2018. In this case, the ERG might well compromise and throw the weight of their support behind a more mainstream candidate in the mould of Raab or Mordaunt to ensure that a Leave supporter makes it into the final two.

Matt Hancock – a bright young potential candidate, Hancock has strived to sell his personal brand to the party and electorate; however, he is likely to delay any leadership bid until the next contest. It’s a bit too early for him.

Michael Gove – unlikely to make another bid after his failed outing in 2016. He has used his time at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to develop a broad and ambitious reform programme for the agricultural sector to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and has worked hard to push himself back into contention for a leadership position in the party. However, he is more likely to prefer a position such as Chancellor, where he can make a clean break with the previous, fiscally restrained administration and undertake a similarly ambitious programme of reform to his stints in the Department for Education and DEFRA stints.

Whatever happens next remains up in the air. However, at the time of writing, 48 letters had not been received by Graham Brady, despite Brexiteers’ claims on Monday that ‘today is the day’. Perhaps tomorrow will be that day … or the day after, or never at all.

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