Can the next Conservative leader please stand up?

As Brexit comes to a tipping point, with the 29th of March very much on the horizon, speculation as to when Theresa May will resign as leader of the Conservative Party - a point she made to a room full of Tory MPs during the vote of no confidence last year - has arisen once again.

Theresa May’s time as Prime Minister this year began with a rather rocky beginning. A colossal commons defeat and another vote of no confidence, this time not in her but her government, called by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has changed opinion to believe Mrs May is in office but not in power. There is no denying the Brexit negotiation process has been a painstakingly slow and poor process and this is as a result of issues on both sides of the negotiations.

Theresa May’s deal was overwhelmingly rejected by all sides of Parliament, amendments were voted on and the EU is unwilling to change thus continuing to frustrate the process of leaving the EU and the British people. Whilst her job for the next year is safe because of Tory party rules, if she continues to fail to gain a majority in Parliament to secure a deal with the EU, not only will it be likely that the U.K. will leave without a deal, it is also likely she will be ousted from Number 10 or face an early election. With the Labour splits, however, the chances of a general election are slimmer than ever.

Promising a room full of Tory MPs in December during the leadership challenge, Theresa May said she would resign by the time of the next general election, and whilst Theresa May can remain in her job unchallenged for the next year it is likely that she will have resigned prior to the end of this period. Recent headlines speculate Conservatives want to see Theresa May out within the next three months, and arguably this is possibly the best outcome if they are to maintain high public approval ratings and long term electability.

Theresa May won a no-confidence vote after confirming her departure after Brexit

Speculation over who will be the new leader of the party has remained at a constant topic of discussion among journalists and politicos from all parties, even before the leadership challenge, with the most prominent front runner is unsurprisingly former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson with odds as low as 5/1. Johnson remains extremely popular among party members, who ultimately make the final decision, but if he is to get onto the ballot for party members he must first win over support from his colleagues on the green benches. According to The Sun “many MPs appear to have turned against him, meaning he might struggle to get on the ballot”.

Boris is clearly a front runner among party members. He is charismatic, unafraid to speak his mind (sometimes to his peril) and aligns firmly to the right of the party - the kind of leader the membership are screaming out for.

Yet, his electability and public image outside this does not appear to be as strong as some may hope. During his time in the cabinet and after his resignation, Boris’ reputation among the public has plummeted. His comments on the Burka and another rather public affair may have impacted his drop in public approval placing Mrs.May higher in the polls than the bookies favourite. Not only does Boris have limited support on the green benches, but history also does not play in his favour, as it tells us that the front runner almost never wins any leadership elections. Thatcher rose up rather quickly and unexpectedly, Blair acquired his role after the sudden death of John Smith, and those such as Heseltine who were constantly viewed through their ambitions of leadership-scheming, they reached a point where they ceased to have weighty authority. If I were to place a bet on who will be the next party leader, I wouldn’t put a lot on Boris.

Currently in second place is the current Home Secretary, Sajid Javid. Javid has impressed parliamentarians with his handling of the Windrush scandal and tough stance on immigration. Unlike Johnson, Javid has a scandal-free history, a fairly quiet career and is liked among both parliamentarians and party members from both remain and pro-Brexit sides. His chances of becoming the next leader are likely if speculation about Boris is correct. A close third is undoubtedly Dominic Raab, as a more prominent Brexiteer and rise in approval amongst the party since he resigned over the terms of the withdrawal agreement he is set to be another close contender if he throws his hat into the race. Following behind the top three are, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Jacob Rees Mogg- this is unlikely to come about as Jacob himself has categorically ruled out any ambitions to run for leader. We are unlikely to see another female leader based on opinion polls, however, there are a few prominent names such as Amber Rudd, Penny Mordaunt, Elizabeth Truss and Ester McVey that are in the top 10 of the approval ratings to take over.

With the tone amongst members and parliament, it would appear Conservatives are calling for a liberal Conservative with a firm pro-Brexit position, hence why within the top five names four are very prominent Brexiteers such as Johnson, Raab and Gove. Although Boris Johnson is hugely popular among members and he has made clear moves in recent months that suggest he will run for leader, I feel this would be a foolish move for the Conservative party.

Unless Boris does something drastic to change public opinion from those outside of politics, electability for the party will be slim. If the Conservatives are to remain in power and provide the best policies for Britain they must elect someone who is fairly unknown, and therefore low in controversy, liberal in political ideology and forward thinking.

For me personally, I would like to see someone like Amber Rudd or Michael Gove take over. It is unlikely that Rudd would be in a strong position (sadly) as she holds a fairly soft approach towards Brexit which is not hugely popular among party members.

For Gove, however, he has proved throughout his time in the cabinet he is capable of strong leadership and is liked amongst members, making him a capable contender to win the ballot and following his incredible speech closing the debate on the no-confidence motion and taking apart Corbyn public opinion has turned in his favour.

For now, everything is mere speculation and we will not know who is a true contender to take over until the names are on the ballot paper.

by Ellie Varley

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