Rumours swirl around Westminster that Conservative backbenchers have finally had their fill of May’s premiership; Graham Brady, the leader of the 1922 Committee, is now at the point of begging MPs not to put their letters in. Again, so the rumours have it. I’m still not so sure that her end at PM is quite so imminent. Yet I certainly won’t discount the rumours entirely; moreover, I wouldn’t really be shocked if it happened in the very near future.
What would happen if that were to occur? May could try and fight it out; to try and remain leader. I don’t think she would. If she did, it would be disasterous in the extreme, particularly for the Conservative Party (which is the chief reason I can’t see her doing it). Therefore, if May steps down with grace (or as much grace as she is capable of displaying) a contest for the next leader of the Conservative Party will then commence.
The first round is about whomever wants the job enough to run stepping forward, then trying to get as many MPs on board as possible – the field is whittled down to the two candidates who get the most votes from the parliamentary party, who then face a vote of the membership. First off, let me say who I don’t think it will be: Gavin Williamson or Boris. I don’t think either has the support in the parliamentary party, both of them for different reasons. With regards to Gavin, it is hard to go from chief whip to PM for a very good reason: you’ve spent a good chunk of time threatening your colleagues as opposed to forming alliances with them. Add to that the fact that his catapulting to Defence Secretary was frowned upon by many. Boris meanwhile has just annoyed almost everyone in the parliamentary party via his buffoonery while holding one of the key offices of state. I want to state this clearly: I’m not saying neither Williamson nor Boris can become prime minister. They are both extremely ambitious guys who will do all they can to get to Number 10, if and when the times comes. Besides, we live in nutty times. But still, I don’t think so.
It is often assumed that it will have to be a Remainer and a Leaver in the next Conservative Party leadership contest, but I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, I think the final two will be Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Gove could get a lot of the Remainer MPs behind him for simple reasons: despite being a prominent Leaver, he is also a one time Cameroon, and so he could bring peace to the party by being in both camps to some degree. He is also someone who could promise a soft Brexit as a solution (although he wouldn’t run on this premise, obviously). Gove has always clearly been in favour of a slow but definite exit from the European Union, taken in bite sized chunks. He knows that trying to bounce the Commission into some fantasy deal was always a silly idea, and would have gone for the easiest but achievable Brexit as soon as possible. Then, once out, he would have taken the country further and further out over time, to where in five or six years time you would be where you would have been with a hard Brexit, only without suffering the shock to the economy of doing it in one go.
Having said all of that, if you’d told me after Cameron quit that Gove would run, Boris would then quit, and then all the Leavers would line up behind Andrea Leadsom, I would have never believed it. These things have a tendency to get a little wacky, and the next contest will almost certainly be no exception.