Nigel Farage has told the world how he would be delighted if Theresa May were to lead to the campaign for Britain to leave to EU (it’s unclear which specific campaign for Britain to leave the EU Nigel means, but let’s leave that for a moment). While I can imagine he thinks it would be a huge boost to the leavers, it’s worth pointing out that it would also have some downsides for them as well.
Let’s start with the upsides for the leavers if May came on board to lead the way. Obviously having such a visible Tory arguing from the very front could galvanising the Out campaign further. As Farage mentioned himself, having a long running Home Secretary saying to the nation that she has tried her best to stem the tide of high immigration to these shores but alas, from within the EU this is as good as it gets would be a very powerful message. Only if we leave could she really tackle the problem once and for all, you can hear Theresa say. Given how this is such an emotive issue (and the In’s main weak point), this could help their cause tremendously.
But Theresa would come with a lot of downsides as well. Having such a large personality amongst what is already a large group of huge egos could be enough to make it all fall into chaos. But even if this is avoided, here’s the big downside for the leavers if May decides to lead them: it means almost for sure that Boris won’t. And whatever the positives of May joining to lead them, they are nowhere near as big as BoJo deciding to give it a go. Boris is simply a lot more popular and sways a lot more undecided voters. May is firmly in the old school, authoritarian right school of politicians, which means she can only carry a certain percentage of people (who will probably vote to leave anyhow) while alienating scores of others (trying to get lefties alienated from the EU via the Greek debt crisis back on board with staying in would be a lot easier to do with May as the rallying point, as a for instance).
As we heard yesterday, Boris does seem to be genuinely thinking about whether he should go ahead and lead the Outers. It makes political sense: if he wants to try and pit himself again Osborne in a leadership contest, he could do worse than to lead a campaign most Tory activists, in their heart of hearts, support. The risk is if Cameron’s renegotiation announcement tilts the polls massively towards Stay In – Boris can’t be seen to have led a disaster, even around an issue so near to Conservative members’ hearts.
So as someone who wants to see Britain remain in the EU, there would be worse things from my perspective than Theresa May announcing her leadership of the Out campaign. Like I said, part of me would even be relieved, knowing that it meant Boris would almost definitely sit the whole dance out.