This article first appeared in the Sunday Telegraph.
The task for any leadership candidate is to knock their competitors out one by one. They each need to emerge as the leader of their ‘tribe’. Let’s start with the tribe of ‘hard Brexiteers’.
Boris Johnson has been attending ‘get to know you’ dinners at Jacob Rees-Mogg’s house, which is a stone’s throw from Parliament. Boris is said to be depressed by how few MPs are willing to publicly back him but his task will be to convince colleagues that his former reputation as being able to reach parts of the electorate no other Tory can still holds. His pitch is likely to be as a traditional ‘one nation’ Tory rather than as an ideological Brexiteer.
Dominic Raab has the most advanced campaign of the Brexit supporting candidatesand has been busy recruiting supporters for months. He’s been careful to recruit some old hands, like number-cruncher in chief Sir Robert Syms. His challenge is to attract support from outside the confines of the right of the party and is using his support for equal marriage, his opposition to fox hunting and his pro civil liberties stance to emphasise his modernising platform. In essence, he’s the Brexiteer who can reflect the more socially liberal beliefs of the left of the party.
With Priti Patel letting it be known she is unlikely to run and Esther McVey not attracting much support, David Davis is the only other hard Brexiteer to be in with a chance. His leading supporters are briefing that he wants to run, but will only do so if the numbers are there. To get into the final two, he’d need 106 votes. If he feels they are not there he will in all likelihood play kingmaker to his protégé Raab.
The next group of candidates can be described as ‘Brexit loyalists’ – and they include Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt, all of whom could have resigned from the Cabinet at various points, but didn’t. Gove already has a strong campaign team. If you want someone who can grip a department, is fizzing with ideas and can communicate them, he’s your man. However, the trust issue hasn’t been resolved and his polling ratings with the general public are, shall we say, not what they might be.
Andrea Leadsom fancies another tilt and has an impressive last six months as Leader of the House. The question she will be asking herself is whether the support she had in 2016 is still there, or has it – as is rumoured to be the case with Johnson – drifted elsewhere.
Penny Mordaunt will run, but will keep her powder dry until the starting gun is fired. She’s been holding dinners, not just with MPs, but with people across the political divides and her pitch would be as a unifying candidate. But her profile in her current job at Dfid is too low.
And now we come to the ‘Pivoters’ – candidates who voted Remain, but have since pivoted to Brexit. Jeremy Hunt’s supporters were furious this week when the press was briefed that he already had the support of 100 MPs. They accused Boris Johnson’s acolytes of dirty tricks. The truth is that many do see Hunt as the candidate to beat. He acted as a mentor to candidates in the 2015 election and is very popular with the 2010, 2015 and 2017 intakes, who form more than 60% of the parliamentary party.
Sajid Javid is being careful not to promote his wares too obviously, but he’s built a strong inner campaign team. I am told that, since the start of last week, he is now also being advised by the guru behind Vote Leave, Matthew Elliott. That is a massive coup by anyone’s standards. Just as Michael Gove’s personal ratings are low, Javid’s are high, and his main selling point is likely to be: “I am best placed to beat Jeremy Corbyn” – a powerful message.
The dark horse ‘pivoter’ is Matt Hancock, who, like the Home Secretary, is likely to keep his powder dry for the moment, but his former DDCMS ministerial colleague Tracey Crouch and health minister Caroline Dinenage are core supporters. His pitch will be as a ‘fresh start’ candidate, but he’ll need to rid himself of his reputation as being George Osborne’s vicar on earth.
Liz Truss has transformed her profile over the last few months and thinks of herself as the ‘Thatcherite’ candidate, but if she calculates she’ll only get a couple of dozen votes, she’s likely to hook up with another candidate pretty early on.
Former chief whip Mark Harper is attracting a lot of comment and wants to run, but again, this may be more about a pitch for a future cabinet job.
One rumour I have been hearing is that the chairman of the 1922 committee Sir Graham Brady is seriously considering running, but also that he’s pitching himself as an alternative to David Lidington as an interim PM if May is forced out early.
Of the other dark horse candidates and ‘Young Turks’ the party deputy chairman James Cleverly is the most high-profile. But along with Johnny Mercer and Tom Tugendhat, he’s never held ministerial office. Defence minister Tobias Ellwood and Prisons minister Rory Stewart are almost certain to run if they can get the nominations.
The left of the party and the Remainers are not blessed with a large range of candidates. Amber Rudd is the most likely to garner a lot of support from outside her own gene pool, but her decision might well depend on her evaluation of her chances of making the final two. Like Dominic Raab, she might find it easy to top the poll in the first ballot, but then remain stuck.
If we look at global elections over the last five years or so the ‘safety first’ candidate has rarely won. So, the question Tory MPs will be asking themselves is this: do we stick with the tried and tested, or do we take a risk? Maybe even a massive risk.
On that dilemma hangs the future of the nation.
Boris Johnson – Expected backers: Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conor Burns, Andrew Bridgen, Andrea Jenkyns, Anne Marie Trevelyan
Dominic Raab – Expected backers: Gareth Johnson, Hugo Swire, Robert Syms, Suella Braverman, Michael Tomlinson, Shailesh Vara, Helen Grant, Rehman Chishti, Tom Pursglove, Robert Courts
David Davis – Expected backers: Andrew Mitchell, Greg Knight, David Jones, Mark Pritchard, Grant Shapps
Michael Gove - Expected backers: Mel Stride, John Hayes, Ed Vaizey, Nicholas Boles, George Freeman, Nick Gibb, Guy Opperman
Andrea Leadsom – Expected backers: Chris Heaton-Harris
Sir Graham Brady
Sajid Javid – Expected backers: Rob Halfon, John Glen, Chris Philp, Mims Davies
Jeremy Hunt – Expected backers: Steve Brine, James Cartlidge, Philip Dunne,
Matt Hancock – Expected backers: Tracey Crouch, Caroline Dinenage
Mark Harper – Expected backers: Will Quince, Luke Hall
Dark Horses & Young Turks