Bye Bye Boris: Who’s Who in the Conservative Leadership Election

The resignation of David Cameron on the morning after the EU Referendum was only as unexpected as the result itself. Although many protested otherwise, he would always have had to resign in such circumstances.

Nominations closed with a dramatic intervention from Michael Gove which not only declared his own intentions to run but also dished the chances of the long-time favourite, and fellow Brexiteer, Boris Johnson.

Voting, which begins on Tuesday 5th July with successive votes being held on Thursdays and Tuesdays, is run by the backbench 1922 committee, until the party's 331 MPs select two contenders, who will then go forward to a vote of the full party membership. The final winner, who will be Britain's next prime minister, is expected to be announced on 9th September.

Who are the candidates?

Stephen Crabb

Born in Scotland and raised in Wales, it was only in March that Crabb’s leadership potential was seriously mooted. He is part traditionalist, as demonstrated by his vote against gay marriage, part blue-collar, state-educated conservative. If even partially successful, his background will become as well-known as London mayor Sadiq Khan’s.

Before politics he work for Christian Action Research and Education then the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services. Elected in 2005 for the constituency of Pembrokeshire, he served in the whips office before moving to the Welsh Office in 2012. He was promoted to Welsh Secretary in 2014 then to Work and Pensions when IDS resigned.  

Crabb wants to pitch himself both as the successor to Cameron as well as, in terms of class and voter appeal, the diametric opposite. He is close friends with Ruth Davidson, one of the stars of the Remain campaign who recently brought her party back from near political death in the recent Scottish election. His offer is as the unity and stability candidate.

Slogan: Unity and Opportunity.

Quote: “On the rainy rugby fields of West Wales I learnt that it’s not a question of just waiting for the ball to pop out from the back of the scrum. If you want it, you do what’s required.”

Bookmakers’ Odds: 14/1

Verdict: Determined to move the Conservative Party on from the Bullingdon days of Cameron, Johnson and Osborne, the short campaign and his opposition to equal marriage will count heavily against him.

Liam Fox

Since his bizarre resignation as Defence Secretary, Liam Fox has been seeking rehabilitation. He turned down a (demeaningly) junior government job in 2014 and wanted to lead the Leave campaign. In the end, Cameron’s suspension of collective responsibility gave prominence to others such as Michael Gove.

Fox, a GP before his political career, was elected as an MP in 1992, making him the longest serving of all the candidates. In John Major’s government he served as a whip but was promoted to the Shadow Cabinet in 1999 by William Hague. He stood for the leadership in 2005, coming behind third.

Appointed to the defence brief by Cameron (with whom he enjoyed fraught relations) Fox built a reputation as a fervent Atlanticist and eurosceptic. His tenure as Defence Secretary was brought to a rapid end by controversy over his relationship with lobbyist Adam Werritty.  

The candidate of the traditional right, his supporters see him as the man who will deliver Brexit and return to a more traditional conservatism.

Slogan: The New Britain: A World Of Opportunity

Quote: “In a less shameless world, Liam Fox’s career would have ended in 2011.”

Bookmakers’ Odds: 23/1

Verdict: Not a chance. This is either a deluded bid or a pitch for relevance.

Michael Gove

The Justice Secretary - and former Education Secretary - was a leading Leave campaigner after he put aside his friendship with David Cameron. Unfailingly polite but undoubtedly abrasive, he was demoted from education to the Whip’s Office before the 2015 election due to his toxic reputation. Yet even his detractors usually acknowledge his passion for equality - if not his ideological approach. His time as at the MoJ has rebuilt some of his reputation as he reversed many of Chris Grayling’s more right-wing reforms.

His dramatic - and late - intervention as nominations closed scuppered Johnson’s bid but it remains to be seen whether his late campaign can build the parliamentary support to make the final two candidates.

Educated at the private Robert Gordon’s College, Gove - like the man he betrayed - is a former journalist. However, unlike Johnson, he is known for his serious approach to politics. His pitch will be as the former chair of the Leave campaign who has the intellect and the reforming instincts to make Brexit work.

Campaign Slogan: None as yet. (Obviously beneath so erudite a politician)

Bookmakers’ Odds: 1/3

Quote: "I don't want to do it and there are people who are far better equipped than me to do it. And there are people who have advocated Leave and people who have advocated Remain who are far better than me to do it."

Verdict: We agree with Michael.

Andrea Leadsom

Even though she is not a full Cabinet minister, the declaration of intent from the energy minister was not unexpected. There had been rumours that Leadsom was holding out for a firm job offer (as Chancellor) from Boris Johnson.

A former banker, Leadsom joined parliament in 2010 as the member for South Northamptonshire and served on the Treasury Select Committee where she made a reputation as independent-minded, analytical and Eurosceptic. Her promotion (eventually to Economic Secretary at the Treasury) was delayed by her vote for a referendum in 2011 and her defence of Ed Balls over the Libor scandal. After the general election she was appointed energy minister with the right to attend Cabinet.

Leadsom, a passionate Thatcherite, undoubtedly had a “good campaign” so her sell is as a passionate and principled believer in Brexit and “grown up”.

Campaign Slogan: A Fresh Start

Bookmakers’ Odds: 9/2

Quote: [to George Osborne] Fuck off!

Verdict: The timing does not suit Leadsom who has the least high-level political experience of the five. A later, and longer, campaign would have given her a greater opportunity to build on her referendum success. Her success depends on where Boris' backers go.  

Theresa May

The Home Secretary was always expected to bid for the leadership on David Cameron’s departure. Her rather reluctant support for Remain during the campaign was seen as a future nod to the party’s Brexit wing. She is now in the position of having to convince her party that she can negotiate an EU exit. “Brexit means Brexit,” as she said at her launch.

The daughter of a clergyman and state-educated, May has been the longest-serving Home Secretary in modern politics, having been appointed unexpectedly in May 2010 after a long tour of portfolios in opposition. Unlike many of her predecessors, her reputation has increased in office: the phrase “a safe pair of hands” would never be far from any one’s lips when describing her. It is her natural caution and lack of show (as well as record on immigration), rather than her Remain support, which may be her undoing in the campaign.

Her campaign launch not only emphasised her seriousness as a politician but also her tough, modernising credentials. This is the woman who popularised the phrase “the nasty party” as party chair under IDS, who secured the deportation of Abu Qatada and faced down calls from the US government to extradite Gary McKinnon.

Campaign Slogan: A Country That Works For Everyone

Quote: “Theresa may. Then again, she may not.”

Bookmakers’ Odds: 8/13

Verdict: Undoubtedly the political castration of Boris Johnson means that Theresa May is the woman to beat. Certainly not the next Thatcher, but maybe the UK’s answer to Angela Merkel.

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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