In the run-up to conference season, it seems appropriate to look again at the likelihood of Theresa May remaining prime minister to oversee the conclusion of a Brexit deal. At the time of writing, Boris Johnson currently sits as the bookies favourite to unseat the prime minister, yet there are many others looking to stake their claim on the top-job. Here we give an overview of the current runners and riders looking to topple Theresa May as they appear in order of favourite.
Sitting pretty as the bookies favourite is none other than Boris Johnson. Whilst wishing to convey himself as a principled leader, some could say that Johnson instead gives off the persona of a knock-off Winston Churchill; and although he may appear erratic, he is deeply cunning and has long harboured ambitions for power, going back to his days at Eton. This wouldn’t be his first rodeo, making a leadership bid in 2016 after the resignation of David Cameron; however this attempt was cut short thanks to Shakespearean levels of backstabbing performed by Michael Gove, another name we will be covering in this list. Johnson cuts a contentious figure within his party, provoking ire for his comments in a newspaper article comparing women wearing the burqa to letterboxes, and in some quarters his support within the party could be waning. His chances however, may have been given a boost recently with the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, stating that any candidate with the support of 20 MPs should be allowed on the final ballot paper. This was criticised by William Hague, who suggested that it would give undue influence to ‘unrepresentative minorities’ within the party.
Oh Jeremy Corbyn… The leader of the opposition currently sits in second place in the overall betting odds tracker, with some people, including many industry leaders believing that he will be the next prime minister. He has, however, continued to face severe criticism from within his party and without, with many accusing him of anti-Semitism and while the Labour Party have adopted the IHRA antisemitism definition in full, the fallout continues, with Frank Field resigning the Labour whip in protest. Understandably, this seems to have affected his recent polling figures, with results indicating that only 24% of people think that he would make the best prime minister compared with 35% who back Theresa May.
The new kid on the block, well not new exactly (he was elected as MP for Bromsgrove in 2010). Javid has risen rapidly through the Conservative ranks, swiftly being promoted from communities secretary to home secretary in April 2018 following the resignation of Amber Rudd, who misled the Home Affairs Select Committee over the Windrush scandal. While Javid is still contending with this scandal, in June he was tipped by Conservative activists to be the party’s next leader and in a recent YouGov poll, he compared favourably when up against Boris Johnson and Theresa May, with 67% of respondents describing him as competent, compared to 35% for Boris Johnson and 48% for Theresa May.
Hitherto a relatively unknown name outside of political circles, ‘Mogg-Mania’ has since swept the land and now everyone knows of the bold Brexiteer. Leader of the Eurosceptic European Research Group, Rees-Mogg has been a constant thorn in the government’s side, forcing a retreat during the final stages of the Brexit bill’s transition through parliament, while openly criticising Theresa May’s Chequers plan. His chances of leading the party may have diminished following Boris Johnson’s resignation, with many Brexit-supporting Conservatives siding with the latter in his newly liberated role as a backbencher. However, this hasn’t stopped him from plotting to bring down May, openly discussing the timing of a possible no confidence vote at the most recent ERG meeting if she doesn’t drop her Chequers plan.
Each-way bets – Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt
The two each-way bets come in the form of Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt. Gove has already shown his hand in the last leadership challenge; however, his current intentions are much murkier. He has turned the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs into a formidable unit, and instead of backing the Eurosceptic rebels in the Conservative party, he has remained loyal to the prime minister. It remains to be seen if he’s bolted too early, though there are surely more twists and turns yet to come from Michael Gove.
With his promotion to foreign secretary after the resignation of Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt now holds one of the most powerful positions in Government. Two years ago, Hunt was a maligned figure in his role as health secretary, facing a wave of criticism from doctors, nurses and many member of the public for his handling of the NHS. Since then he has received credit for his record breaking time at health. He has also shown loyalty to the prime minister; whereas others in her cabinet have revolted (we’re looking at you Boris!), although he recently joined a growing number of cabinet members, urging Theresa May to drop Chequers, in favour of a Canada-style Brexit deal. Questions also remain however as to whether he can be trusted as a genuine Brexiteer, voting remain in the referendum, but having since then changed his mind.
Worth a Punt?
- Penny Mordaunt, secretary of state for international development
- Dominic Raab, secretary of state for exiting the European Union
- Liz Truss, chief secretary to the treasury
- Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House of Commons
- David Davis, former secretary of state for exiting the European Union
While there are many runners and riders seemingly hopeful of toppling May, her position may not be as unstable as some may have you believe. She has faced a number of challenges in the last few months, not least a rebellion in parliament on the Brexit bill and the Chequers deal, which she just about managed to scrape through unscathed. In a recent poll published by ICM, it was found that replacing Theresa May with Boris Johnson, or any of the other candidates listed above, would not boost the Conservative party’s chances of winning the next election. While this isn’t a particularly robust indicator of the future, with Theresa May’s approval ratings hitting a record low in July, it does highlight how her opponents may fare given their own shots at power. In her recent trip to Africa, the prime minister shrugged off the threat of a leadership challenge, insisting that she would lead the party “for the long term” and this was reinforced with her impassioned address to the nation last week on the progress of Brexit negotiations. However, with the conference season upon us there are many twists and turns left to go, particularly as we move closer to the deadline for an agreement setting out the terms of UK-EU ‘divorce’.