Today is the day, after almost three years as leader of the Conservative party, Theresa May will resign the top job – outlasting Gordon Brown’s tenure by 10 days. And what a start to her last day as Conservative leader – the once Labour/Tory marginal seat of Peterborough shed thousands of Tory votes to the Brexit Party overnight with Labour narrowly winning with a slim majority of 683 votes over the Brexit Party. The result follows the abysmal performance at last month’s European parliamentary elections, with Conservative’s finishing in fifth place with just 9 per cent of the vote.
Later today Mrs May will exchange letters with the 1922 Committee to formally resign her leadership. Early this evening there will be a call for candidates, nominations will swiftly close at 5pm on Monday. In the past week we have had confirmation from the 1922 Committee of rule changes in the race to replace Mrs May as leader and prime minister, a candidate needs eight MPs to back their nomination, then, starting on 13 June a series of secret ballots will be held until a final two candidates are put to a ballot of Conservative party members, we expect the result week commencing 22 July. In a departure from previous contests, the first two ballots will require all candidates to reach a threshold of support to avoid elimination – 17 at the first, 33 at the second – thereafter it reverts to the usual format of the last-placed candidate being eliminated in each round.
The candidates (as of 7 June)
The dominant candidate. A prominent Brexiteer, former foreign secretary and former London Mayor, Boris has long been a thorn in the side of the Government’s previous Brexit plans. Instinctively he is a believer in free market principles and he also takes a liberal approach on social issues. The colourful Old Etonian has been heavily tipped as leader before, infamously being undercut by Michael Gove in 2016. He does now face a notable anti-Boris movement from his own MP colleagues, he has spent considerable time securing parliamentary backers. At an impressive performance in early hustings this week he warned the Conservative party it is facing extinction if it does not deliver Brexit and put Nigel Farage “back in his box”.
A reforming Brexiteer. A key outer during the referendum, he has sought to rehabilitate his reputation, and became one of May’s most loyal ministers. He offers a balance of views and profile that can win over support from the grassroots members as well as convince multiple parliamentary backers. He has a proven ability to drive change and reform in government as well as creating eye-catching announcements on plastic pollution and animal welfare, although this can often manifest itself in an interventionist approach.
The professed libertarian. He believes in a low-tax, low-regulation economy, as well as being a strong defender of civil liberties. His recent policy suggestions around stronger legal protections for returning mothers can be seen as an attempt to move away from his previous provocative soundbites on feminism. An international lawyer by training, he has also shown a reluctance to engage directly with business groups during his ministerial career. Has been hard at work preparing himself to run for leader and built early momentum, but has angered many with his suggestions that Parliament could be suspended if it attempted to block a no deal Brexit – something he has firmly kept on the table. (N.B. it is pronounced Raab as in Saab, not Raab as in crab)
The ‘Teflon’ candidate. Hunt has a political career proving his ability to brush off criticism – from his time as the longest-serving health secretary, to being seen as the “cheerleader” for News Corp’s bid to take over BskyB. A charitably-minded millionaire publishing entrepreneur, his own economic views remain unclear as he has towed the party line throughout his government loyalist career. He prominently voted remain so has worked to do appeal to the member base. This has not stopped him building an early lead in remain-supporting parliamentary backers.
The deliberate outsider. The charismatic former diplomat has sought to carve out a different campaign. Focusing on straight talking media interviews (noticeably saying he would not serve under Johnson) and “self-made” social media content. This has generated a lot of engagement but has yet to translate into a sizeable parliamentary backing which may mean he misses the final cut. Should he be knocked out in an early round of voting Stewart’s backing could add life to the more conservative campaigns of Gove or Hunt…in exchange for a senior cabinet position.
The home secretary with a backstory. Javid backed remain in 2016 but has since positioned himself as a ‘firm Leaver’. He has made prominent and sometimes politically questionable decisions at the Home Office, also tried to unpick the restrictions inside of May’s immigration policy. A surprisingly slow start to his campaign and needs momentum.
The self-claimed most ardent Brexiteer. McVey has said she would be prepared to walk away without a Brexit deal. The former TV presenter was among those to quit the Government in November due to her opposition to the previous Brexit deal. She has also invested a lot of her personal effort in pushing Blue Collar Conservatism, which aims to target “working class voters”.
The re-runner. Despite only being an MP since 2010, has held several ministerial positions. She was in the final two in the last leadership race but ill-judged comments and questions about her over exaggerated business career meant that she pulled out of the head to head with May. Styling herself as a “determined Brexiteer” she has committed to leave EU with or without a deal. Has worked hard to maintain her popularity within Parliament, but this does not appear yet to have led to high numbers of backers.
The heir apparent to George Osborne. The health secretary has always looked to promote his youthful enthusiasm and ‘tech-savviness’. Much like his former boss Osborne, he backed remain and seeks to reflect the centre ground of conservative thinking. He has worked hard to drive media attention in the early parts of the campaign, but it is unclear if the Party is ready to back this next generational approach.
The happy underdog. The former chief whip has brought a fresh honesty about the possibility of needing to delay Brexit again, we wait to see if he and others can secure the eight MPs in nomination, unlikely to be top challenger.
Former Minister and now backbencher backing a second referendum as part of his leadership bid, and has said he would vote to Remain.