With Cheltenham in the books, the Grand National is galloping into view. Runners, riders and trainers alike are gearing up for the biggest race of their lives. But away from the jodhpurs there is another contest on the horizon that could be every bit as competitive and unpredictable. This week Theresa May announced that she would stand down as Prime Minister and Leader of theConservative Party if her Brexit deal was approved by the House of Commons, ushering in the prospect of a Conservative Leadership contest.
Much like the National, runners are not in short supply. But who will last the distance?
Michael Gove (5/2) is a worthy favourite, he has revitalised his department, which became a rare source of domestic good news for the Brexit beleaguered Government and in doing so rehabilitated his image, tarnished as it was by his machinations against fellow contender Boris Johnson (4/1) last time round. He has the Leave credentials required to lead the next phase of Brexit negotiations but has positioned himself behind the PM’s deal, delivering a tour de force in the Commons in January where he took Jeremy Corbyn to task and looked every bit a PM in waiting. But his early and full-throated backing of the deal could count against him among his more Eurosceptic colleagues.
Despite the new haircut, BoJo’s star has waned after an underwhelming stint as Foreign Secretary and his intransigence on May’s deal, which has alienated some in the centre and on the left of the party. Along with Dominic Raab (8/1), they are now largely seen as candidates for the right of the party alone and could struggle to achieve the broad base of support among MPs needed to get to the final two, where Boris’s real strength, his support among party members, would come to bear.
Jeremy Hunt (6/1) lasted six years in the Health brief and despite his infamous gaffe regarding his own wife’s nationality, he has performed well at the Foreign Office and is respected within the party. However, his volte-face from Remain to Brexiteer is seen by some as the epitome of political opportunism and could count against him. Another who faces a similar problem is Home Secretary Sajid Javid (9/1), who despite cultivating a reputation as a Eurosceptic, backed remain. He has publicly locked horns with Mrs May and has gone to significant lengths to reform the Home Office in his own image, moving away from a number of May’s previous positions, including the ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy. And what of dependable David Lidington (7/1)? He is seen as a safe pair of hands and a possible interim leader but has been at pains to make clear that he doesn’t want the top job.
While the new Leader is likely to come from the cohort of favourites, we shouldn’t discount a wildcard emerging on the rail late on and making a dash for the line. Political predications these days are a fool’s errand and so we won’t fall into that trap, but rest assured that we are in for a hell of a ride.