It is just a week since David Cameron resigned, but it feels like an age. The Conservative Party is known for dramatic leadership contests, and so far has done its best to live up to the comparisons with Game of Thrones and House of Cards.
Boris Johnson at the start of the week looked like he was clearly favourite, with dozens of MPs, key allies, and victory in the EU referendum all giving him a favourable wind. But he ran into trouble after a Telegraph article that was seen by some as preparing to try to water down or reverse Brexit, which became entwined with growing fears in the Gove camp that Boris would not honour pledges of posts for key individuals.
The decision by Gove to pull support just hours before Boris announced his candidacy for Tory leader, taking key lieutenants Nick Boles and Dominic Raab with him, sent shockwaves through Westminster. With key allies gone, and reeling from a full on attack by Gove on his trustworthiness and ability to lead, Boris declared just a couple of hours later to shocked MPs that he would not be standing at all – ending what one commentator called a ‘ten-year leadership campaign’. It was the most dramatic day in Tory politics for decades.
The obvious winner from the war between the two big beasts on the Leave side is Theresa May, whose stock has risen steadily this week – with a launch even opponents had to admit was consummately professional. She was funny, articulate, convincing, and other than wearing a tartan suit that made her look like an Edinburgh furniture firm had upholstered her, it was pitch perfect as a run based on reassurance in turbulent times.
But Gove is not out yet, while prominent Brexiter Andrea Leadsom is seen as having a good shot at getting enough MPs to support her to make it through to the vote amongst the Tory membership, who overwhelmingly supported Leave. Only Steven Crabb and Liam Fox are seen as definitely not winners – Fox has a limited chance of even getting through to the next stage. Yet if the last week has shown us anything, it is that anything can happen. While May is now extremely likely to get through to the final two candidates, already being the new favourite makes her a target for hostile stories. Being Tory leadership favourite is no fun – as both Osborne and Johnson could attest to. This contest has a while to run yet…