Boris has achieved what few have been capable of, uniting the parliamentary Conservative Party against continuing his tenure in Number 10.
Having survived a vote of no confidence a few weeks ago, ostensibly having the backing of the majority of Tory MPs, we are now left with a leadership campaign with currently 11 candidates, representing different factions within the party. The fragments have reappeared.
Several potential candidates who might have been expected to stand and who have done in the past have not gone forward. One wonders how bruising previous campaigns have been. This leadership race brings forward more candidates to signal their aspirations up the greasy pole. There will be further opportunities to bargain for positions in the new regime.
Of course, some will be weeded out by the process. Rules put forward by the 1922 Committee will ensure that the number will be reduced before reaching the first hurdle.
An observation is initially, the list of candidates is probably the most diverse of any leadership race in British political history, several candidates having been born outside the country or of the next generation. Other than Jo Swinson, neither of the other parties can boast anything other than a white male as party leader.
Whoever is elected from within to become the next Prime Minister, there are three different audiences to be considered, MPs, party members and ultimately the electorate. Already we have seen some hints as to the X Factor nature of the campaign, the background stories making for prominent headlines. Are these presented with a view to perceptions of the third audience, currently some of them fitting into the “who?” category for public profile?
There may be some horse trading with promises of ministerial roles or honours but for the time being, what will be in the open is policies. Other than generic, occasionally nuanced, tax cutting, these will be more detailed as time goes by. There are of course the issues of the day, Russia, the cost of living and managing Brexit perhaps uppermost.
So, to the candidates, listed traditionally in alphabetical order of surname as an attempt to minimise bias.
Born to Nigerian parents, Badenoch had an international education before finally settling permanently in Britain from the age of 16. She may be considered as one of the “who?” candidates yet few who have witnessed her performances at the despatch box would contest her parliamentary skills.
Her range of briefs has been impressive although opponents will brand her views on LGBQT+ and inverse racism as controversial. An ardent Brexiteer.
Braverman is supported by arch Brexiteer, Steve Baker, himself an accomplished performer who highlights Braverman’s resolve. She describes herself as a “child of the British Empire, with parents from Mauritius and Kenya.
Her performances at the despatch box identify her as a competent, composed, articulate performer, in command of her brief. Her challenge is to make the final two.
For public profile, Chishti is an almost definite to fit into the “who?” Category. Born in Pakistan, his back story is one for the X Factor, not having seen his father, a figure in the regime of Benazir Bhutto, until coming to the country at the age of 6.
He is a lawyer by background, having worked part time in “normal” jobs to finance his training. Holding PPS and junior ministerial positions, he is a rarity in professing to vote for Brexit after listening to the majority in his constituency.
Having run for the role previously, Hunt will be best known as the longest serving Health Secretary. In this role, he oversaw the dismantling of Lansley’s hard fought healthcare reforms, having given the role of NHS supremo to a Special Adviser on health to Tony Blair.
Many will see him as the statesmanlike figure amongst the contenders, more for being recognisable perhaps than for his achievements.
Among the top X Factor back stories, Javid makes much of his humble family roots and rise to success with German and American banks, the latter a time at which he held non-domicile tax status in the UK.
He can boast a range of ministerial appointments, having resigned his last two, Chancellor and Education, in protest at measures taken by the current Prime Minister. Some might argue that he had “gone native” at HM Treasury. Others might argue the benefits of his being something of a political chameleon having been an ERM sceptic yet a Brexit remainer.
Mordaunt comes from the French for biting sarcasm yet Penny presents herself as a uniting candidate. Diplomatic missions researching the potential PM are equally likely to find her in a swim suit for reality TV or impish challenges from her Royal Navy reservist contacts.
For the third audience, she appears to be approachable and living in the real world. Whilst she hopes to make a splash, she may have set herself up for another belly flop. Despite her range of ministerial appointments, finding an aura of gravitas might be her biggest challenge. Her aspiration may be to be the modern Jim Hacker.
Shapps is one of two candidates with a background in the Jewish faith but the only one with a rock star father. Perhaps that is where he gained an aptitude to capture a public profile beyond his mundane department.
He is mired in controversy, including a bullying scandal as Chair of the Conservative Party and maintaining a second job under a pseudonym. One wonders if his leadership bid is merely another tactic to raise his profile.
Sunak has been keen to highlight his background with parents who came to Britain to make a better life, his father a GP, his mother a pharmacist. He has paved the way for being a tax cutting leader by increasing the tax burden on individuals to record levels.
With a slick image, it remains to be seen how the thirs audience will judge him. For many, he is the Covid Chancellor with a reputation for ignoring the 3 million entrepreneurial self-employed. For many more, he will be remembered as the Chancellor who raised taxes whilst leaving the bulk of income to his grand households untouched, due to his wife’s non-domicile status.
The dream candidate perhaps – for Labour?
To start with the negative, Truss’s past includes an extra-marital affair, not unusual for a politician. Many have proved themselves to be detailed, competent and highly principled on affairs of state.
Truss is amazingly unique, a Remainer given a Brexit brief and delivering beyond expectations. Britain now has trade deals with more external countries than have any members of the EU. She may be short on charisma but is immense on delivery. Whether she makes the final two is down to MPs.
Like all MPs, Tugendhat has a high profile in Westminster as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, generating widespread respect in the corridors of power. His family background includes a French mother, the paternal line apparently of Austrian Jewish descent, although he educated at the Catholic Ampleforth College.
If he makes it to the third audience cut, his profile as a Lieutenant Colonel as a reservist might be expected to be prominent, his having served in conflict in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Zahawi has made an interesting start, having been move from the position in Education to become one of the three who have held the office of Chancellor, his . Born in Iraq, his business background has been very much to the fore. His supporters will point to management skills, not least in dealing with the Covid vaccination roll out.
For whatever reason, allegations have appeared to suggest that he is currently under investigation by HMRC, which in itself is not a suggestion that he has done anything untoward. However, the third audience will repeatedly be made aware of Zahawi’s temporary solution to exorbitant household fuel bills, having eventually had to repay £4,000 for heating the stables on his property.
With a field so large, some favourites will emerge. We may never know some of the deals that go on behind the scenes. If those choosing the new leader were to consider the third audience, then Truss’s record of delivering on trade deals might put her into the running. Sunak is currently the bookies’ favourite. Unless the demographic of Conservative Party members has changed significantly in recent, don’t be surprised, should he make the final, to see Hunt take the reins, or should that be reigns?