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The Game of Thrones Battle for the Tory Leadership by Nathan Weaver

Some excitement in politics, at last! It may not quite be on the scale of a Game of Thrones battle, but it certainly has enough participants for one. After Theresa May's inability to get a deal to pass through Parliament, she has succumbed to the calls in her party to resign, thus triggering a leadership contest within the Conservative Party.

The Tories have a knack for jettisoning their leaders when they feel their time has come. Their sense of 'the time is right' is, arguably, the reason why they have won the past seven out of ten general elections. It is now the turn of Theresa May's successor to take centre stage. However, there's the small problem of there being a dozen of them that want the top job. As The Guardian columnist Owen Jones pointed out, Tories and non-Tories alike should take an interest in this contest. Not only are Conservative MPs and members voting for their next leader, they are also voting for the next Prime Minister.

First up: Sajid Javid. The most senior contender, in terms of ministerial hierarchy, alongside Jeremy Hunt. Javid is a self-described compassionate Conservative whose family came to Britain in the 1960s. He has begun to shift his focus from saying that he is "the son of a bus driver from Pakistan" to proposing policies but his background is a significant part of the Home Secretary's appeal. Javid sums up some of the Conservative Party's traditional values of self-determination and meritocracy - something which has, perhaps, faded under the premiership of Theresa May.

Javid voted to remain in the 2016 Referendum which may hamper his chances among the party members; 61% of Conservatives voted to leave the EU in 2016 so the Home Secretary must show his Eurosceptic streak to please members. Though he lacks some of the star power that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove possess, Sajid Javid's ministerial experience and competence in the Home Office does not do him any harm, as he hopes to catch up with the frontrunners.

Next up, is Jeremy Hunt - the Foreign Secretary who has begun to shake off the reputation that he forged while at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Such as when he successfully intervened to bring academic Matthew Hedges home from the United Arab Emirates, after Hedges had previously been sentenced to life imprisonment.

Again, the B-word looms large and Hunt seems to be cosying up to as many sides of the debate as possible. On one hand, Hunt has described going for a no-deal Brexit as politically suicidal for the party, after his comments in April that the Tories may have to embrace no-deal. Whether this is cosying up to all sides or none of them is yet to be determined.

Third up, is Matt Hancock. Hunt's successor as the Health and Social Care Secretary is sure to appeal to the young members of the Conservative Party. Hancock has built up a solid reputation in a seemingly short space of time at the DHSC by overseeing the biggest cash bonus to the NHS in its history, the launch of the NHS' ten-year plan and creating NHSx, a move set to digitise the health service. Oh, and he's a dog lover.

It says a lot when junior Ministers in the DHSC, such as Seema Kennedy and Stephen Hammond, are backing Hancock alongside the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department, Maggie Throup. The question for Hancock is if he can make it to the final two, when members get their say after the parliamentary party has had its turn.

Hancock has also been playing it pretty coy when it comes to his view on leaving the EU. Although voting to remain in 2016, Hancock is committed to leaving the EU. In his campaign, Hancock has said that he would deliver Brexit but that we need to look past this and focus on the domestic agenda and the reforms needed in modern society. He is potentially a dark horse in the contest.

Now onto the Leavers. Naturally, Boris Johnson is up first. Johnson won two London Mayoral elections by promoting himself as a socially liberal Conservative who advocated for an open London. In 2016, he surprised people across the country when he supported leaving the European Union on the basis of sovereignty. Shipman (2016, p.571) writes that Theresa May appointed Johnson as Foreign Secretary in 2016 to promote a global Britain, and this is where Johnson was able to gain the top-level ministerial experienced required for all frontrunners.

Johnson may be a marmite candidate among Tory MPs but he has a large amount of support amongst the members. It's safe to say that Johnson would win the final contest if he got that far. It's just a question of if he can see of fellow Leavers such as Dominic Raab and Michael Gove.

Speaking of Gove, the Environment Secretary had been ticking along nicely since returning to government. Gove has shaken off the woes of his and Boris Johnson's leadership bids in 2016 and has begun to gain support from members across the party. This includes younger members who are impressed with his work in addressing the state of the climate.

His support for the Prime Minister since his return to the Cabinet has earned Gove respect from MPs and members alike. He has also demonstrated his statesmanship qualities when making a speech attacking Jeremy Corbyn during the no confidence debate in January.

As a Leave supporter, Gove already has a head-start on some of the other contenders and is keeping his eyes firmly on the prize this time around. He has a bit more shaking off to do with regards to his public reputation, but this would be tested later on down the line.

Dominic Raab seemed to shoot to the political frontline when he was promoted from Housing Minister to Brexit Secretary in July 2018. He seemed frustrated that he did not have more control in the negotiations and resigned over the issue of the Irish Backstop in November. However, Raab is now a candidate who has seen where things went wrong and has a clear idea of how he would fix them, in an ideal world.

Raab has also made some leadership pledges unlike his rivals. For example, he has said that it is an aspiration of his to take a penny off of income tax in every year for the next five years. He has also said that he would not cut the Foreign Aid budget. This move is popular with multiple factions of the Tory Party and has made Raab appear as a unique candidate in the race. Raab certainly does not have as many skeletons in his closet as Johnson or Gove which could do him many favours as the contest continues.

Also running is Rory Stewart. Having only been in the Cabinet for just a few weeks when Theresa May made her resignation speech, it would be a truly meteoric rise if Stewart got the keys to Number 10. He has openly opposed a no-deal which may lose him votes among members, but it may gain him some votes among Remainers and soft-Leavers in the parliamentary party. It may, however, seem as if this leadership contest has come a little too soon for Stewart and that he is dipping his toe in to see how he would fare next time around.

Kit Malthouse has also thrown his hat into the ring. The Housing Minister is most famed for creating the 'Malthouse Compromise' - a version of Brexit which would see a managed no-deal scenario. This plan gained traction from across the party, including from big-name Remainer Nicky Morgan, which may work in Malthouse's favour. Tom Newton-Dunn, The Sun's political editor, also tweeted that 56% of voters do not want to see a cabinet minister become Prime Minister. On this basis, Malthouse could be popular among the public. He may drop-out fairly early on in the contest but could be in for a bigger job, once everything is said and done.

The former presenter-turned-politician, Esther McVey, has also entered the contest. McVey's brand of blue-collar conservatism may be popular among the working classes as she believes that politicians nowadays are not tuned in with conversations going on in pubs across the country. McVey also favours a clean break from the EU. While she would prefer a deal, the former Work & Pensions Secretary sees a no-deal as a viable option which may please members. Again, she may lend her support to a Gove or a Johnson character later on in the contest, but it will be interesting to see how much traction her Tory workers' image picks up.

Andrea Leadsom has also announced that she will run... again. Leadsom dropped out of the 2016 race meaning that Theresa May could take the crown without a vote among members. This time, the former Leader of the Commons will launch a campaign on a leave stance. Some members think that her Brexit credibility has ebbed away since persevering in May's Cabinet for so long. It may be that Leadsom's time has passed but she will be a prominent candidate in the race.

Sir Graham Brady may also run as a candidate. The former chairman of the 1922 Committee is launching a leadership bid after devising the 'Brady amendment', the only Brexit proposal that has commanded a majority in the House of Commons so far. This is not much to launch a campaign off of and he may be another one to tuck back in further down the line.

There may be others who fancy a go at fighting for Number 10, but this could largely be to bag themselves a better job at the end of it all. Overall, the contest that goes to the Tory members will be between a Leaver and a Remainer. Both sides will begin to drop out as the contest goes on and will fall in behind those who share their view on the most salient issue of the day.

For the Leavers, it seems to be a three-horse race between Johnson, Raab and Gove. Johnson is the frontrunner and the most popular among party members but, as recent Conservative leadership contests have proven, the frontrunner rarely lands the big prize. Gove may also find it tricky to shake off enough of his old reputation among Conservative MPs, while Raab presents a more level-headed approach to Brexit and on domestic policy.

It is not so clear for the Remainers. While Javid and Hunt are the most senior runners, both are struggling to show their Eurosceptic streaks. As there are two of them, this may split the vote allowing a dark horse, like Matt Hancock, to gain support. Hancock may win his own votes by showing himself as a moderniser before picking up support from Javid and Hunt's allies.

The members will most likely go for a Leave voter but, as 2016 showed, the contest does not always go that far.

References:

Shipman, T., 2016. All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain's Political Class. London: William Collins.

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