The World | George Trelawny
These are very uncertain times in British politics. The only certainty is that no one, no matter how grand, has any idea what state the United Kingdom will actually be in at the end of the Brexit process. When I started this article back in January, there was a belief, however remote, that Theresa May could successfully sail Brexit through the House of Commons. Even if her draft agreement required substantial modification, many believed she could still be there at the other end, jiving away to Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen.’
Endless votes in the Commons have revealed that nothing, – zilch, – can win a majority. Not the PM’s deal, a Customs agreement, or Norway-Plus, – whatever that is.
The PM exhibits incredible durability. She was described by veteran MP, Ken Clarke, as “a bloody difficult woman.” Taking up this mantle of Thatcher resurrected, she systematically endures; mechanically operating when all think her cogs might just be loosening.
Vultures are circling, however. Mrs May no longer exhibits the same mulish obstinacy she has in the past. At a recent meeting of the 1922 Committee (parliamentary group of Conservative MPs), Theresa May is alleged to have agreed to step down as Prime Minister if her Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union was voted through the House of Commons. Effectively, she promised Conservative MPs that if they back her now, they would see her back tomorrow.
Mrs May had previously stated she intends to stand down before the next general election. However, this recent admission to the 1922 Committee suggests removals vans could be heading up Downing Street sooner than previously thought.
There are two general rules in Conservative Party politics: never admit you want the job until the very last moment and do not stand on a ticket that is in anyway divisive. Bear this in mind. So, who are the beady-eyed opportunists loitering in the wings, waiting to pounce on Mrs May?
Below, we consider the candidates who stand the best chances of succeeding Theresa May. The names have not simply been pulled out of a hat. They are the politicians the world’s largest online gambling website – Bet365 – consider to be the most serious contenders.
Since resigning in July 2018, he’s been a vocal backbencher, taking every opportunity to attack government policy. Despite recent criticism for remarks he supposedly made during the 2016 referendum relating to Turkey’s potential accession to the European Union and rumours surrounding funds-for-speeches, he is still the bookies’ favourite.
Obviously, he wants the top job. He stood for it before. However, the former Foreign Secretary is as divisive as the issue on which he has made his name. While he is tremendously popular on the right of the party, many of the centrists see him as a man more likely to cause a split than promote union.
If he makes it to the last two – when the vote goes out to the wider party membership – he would have a very good chance. His trouble would be persuading enough MPs to back him in the meantime.
He’s the bookies’ favourite with odds of 9 to 2.
Over the past 18 months, Michael Gove has been doing whatever he can to shake off that backstabbing reputation. A long-time ally of behemoth Boris, in the leadership election that followed the Brexit vote, Gove announced – last minute – his intention to stand, scuppering any chance Boris Johnson had of success. The Daily Telegraph described it as “the most spectacular political assassination in a generation.”
Some see him as a man capable of stymying the rift in the Conservative Party. However, his newfound loyalty to Theresa May has earned him the distrust of some of his former Brexiteer colleagues. I doubt if he would be able to persuade the party membership of his credentials should he make it to the last two, especially if he comes up against Boris.
He’s got the second best odds at 6 to 1.
Some wonder how Jeremy Hunt has odds of 6 to 1. As Health Secretary for almost six years, his name became synonymous with austerity and Tory cuts. His bloody mindedness has seen him through, however. The current Foreign Secretary is the candidate with the best odds who is not dragging any baggage from the 2016 referendum campaign. His downfall might be his obvious desire for the leadership, something he should not be admitting to quite so freely, – at least not yet.
The former Brexit Secretary resigned in October. A vocal critic of the backstop agreement, he’s since criticised large chunks of the Draft Withdrawal Agreement he felt he was barred from changing whilst in office.
He lacks serious ministerial experience, having only served as Brexit Secretary for five months. However if that didn’t stop David Cameron back in 2005, there’s no reason it should stop Dominic Raab. What might limit him are careless admissions of ministerial incompetence, such as revealing he never read the 40-page Good Friday Agreement when Brexit Secretary.
His Bet365 odds stand at 7 to 1.
Even though he sided with Remain in the referendum, Sajid Javid has given recent indications of more Eurosceptic leanings. Back in October, the Home Secretary stated that EU nationals will not be given preferential treatment after Brexit, winning huge support from the Eurosceptic wing. In an interview with the Financial Times, he even went as far as stating that he is “not the best of buddies” with the Prime Minister. Could this be an attempt at winning over some of the more right wing members of the Party?
Bet365 give him odds of seven to one.
The ‘Honourable Member for the Eighteenth Century’ rounds off the list. Now seen as a busted flush, Rees-Mogg’s popularity peaked last year when his firm Euroscepticism captivated the Tory grassroots. He was one of the main ringleaders in the attempted ousting of May from the leadership back in December. After nothing materialised, he was left a damp squib. Nowadays he hosts private dinners at his Westminster home, supposedly to sell a Boris premiership.
Amongst the pro-European faction of the Tory Party, he’s toxic. Indeed at a time when pro-European Conservatives seem to be quitting the party to join the Independents, Jacob Rees-Mogg could be a stretch too far. Certainly not the candidate of unity, his chances are getting slimmer by the day. They currently stand at 50 to 1.
Originally published 18.04.19 in Vol. 2 No. 2.