Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister in 1990 leaving the Conservative party bereft. Six leaders in the intervening twenty-eight years hasn’t reduced the grief. All six were mediocre.1 The Conservative Associations are dominated by the elderly who are the electorate choosing the next leader. They choose from a shortlist of two after a vote by Conservative MPs. Leaders must win two elections. Firstly, MPs vote for a shortlist then Associations have the decisive vote. Candidates must win a political vote and a beauty contest. In August 2018 there are five viable candidates.2
The odds offered by Paddy Power are in a very narrow range. Effectively the ante-post betting says, “It’s an open race”. Candidates must appeal to colleagues in parliament and that’s the first and most important job. The imperative is to be on the shortlist for the Associations’ consideration. Although speculative in the extreme the incentive is that ante-post betting offers the juiciest odds.
Jacob Rees-Mogg 5-1: He’s very well known as the Voice of Brexit. His media persona is that of an intellectual, which is surprising considering his 2nd class degree (70% of Oxford students get this). After eight years of Conservative government he hasn’t even been Minister for Paper-clips. This inexperience is a negative in the MP vote. Rees-Mogg is a one-trick pony and who’d be toxic in a General Election campaign. But he has a substantial following amongst Brexiters The Associations might well go with their heart rather than their brain.
Boris Johnson 5-1. Former Foreign Secretary, serial adulterer, buffoon, bone idle and betrayed long-term friend David Cameron in 2016. Was seen as lovable and, falsely, believed to be bright (2nd class degree, Oxford) but has been found out. Works hard at being controversial and repulsive but wont get on the shortlist. And if, astonishingly he did, could be too sleazy for Association voters despite their love of a face off the telly.
Michael Gove 6-1: A senior government minister for eight years with a track record. Four years as Education secretary were driven by ideological certainties some of which now look flaky, especially Free Schools. Principal negative was his betrayal of Johnson, his friend of thirty years, in 2016. Gove’s own 2016 leadership campaign was farcical and flared out. He acts as if he’s an intellectual (2nd class, Oxford) with numerous media appearances on high-brow shows.
Sajid Javid 6-1: A total outlier, he’s a working-class British-Asian politician. Went to Exeter University unlike the other four (Oxford) and is intellectually committed to Conservativism. Became a multi-millionaire as a senior banker. Appointed Home Secretary in 2018, by Theresa May, and immediately disowned her signature anti-immigration policy (hostile environment). Recently offered up two ISIS British prisoners to the USA knowing they’d probably be executed if found guilty. This will appeal to the ‘hangers and floggers’ in the Associations. If the Associations want to revisit the Thatcher years, they need to break the mould and a British-Asian, working-class multi-millionaire could be just the job.
Jeremy Hunt 10-1: Hunt has held senior office since 2010 with six years at Health. He’s had a torrid time trying to implement the Conservative Austerity programme in the face of rising demand and massive public support for the NHS.3 Nonetheless with good manners and calm assurance he held his position. He forced step-change increases in wages and funding for the NHS. Hunt got a first class Oxford degree and he’s rich, which are positives for MPs and the Associations. Johnson imploded over Brexit and Hunt was promoted to Foreign Secretary in 2018.
The shallowness of the gene pool is shown by four of the candidates. Hunt is the best of the Oxford clones and Javid is the clear outlier. Are the Conservatives looking for a new Thatcher? If they are they should go for Javid who’d break the mould as she did in 1975.
1 John Major, William Hague, Michael Howard, Ian Duncan Smith, David Cameron and Theresa May. Three have been Prime Minister- Major, Cameron and May (still PM in August 2018). The best was Major a decent humane man, unlike the extremist Theresa (hostile environment) May, and run-for-cover Cameron.
2 The list and odds are from Paddy Power a British bookmaker on 4th August 2018. Go to https://www.paddypower.com/politics?tab=uk-politics for a complete list of odds, which includes Nigel Farage who is neither a Conservative or an M P.
3 National Health Service