Today not only marks an unfortunate – rainy and dreary – day for anyone with Cricket World Cup tickets but also the deadline for candidates to apply to be leader of the Conservative Party. Ahead of that, the leading candidates were out in force on Sunday setting out their thoughts on everything from Brexit and tax to drug-taking.
Our big picture from a couple of weeks ago, ‘The Newest Reality Show: Great Britain’s Next Prime Minister!’ highlighted the betting odds for the next Conservative leader. As it stands, whilst the odds have shifted, little has changed in terms of frontrunners:
· Boris Johnson (former foreign secretary and MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip): 10/11
· Michael Gove (Environment Secretary and MP for Surrey Heath): 6/1
· Jeremy Hunt (Foreign Secretary and MP for South West Surrey): 10/1
· Andrea Leadsom (former House of Commons leader and MP South Northamptonshire): 11/1
· Dominic Raab (former Brexit secretary and MP for Esher and Walton): 20/1
· Rory Stewart (International Development Secretary and MP for Penrith and The Border): 25/1
· Sajid Javid (Home Secretary and MP for Bromsgrove): 33/1
· Matt Hancock (Health Secretary and MP for West Suffolk): 50/1
· Esther McVey (former work and pensions secretary and MP for Tatton): 100/1
· Mark Harper (former chief whip and MP for Forest of Dean): 300/1
· Sam Gyimah (former universities minister and MP for East Surrey): 400/1
**James Cleverly and Kit Malthouse withdrew their bids last week, both claiming the party was not ready to elect a new generation of leader.
So, how does the mechanics behind the selection process work? The timeline below highlights the build up to July 22nd when the new leader/Prime Minister is appointed.
In order to be eligible, all candidates must receive at least eight MPs’ backing in order to enter the contest formally. Only the principal and seconder need be named – the remaining six MPs are able to stay anonymous. This could prove to be the first hurdle for those MPs who are not able to garner enough support.
The hustings will then take place behind closed doors – with only MPs in the room. MPs will be able to ask questions – with leadership campaigns prepping their candidates for hostile questions. This will be followed by the first round of secret ballot voting where candidates will need to have at least 16 votes (5% of parliamentary party). The second-round voting will require the remaining candidates to have over 32 votes (10% of the parliamentary party). This is repeated until 2 candidates remain. It will then be up to the 150,000 Conservative Party members to decide the winner.
To give a sense of numbers, in the second ballot of the 2016 Tory leadership contest, there were only three candidates left and Theresa May won 199 votes, Andrea Leadsom 84 and Michael Gove 46. With more candidates than in 2016, it may take more than two rounds and this time round, it is unlikely that only one candidate will remain at the end of the hustings.
So, for the first time in fourteen years, Tory grassroot members will get to vote to select their new leader, whom incidentally will also be the Prime Minister. This is interesting as some would argue that the real division within the Conservative Party is not between Leave and Remain but between its ‘gridlock causing’ parliamentary party up in Westminster and its grassroots members.
This is exemplified by a survey of 1,215 grassroots Tory members in January by the academic Party Members Project (PMP) found 77% backed Leave in 2016. In that survey, support for no deal was at 57% vs 23% for May’s deal. Moreover, there was 76% support for no deal if the only other option is remaining in the EU. This is somewhat understandable when looking at the party demographics.
Whilst there is a little appetite for a general election (especially following the disastrous European Elections), grass root members will be acutely aware that their new elected leader will also need to be formidable enough to win a general election but all signs indicate that first and foremost, it has to be a Brexiteer. Ultimately, they have the final say on who will pick up the keys to No. 10 Downing Street from Theresa May.
Given his popularity with the Conservative grassroots members, it is clear why Boris Johnson is the frontrunner but first he will have to win enough support amongst elected Conservative lawmakers – where the depth of his support is less well known – to make it onto that shortlist. But there are no obvious signs or concerns on whether this would be an issue.
As with recent trends, markets have been remained to be sanguine – GBP continues to trade under pressure but domestic politics appears to be playing second fiddle to the larger macro/US policies backdrop. Undoubtedly, this will change as we get closer to the end of the election cycle and the policies and ‘manifestos’ of the finalists become more apparent.