And they’re off (officially): Tory leadership race gets underway

By Lisa Townsend,

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Tory leadership race has been going on for months, if not years in the case of some contenders.

Arguably, Boris Johnson never stopped running following his failed bid in 2016 and it comes as no surprise to see Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt or Andrea Leadsom throw their respective hats into the ring.

But on Monday evening at 5pm it got serious. Nominations closed, excluding anyone without the required eight names from among Tory colleagues taking their bid to the next stage. And it only gets harder from here on. The first ballot takes place today (Thursday), with any candidate receiving fewer than 17 votes eliminated, and the required number of colleagues supporting increased at each ballot until only two hopefuls remain.

The final ballot is due to take place on the 20th June, when the lucky two will take their chances with Conservative Party members.

Assuming, that is, that two candidates go forward to the membership.

For Party members – the 120,000 or so paid-up supporters eligible to vote in a leadership contest – the last time they were able to exercise this right was in the 2005 contest that saw David Cameron become Leader of the Opposition. There is still some anger among the rank and file that they were denied the opportunity to select their leader in 2016 after Andrea Leadsom withdrew from the race, leaving Theresa May to go to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen before moving into Number 10, with only the backing of Conservative MPs.

Michael Gove, assuming that Johnson will make the final two, goaded his competitor earlier this week asking him to stay and fight this time around. And regardless of who makes the final two, members won’t happily accept another coronation.

The stakes couldn’t be higher this time around. Unlike in 2005, Tory members will be electing not just a party leader, but also a Prime Minister. Many of the wider electorate are understandably uneasy about such a small and unrepresentative group of citizens making such a choice during such a critical time for our nation.

But the truth, as well all know, is that the British constitution (unwritten as it is) makes no provision for a general election at times such as these. Major replaced Thatcher, Brown replaced Blair and May waked into Number 10, all without the electorate’s say so. And only John Major came out of a subsequent general election with a Conservative majority.

Whatever happens over the coming weeks, the likelihood of a general election before Christmas is increasing. Regardless of promises, proclamations and policy stance, the maths in the House of Commons won’t change as a new Prime Minister takes their place, so it may not be long before the wider British electorate get to have their own say on the new Tory leader.

Lisa Townsend is Head of PA at Octopus Group and a member of the Influence Editorial Board.

Picture of Boris Johnson courtesy of flickr user EU2017EE Estonian Presidency. Other candidates are available…

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