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The Conservative Party Leadership Battle – Yet another surprise in UK politics

As we all should be aware by now, surprises in UK politics are a near-daily occurrence. Whether it is the Bexit referendum result, the Labour MP coup or the dramatic Conservative leadership announcements, it seems that the extraordinary has become the norm. The official process of deciding the successor to David Cameron is under way, and it seems only right that we understand more about who the 5 candidates are and what they stand for.  

Firstly, there is Michael Gove, who both withdrew support for Boris Johnson and declared his own candidacy for the number 10 residence on the morning of June 30th. Gove as a candidate came as a shock to the general public, as well as to many Conservative MPs and even his former self who had constantly declared his lack of ambition and suitability to be Prime minister. The MP for Surrey Heath, whose career includes his controversial time as Secretary of State for Education and his current position as Secretary of State for Justice, was one of the major pro-Brexit campaigners. It is yet to be seen how strong a candidate Gove will be. Certainly he has received the backing of some MPs who had previously declared themselves in support of the assumed nominee Boris Johnson. However, the effect of his House of Cards-esque back-stab to Johnson has had a detrimental effect on his support amongst fellow MPs. More crucially still, it has damaged his reputation with the Tory membership who are ultimately in charge of selecting their leader, once the candidate number has been narrowed to two.

Other Pro-Brexit nominees include Dr Liam Fox, the current North Somerset MP. An unlikely winner of the leadership battle, Fox is a staunch Conservative and infamous for his scandalous expenses claims. Already, he has declared that he would postpone the Brexit until at least 2019 and has begun to make promises of increasing spending on the Navy whilst further cutting the Welfare budget. Yet, the lack of support amongst his fellow far right Conservative MPs suggests that his second attempt at the Tory leadership is merely symbolic. In this turbulent and unpredictable era of UK politics, it would be unfair to rule out Dr Fox completely.

An interesting candidate in this leadership battle is Stephen Crabb who is running on a joint ticket with Sajid Javid (who will become Chancellor of the Exchequer if Crabb wins.) Crabb, elected as the MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire since 2005, has largely had a career in the backbenches of the House of Commons. However, very recently he has held the positon of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. It should be noted that his running mate Javid does have notable experience in the financial sector even with his smaller political track record (in comparison to candidates such as Theresa May and Michael Gove). Javid, the former Managing Director of Deutsche Bank, has recently held government positons such as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and skills and Economic Secretary. Therefore, perhaps Javid may be a potential replacement for Osborne regardless of the success of Crabb. This ticket seems another unlikely winner of the leadership battle, though it is possible that his working class background may appeal to some cross-section of the Conservative electorate.

The final pro-Brexit nominee is Andrea Leadsom, another MP with a relatively small track record. Leadsom gained recognition for her strong pro-leave stance which was demonstrated on national television with the 2 hour live debate on the BBC. Furthermore, she also has a background in economics, holding positions in several financial corporations before her career as a politician. Although not the obvious choice for the leadership, she has seen support within the party grow and is largely seen as the key opponent to Theresa May. On the 4th July, a survey by ‘Conservative Home’ puts Leadsom at 38% of the vote in comparison to May’s 37%, largely suggesting the Conservative electorate want a two horse race between May and Leadsom.

That leaves the only pro-remain candidate to discuss: Theresa May. What May is seemingly offering in these tumultuous times is a steady hand and safe leadership. Although she may lose support for ‘backing the wrong horse’ in the referendum, her portfolio of government experience is far superior to that of many of her opponents. In the past, May has worked with the Bank of England, held shadow cabinet positions and holds the Home Secretary position. The basis of May’s campaign is that she offers experience where other candidates do not. She has worked her way up through the Conservative party over a long political career and now stands as the most credible Tory candidate. Yet, in these unprecedented times, an infinite amount of experience could not possibly prepare any candidate for the task of Brexit that lies ahead. Theresa May’s stance within the Conservative party is more centrist and liberal than any of the other candidates. Therefore, from those outside of the Conservative party – especially to those who voted to remain – she is the obvious choice. However, our next prime minister will not be chosen by the general electorate. Instead, it will be decided by the divided Conservative party membership in a contest which will essentially come down to whether they want the recognisable credibility of Theresa May or if they want to add another surprise to UK politics by choosing a less conventional candidate.

To conclude: a word about Boris Johnson. You would expect that this EU referendum has resulted in the end of Johnson as a viable prime minister or even as a prominent cabinet minister. Yet, do not be surprised if he finds his way back, possibly even holding a cabinet position in the future. If there is one thing that Boris has shown it is that he is not lacking in ambition.

In the meantime, the 5th of July represents the first ballot which will decide the fate of our five aforementioned candidates. Who remains? The Tories will decide.

Image credit: flickr.com/conservatives

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My name is Fionnbharr Potter and I am a reporter for Young Perspective but I also write for my own blog (www.finnpotter.wordpress.com) when I have the time. I have interests in history, politics and current affairs and as a result, most of my writing is centred on these topics.

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