If May's premiership falters, there are plenty of colleagues in the wingsby Asa Bennett / June 9, 2017 / Leave a comment
Theresa May is digging in her heels in response to calls to stand down following her failure to win a majority in this week’s election. She now hopes to prop up her new Government with support from the Democratic Unionist Party.
Can this arrangement really go the distance? Tory MPs are ready to pounce on their leader if they suspect that she may soften the terms of the Brexit she seeks in order to appease her new Northern Irish allies. If it falters, her premiership—and leadership of the Conservative Party—would soon collapse. So who would be waiting in the wings?
Boris Johnson’s earliest recorded ambition was to be “world king.” Until that position is created, he will settle for being Prime Minister. Michael Gove scuppered his first bid for the job last year at the eleventh hour, but Mr Johnson won’t let him stand in his way again.
Critics of Mr Johnson thought he would single-handedly start a war as Foreign Secretary, but that has not come to pass. The Uxbridge MP’s flamboyance and unique charisma are already well-known. The gravitas he has built up in his cabinet post will bolster his standing in the Tory party, as well as his ability to speak about Brexit with genuine passion.
That doesn’t mean we can expect a Johnson coronation.
He would be the man to beat, a risky position to start off as in a Tory leadership race. Parliamentary tyros like Johnny Mercer could be tempted to offer an alternative pitch, and they wouldn’t be wasting their time—as David Cameron showed after coming from the outside to beat then-frontrunner David Davis to the party leadership. Now Brexit Secretary, Mr Davis could well see it as his public duty to set out what he could do in charge as Britain leaves the European Union.
Priti Patel, a stalwart Brexiteer, should not be counted out either. She campaigned fervently with Vote Leave last June and has been wrestling with the international aid budget as a cabinet minister. Economically, she is more of a Thatcherite than Mrs May, having repeatedly eulogised the effect of cutting taxes in the past. Ms Patel did, at one point, float the idea of bringing back the death penalty on Question Time, but her recent U-turn on the issue suggests that she wants to polish her image.
Would anyone be proud to carry on Theresa May’s legacy? Amber Rudd is a likely candidate, although she may be put off from throwing her hat into the ring by the fact that she has only kept her seat by just over 300 votes. Her colleagues could well be wary of backing someone who is struggling to say in the Commons.
The dark horse could well be an experienced hand, rather than a young upstart in the party. Philip Hammond has been barely seen during the election campaign, prompting speculation that he would be sacked by Mrs May as soon as she secured a big majority. The hung parliament means that he lives to fight another day. Chancellors have regularly nursed ambitions to move next door, so Mr Hammond would not be the first one to feel this way.
However, his passionately expressed pro-Remain views would count against him among Brexiteers. Theresa May was viewed with suspicion by some Brexiteer MPs since she sided with the Remain side during the referendum, so they may be reluctant to back another Remainer as her successor.
William Hague once described the Tory party as an “absolute monarchy moderated by regicide.” Mrs May will fight on to lead the Conservatives, but at some point over the coming months, as the Brexit process gets underway, she will have to bow out. Once that opportunity arises, her colleagues will waste no time in fighting it out to succeed her.