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When everybody is fixated on Boris, it pays to look at his closest contenders

27. May 2019, 15:29 Uhr

It is a commonplace error in the realm of politics perpetrated by insiders and outsiders alike: to fall prey to the guile of the limelight.

In terms of the contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party in Britain kickstarted on Friday by the resignation of Theresa May, that pertains to one particular contender who has been an intriguing option for the majority of the Tories’ party base just as much as he has been a scaring one for many observers both in Britain and on the continent.

Ever since his first failed attempt to become leader of the Conservative Party and, thus, Prime Minister of the UK after the demise of David Cameron over the result of the Brexit referendum in 2016, Boris Johnson has loomed or – depending on the onlooker’s disposition towards this truly eccentric figure in British politics – lowered in the background, ready to pounce once Theresa May might eventually stumble over the quandary of Brexit.

Now that his opportunity has finally arisen, his chances are better than anytime before, making him the favourite of the bookies and the Westminster journalist corps alike. Yet these are particularly tricky situations in politics when a set favourite leaves his or her contenders in such a big shade that the latter go almost unnoticed – only for them to then draw past and capture the prize to the surprise of all too many.

Hence, with this piece we want to give you a heads-up what to expect in the event one of Boris’s rivals trumps him and becomes Britain’s next Prime Minister, complete with a rough estimate of how big her or his chances are to make it to the top of the greasy pole against Johnson (probabilities are calculated on an individual, head-to-head basis vs Johnson and comprise both stages of the selection process). Some of the following have not yet declared, but are expected by us to do so shortly, completing our list of ‘favourites other than Boris’:

Michael Gove, Environment Secretary – 10%

Gove’s chances are limited by his being seen as a backstabber since he turned on his old friend Boris Johnson and stood himself in the leadership contest of 2016. His Brexiter credentials, too, have suffered in the eyes of Tory hardliners who wouldn’t want to substitute one ‘waverer’ for the other. If he made it to No. 10, though, we anticipate him to either bring Brexit to an orderly conclusion perhaps even by a second referendum or, indeed, to revocate Brexit altogether in time to prevent no-deal.

Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Secretary – 20%

In our view, the Foreign Secretary is one of Johnson’s most viable rivals. He is just about enough Brexiter to convince the European Research Group (ERG, the group of arch-Brexiter Tory backbenchers), and at the same time just about sufficiently equable to rally the opponents of no-deal behind him. He, too, would be very likely to revocate Brexit rather than risk a chaotic no-deal to happen.

Sajid Javid, Home Secretary – 20%

Javid almost exactly equals Jeremy Hunt’s profile, as far as his electability to both wings of the Conservative Party is concerned. If anything, he’s considered a bit more hardline, but would, in our view, never risk a no-deal Brexit, too. His proclivity towards a second referendum, though, ought to be even less developed than Hunt’s.

Penny Mordaunt, Defence Secretary – [not standing]

The Defence Secretary would have been one of Johnson’s most dangerous contenders. Now that she has chosen not to stand, his odds are yet lengthened.

Mordaunt has just enough Cabinet experience to convince backbenchers of her leadership qualities; by comparison, she has much fewer sworn opponents among the ranks of Tory MPs than most of the other candidates (in particular than Michael Gove or Dominic Raab); and both by demeanour as much as substance, she appears to be the reincarnation of Lady Thatcher, guaranteeing her the loyalty of those Conservatives preferring a steady hand to the incalculable antics of Boris Johnson. Mordaunt’s preferences in terms of no-deal are particularly hard to judge; but we think she’s way more likely to accept no-deal if it came to that than either Gove, Javid or Hunt.

Dominic Raab, backbencher – 10%

Though not the only one to resign over the Brexit policy of the Theresa May’s government, Dominic Raab has managed to undermine his credibility in the process rather badly. Whereas David Davis left before too much detail of the Withdrawal Agreement bore his name, thus appearing as a hero of principle to the Brexiter rank-and-file of the Tories, Dominic Raab resigned just when he had agreed on the deal in Brussels; small wonder many in the party thus see him as a “suicide bomber blowing himself up when it pleases him”. Should, unlikely as it is, he really succeed to trump Boris, he certainly is the biggest risk in terms of no-deal among those named here.

Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury – [not standing]

Ms Truss has eventually chosen not to stand, instead, she has thrown her lot in with Johnson. As such, Boris’s chances are even better than before.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, effectively the second-in-command to the Chancellor, probably ranks among the anti-no-dealers. Indeed, many of her colleagues might consider her the secret ally and agent of Philip Hammond who without any doubt would prefer to put Brexit to rest, the sooner the better. That suspicion, in turn, makes her position untenable among the ERG who certainly regard her just as big a risk to their lifetime’s goal as Michael Gove has morphed into. Even though that’s unfair considering her personal, outspoken pro-Brexit position, her time at the Treasury would probably prove her to be rather inimical to no-deal when push comes to shove.

[Picture: PublicDomainPictures, free use under Pixabay standard license]