Dubbed a ‘wacky races’ line-up of those who’ve put themselves forward for the Conservative leadership, we will at least by the end of the day (with nominations having been made) have an idea of who actually will be in the running – and so who will need to crank up the wooing of fellow MPs over the coming days. Rishi had a good turnout for his drinks last night; one assumes he’s plenty more rose on order. He’s increasingly looking like the Djokovic of this – there may be challengers to the crown, but the favourite no doubt to make it to the last two.
So now the real trouble starts.
Since the starting gun was fired last week with Boris Johnson’s ignominious departure, things have been … brutal. The amount of briefing about, against and amongst the various ‘runners and riders’ has been vicious – and we’ve got a long, hot summer of this to go. Questions have been asked over one (not known for playing ‘nicely’ shall we say) Dom Cummings’ involvements with Rishi’s campaign; it’s somewhat irrelevant as to whether there is any kind of ‘arrangement’. Dom will do what Dom does, which is to blow everything else up so long as he gets what he wants. And a Rishi premiership seems to be it.
I’m worried by what the Party looks like at the end of this, by the time the candidates have finished taking clumps out of each other. This is personal. The last two leaderships (2016 and 2019) weren’t necessarily pretty, as such. But they were about the single issue, really, of Brexit, and to coin a phrase, who was going to get it done. This just isn’t – and with all the smears and allegations of smears already flying around, it’s somewhat ironic that this whole contest was prompted by folk’s collapse of faith in the last chap’s integrity and transparency.
The Party has always had a veering towards being its own worst enemy. I hope this batch of candidates can at least bear in mind that at the end of it all, they will need to form a Cabinet and Government of some kind of unity (not easy if you’ve spent the last eight weeks taking pot shots at each other).
However, new partnerships as the field thins out will be formed. This is where things get interesting- not least in the context of the looming 2024 GE (which CCHQ is very much focused on, and therefore so very much welcomed this leadership contest being sooner, rather than in say 6 months, time). These partnerships are make-or-break, in terms of political success and longevity. Where would Blair have been, were it not for Brown? Same question of DC without George? How each of the candidates shores up their economic offering, possibly with a running mate, will be one to watch – all of these pledges and the ones to come are after all at some point going to need properly costing.
In the last twenty years of my experience, the pendulum has tended to swing from one side to the other in terms of what the Party seems to look for in its leader. Michael Howard, safe pair of hands, DC, ‘star power’, TM back again, then Boris.
Undoubtedly what the Party, and the whole country needs, is some steady-as-she-goes form of Government, which the next few weeks most certainly are not going to be – not least if Boris, as he pledged yesterday to do, really is going to try and deliver all his manifesto commitments before he goes.
Still, by 5pm tonight, we should have a candidates’ slate that’s less like an actual cartoon.