By Ben Thompson
When Theresa May announced she’d be stepping down as the leader of the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister of Britain, the country felt a range of emotions. Many celebrated her departure. Many on the right were happy to see her go, feeling that she wasn’t up to the task of delivering Brexit. By comparison, the left pointed to her record on austerity measures as a reason not to miss the departing Prime Minister. Regardless, with May leaving office, comes the question of who will replace her. At the time of writing this article, seven Conservative MPs have put themselves up for the leadership position. This article will give you a run-down on the people who could potentially become our next Prime Minister, although it’s very likely that there’ll be a part two when more politicians throw themselves into the contest.
Boris Johnson: The most infamous of all of the candidates is the man himself, best known for his scruffy hair and his gallery of eyebrow-raising remarks (like the time he referred to Africans as ‘flag-waving piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’). Johnson previously held a position in May’s cabinet as the Foreign Secretary, until he quit last year in protest of the government’s Brexit strategy. On the issue of Brexit, Johnson announced at a conference in Switzerland: “We will leave the EU on October 31st, deal or no deal.”
Esther McVey: Esther McVey, like Johnson, quit May’s cabinet over differences on Brexit. Before that, she had been the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, overseeing the disastrous roll-out of Universal Credit, under which claimants of government welfare saw delays in their pay. Like Johnson, McVey advocates leaving the EU ‘with or without a deal’, and has also proposed cutting the foreign aid budget back to it’s 2010 levels, in order to put this money into local communities.
Jeremy Hunt: Jeremy Hunt is the current Foreign Secretary, having previously held the position of Health Secretary. Like Theresa May, he identifies as a ‘One-Nation Conservative‘ (a strain of British Conservatism which advocates for the state playing a role in people’s lives, as opposed to Thatcherism). Hunt touts his past as in business as a credential complementing his ambitions for leadership, claiming they’d give him an advantage in Brexit negotiations as “business is my bread and butter”.
Dominic Raab: Dominic Raab was one of the current government’s many Brexit Secretaries, having held the position from July 2018 to November 2018. Like many of the candidates running for leadership, he quit May’s cabinet over Brexit disagreements. Raab believes he can negotiate a good Brexit deal – in which the Northern Ireland backstop can be re-negotiated – but will keep a exit from the EU on WTO arrangements on the table.
Matt Hancock: Matt Hancock has been the Health Secretary since Jeremy Hunt left that position in July 2018. Hancock has already been speaking of his potential premiership beyond Brexit, arguing that what the Conservative Party needs is “to win the argument for free enterprise and a free society and so all the other things we need to do to make this country a great place to live.”
Rory Stewart: Rory Stewart was relatively unknown until he announced his intentions to run for leader of the Party. He’s only been the Secretary for International Development since May 1st 2019, and has already set himself at odds with a fellow candidate, after declaring he wouldn’t work in a Boris Johnson-led cabinet. Stewart wants to avoid a no deal Brexit.
Andrea Leadsom: Andrea Leadsom previously came close to the door of Number 10 in 2016, when she ran against Theresa May for the Conservative leadership role. Leadsom made a fatal blunder, however, when she commented that she’d be better suited for the role of Prime Minister because she was a mother, unlike May. This comment was deemed insensitive by many, as May has openly spoken of her struggles with her inability to conceive children. However, Leadsom is now back in the running after nearly two years of being the Leader of the House of Commons, echoing the calls of Johnson and McVey to keep a no deal Brexit on the table.
Michael Gove: Michael Gove is the current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, having previously been the Education Secretary under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. He campaigned for Britain to leave the EU in 2016, and has warned against leaving without a deal at a recent Scottish Conservative conference.
There will no doubt be more Conservatives to throw their hats into the ring in the coming days, and if I were a betting man, I’d wager that Priti Patel, Sajid Javid and Steve Baker may be among the next to put themselves forward.
The leadership contest will begin in earnest after June 7th, when Theresa May will step down.