Who will be the Conservatives’ next leader?

It’s now been three weeks since the Conservatives’ big hitters were at the party conference hoping to reinvigorate their wearied supporters, to grasp the public’s attention with a shiny, new message and sincerely pledging allegiance to the Prime Minister (see a certain Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson). For several months, the ‘Boris vs. Dave’ subplot has been a source of intrigue for political journalists around Westminster. But realistically what are Boris’s chances of succeeding Cameron, and who else might stand a chance? Here is a guide to some of the likely candidates.

Boris Johnson, 48, Mayor of London

In the words of one journalist, the Tories have embraced Johnson “like a drowning man reaching for a rope”. Some in the party see him as having an elusive “common touch” – despite his Eton and Bullingdon Club roots – with his buffoonish persona and crowd-pleasing charisma having helped him to get elected (twice) in London, a Labour-leaning city, against the backdrop of an unpopular, ‘omnishambolic’ national party. Yet many would question whether the public’s criteria for Prime-Minister are the same as for the largely-symbolic role of Mayor – would voters still find his clown-act endearing if he was personally responsible for cuts to the NHS, the Police, and schools? Furthermore, there’s the simple question of practicality, as his Mayoral term ends in 2016 but the next General Election will be in 2015, and it would be very much against convention for the leader not to be a sitting MP.

Leadership possibility points: 7/10

William Hague, 51, Foreign Secretary

The former party leader, from 1997-2001, has the distinction of being the first Tory leader to fail to become Prime Minister since the 1920s (although his two immediate successors didn’t either). Yet, phoenix-like, he has undergone something of a political rebirth since those naïve baseball-cap-wearing days (look it up, and try not to giggle). As Foreign Secretary, Hague has built himself a reputation for reliability and safe-handedness, and on occasions that he has stepped in at PMQs, he has acquitted himself with confidence and authority. One major doubt is whether he would have the parliamentary support to win a leadership battle, but he would certainly not be vulnerable to the charges of inexperience that plagued him in his prior life as Conservative leader.

Leadership possibility points: 8/10

George Osborne, 41, Chancellor of the Exchequer

One of the summer’s defining images was that of the Chancellor cackling away whilst being booed by the crowd during a Paralympic medal ceremony. Certainly, he almost seemed to revel in a Machiavellian image – but only so long as he maintained a reputation for competence. With the controversy and criticism surrounding his Budget this year (pasties, caravans, granny tax etc.), his political star has fallen significantly. His economic judgement has been seriously challenged in a way that it rarely was at the Coalition’s outset. With this combination of strong public dislike and a dented reputation for political invulnerability, I think the prospect is highly unlikely.

Leadership possibility points: 3/10

Grant Shapps, 44, Chairman of the Conservatives

Seen as one of the ‘rising stars’ of the party, Shapps was appointed Conservative Chairman in September, having been Housing Minister for two and a half years. He is seen as having huge potential by many within the party, a telegenic “expenses saint” who went to a state school and a polytechnic – opposing the Eton and Oxbridge stereotype. In his role as Chairman, he will be able to build up support and allies, although his fortunes will be tied strongly to the success, or otherwise, of the party at the next General Election.

Leadership possibility points: 7/10

Phillip Hammond, 56, Defence Secretary

In his previous role of Transport Secretary, he developed a reputation for clarity and efficiency, managing to avoid the scandals that plagued other departments. At the MoD, he hasn’t been able to completely avoid controversy, with the fall-out from vast spending cuts and a rebranding of the Territorial Army both leading to criticism. Despite this, he has a reputation for reliability with both the party and the public, and like John Major twenty years ago, his main obstacle is a lack in charisma – if you’ve heard him speak you’ll agree that the nickname “Mr Boring” is not totally unwarranted. But we all know what happened to John Major, the last ‘Grey Man’ of politics.

Leadership possibility points: 6/10

Liam Fox, 51, former Defence Secretary

Time will tell whether the former GP and darling of the party’s right-wing will ever return to front –bench politics. He came third in the leadership election in 2005, and was seen as a major rival to Cameron prior to his resignation triggered by ‘The Strange Case of Dr Fox and Mr Werrity’. Involved in the recent creation of the ‘Conservative Voice’ group, he will try to build support among backbenchers and position himself as a more conservative alternative to Cameron. However, I think that the taint of the Werrity scandal makes his chances of leadership in the near future highly improbable.

Leadership possibility points: 2/10

Justine Greening, 43, International Development Secretary

Greening, the only woman on this list, has had a pretty chaotic 13 months. She was promoted to Transport Secretary in October 2011 but demoted to her current role in September – allegedly because of her firm opposition to a third runway at Heathrow. In reality, this may have been fortunate for her as the InterCity West Coast bid was cancelled due to major mistakes within weeks of her move away from transport. Her main problem would be a lack of political stature at present – she’s not exactly a major political player – but she certainly has potential as an outsider.

Leadership possibility points: 4/10

Michael Gove, 45, Education Secretary

Gove can be regarded as one of the most successful Conservative ministers, having carried out his radical reforms regarding free schools, academies and the English-Baccalaureate, with a mooted transition to O-Levels next on the agenda. Whilst the teaching unions despise him, and Tom Watson MP thinks he’s a “miserable pipsqueak of a man”, Labour have struggled to land punches in the way they did with Andrew Lansley at Health. However, he is seen as a Cameron loyalist and lacking in public popularity, both factors which may hamper a future leadership bid.

Leadership possibility points: 6/10

Conclusion

So, whilst Boris seems to be the bookies’ favourite to succeed Cameron at the moment, these eight will offer strong opposition, especially William Hague, Grant Shapps, Philip Hammond and Michael Gove. I haven’t even mentioned a number of outsiders such as Theresa May, David Davies, Maria Miller or Jeremy Hunt. Whatever happens, it will certainly be interesting to watch.

3 responses to “Who will be the Conservatives’ next leader?”

  1. Pricey says:

    Good and interesting read.

    From my personal perspective, it would be worth mentioning that their sheer elect-ability by the general public may well be the defining factor following Cameron, with an allegedly major party that will now be spending 18 years outside of majority government, and quite possibly longer.

    Having said that, this is depending upon a notoriously stubborn group (well, conservative) actually realizing that… no one actually likes conservative theory. It is one of David Cameron’s great achievements that he manages to avoid alienating the grass root supporters or the entire British Public.

  2. Josh Hill says:

    Would you trust Boris with his finger on the nuclear button?

    LATEST NEWS: Boris’ ideas for London 2012 oympics revealed.

  3. BigDaddy2 says:

    Excellent and insightful article, completely up to date. When are you going to write some more? Can’t wait to see what you’ll come up with next. 

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