5 Jul 2016

Tory leadership: no-one is taking anything for granted

One of the gloomiest gatherings in the UK is taking place in Whitehall today as the UK’s ambassadors from all over the world meet, post-Brexit, to talk through where Britain goes next.

One of the most senior diplomats in the room said that it all seemed “a bit premature when we haven’t got a new Prime Minister and nobody knows where we’re going”.

Meanwhile the process of choosing our new Prime Minister enters a decisive phase with the first ballot of Tory MPs.

In the past, the opening round of these contests hasn’t always been a guide to who wins in the end. Go back to 2001 and Iain Duncan Smith managed to win only 23 per cent of Tory MPs’ support in the first round but scrabbled into the final two by one vote and then won overwhelmingly 61 per cent to Ken Clarke’s 39 per cent.

Earlier, I bumped into Ken Clarke, who was on his way off to chats with two of the candidates (Theresa May and Stephen Crabb would be an informed guess – he said he wasn’t sure if they’d really want him to publicise his choice).

Mr Clarke thinks Tory activists are to the right of the Tory support in the country in a strange mirror image of Labour activists to the left of Labour’s support. But he thinks they will be focused on choosing a Prime Minister who can smoothly and credibly take over the top job.


Theresa May still looks very much the favourite with strong support amongst MPs. The highest proportion of MPs managed by a lead candidate in the first round since the current system of elections was introduced was David Davis with 31 per cent of MPs in 2005 (that would be the equivalent of just over 100 MPs in the current parliament). Of course, he went on to lose to David Cameron amongst the membership by 68 per cent to 32 per cent.

The Times/YouGov poll suggests it won’t be like that this time. The favourite in the Commons could also be the leader amongst the activists. But in these uncertain times no-one is going to take anything for granted.

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