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Who Can Replace David Cameron?

26/04/2016 14:36

The Tories and their media can be like a broken record in their questioning of Jeremy Corbyn's ability to lead the country. However, as David Cameron has already said he will not lead the Conservative Party for a third term, a more pressing question is which Tory is going to be able to take the reins from Cameron.

The issue will no doubt come into sharper focus after the EU referendum, but it is worth considering the options now. The Party does not seem to be spoilt for choice.

A recent Ipsos MORI poll, commissioned by London Evening Standard, found Corbyn to be leading both Cameron and George Osborne, in terms of satisfaction with their leadership. Some 35% were satisfied by Corbyn's leadership, against 34% for Cameron and 27% for Osborne. The poll came in the wake of a budget that had cross-party condemnation and led to a U-turn on disability benefits, far from Osborne's first.

Osborne is in the extremely unfortunate position of appearing not only cruel and callous but also inept. Like a Mr Bean of the vampire world. His ruthless austerity has been seen as an attack on the most vulnerable, but also as ineffective in that he has not hit targets for reducing the UK's budget deficit. The endless floundering between attempts to appear tough and the inevitable U-turns and spinning makes him look out of his depth and dazed by reality. This perception is reinforced by intermittent footage of him looking more like someone in a 5am chillout room than poised for high office.

Beyond all the funny footage of the man some now call Giddyone Osborne, the serious issue is that he has perpetually disregarded fundamental economic and social realities in order to push an austerity agenda that simply hasn't worked for people. It seems highly unlikely that such an unpopular Chancellor of the Exchequer would be a credible prime minister.

If Osborne is a man struggling to appear ruthless and ending up looking like Mr Bean, Boris Johnson is someone who uses the mask of a clown to try to hide a ruthless and, some might say, callous, personality. His desire for the limelight has backfired as people have found out a lot about Boris since his first stint as an MP. Since being sacked as a shadow minister, in 2004 for lying about an affair, Boris' clown mask has changed for many, I suspect, from fleetingly amusing to rather disturbing and irritating.

While he is seen by some as a 'big hitter' in the Leave campaign, he has a lot of baggage that could well thwart his leadership ambitions. His grubby old mask may not be enough to distract voters from his infidelities, his role in a plot by an embittered friend to beat up a journalist, or his description of Africans as "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles". These things tend to be remembered, especially when he does things like use President Obama's ethnic origins as a way to disparage his enthusiasm for EU harmony. Less shocking than the above, but to a trained journalist still quite outrageous, is Boris' history of fabricating a quote when working as a reporter, for which was sacked.

There are many other examples I could list that would throw into question Boris' integrity, sincerity and work ethic, and these will no doubt be brought up again and again if Boris puts himself forward in a leadership challenge. Now the public knows what it does about Boris and can see behind the clown's mask, I would be very worried for the rationality of the UK public if they allow him to become prime minister. So who are we left with as a viable option? Theresa May?

May's controversies may not be quite as ludicrous as those created by Boris, but these are no less significant. More than 18 months into the role of Home Secretary she refused to take responsibility for border checks being relaxed. Instead she blamed others and abolished the UK Border Agency. Two years into the role May gained the dubious distinction of being one of only two Home Secretary in Britain's history to be convicted of contempt of court. This conviction was for disregarding a legal agreement to free an Algerian man from an immigration detention centre.

I suspect some people will feel pity for May's stress levels during some of the fiascos she has been involved with. For example, steering the Home Office during the slow motion car crash that ensued when Abu Qatada seemingly ran rings around an army of QCs at the government's disposal, to avoid deportation. But feeling sorry for someone is not a good enough reason to allow them to be prime minister. Amid the wrangling with Qatada, May looked increasingly distressed in photos, as though actually haunted.

The spectre of Qatada still appears to be haunting May and leading her to poor judgement. Just this week she caused an outcry by suggesting that the UK should withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights regardless of the referendum outcome. Shadow justice secretary, Charles Falconer, described her suggestion as ignorant, illiberal and misguided, and said she was "sacrificing Britain's 68-year-old commitment to human rights for her own miserable Tory leadership ambitions".

If May believes Boris has burned his bridges by being an outspoken leave campaigner, she might have hoped her comments would allow her to straddle both sides and at gain some credibility among pro-Brexiters. However, she may have lost credibility among many more people, given that, as Lord Falconer pointed out, we cannot be a member of the EU and withdraw from the convention. She might find that all her interjection has done is remind us of the Qatada fiasco and that she was is charge during the mess.

Looking today at bookmakers' odds on the next prime minister, Theresa May is well behind Boris and Osborne and not far behind unpopular Michael Gove. Given that these people are considered favourites, any forward-thinking Tories must hope that a less well-known horse can come from behind, who isn't saddled with the heavy baggage of the likes of Osborne, Johnson and May.

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