There is much chatter about Tories deposing Theresa May, including with unattributed quotes using violent language – disgusting at any time, but especially so since the assassination of MP Jo Cox by a far-right extremist.
The notion of a leadership election at this stage raises big questions: If hard Brexiteers thought they could get one of their people into power, why have they left it so late? Wouldn’t a leadership challenge take time from, and potentially harm, a Brexit deal? Is this what hard-right Brextremists want?
Given that a relatively small number of Tory MPs are pushing for a hard Brexit, why assume the party would put a hard Brexiteer in power? With this question in mind, it seems timely to focus on some of the prominent Brexiteers considered contenders to replace May – and why they might not be up to the job.
At the time of writing, Sajid Javid is favourite to become the next Tory leader, at between 5 to 1 and 6 to 1 for most bookmakers. Boris Johnson is second favourite, with odds deviating wildly from 4 to 1 up to 8 to 1. Brexit secretary Dominic Raab is the next Brexiteer on the list, with odds spanning from 7 to 1 up to 12 to 1, behind remain backer Jeremy Hunt. Michael Gove comes next, then David Davis and then Jacob Rees-Mogg.
For years, some Tories have lauded Johnson as a shoe-in prime minister. Suffice to say that – for a broad range of reasons – Johnson is not in the ascendancy and his unpredictable approach to life would not be ideal for the most complex negotiation most people can remember.
Raab has only been an MP since 2010 but has managed to court quite a lot of controversy already. Prior to that, he worked for the Foreign Office and was chief of staff to then shadow home secretary David Davis and the shadow secretary of state for justice. As an MP in the run up to the EU referendum, Raab stated: “We’ll be better off if we’re freed up to trade more energetically with the growth markets like Latin America and Asia. I think it will be good for job creation.”
If the next Tory leader is to unite the party and the UK, it is hard to see how Raab is the best person for the job. In an article on the Politics Home website entitled ‘We must end feminist bigotry’, he used the term “the equality bandwagon” and said: “feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots” and “While we have some of the toughest anti-discrimination laws in the world, we are blind to some of the most flagrant discrimination – against men. From the cradle to the grave, men are getting a raw deal.”
The tone of that article is more appropriate for the ‘alt-right’ outlet Breitbart News than cabinet meetings in a progressive society – or statements on the world stage. Therefore, for me, Raab has already proved himself too divisive and toxic to be a prime minister.
Speaking of toxicity, it is hard to see how Raab’s former boss David Davis could be trusted to run the country after failing so miserably at achieving anything like a Brexit deal. Years of sitting around and looking pleased with himself did not lead to success in the Brexit negotiations – and it seems rather unlikely that a smug smile would be enough to enable a man described by a fellow Brexiteer as “thick as mince” and “as lazy as a toad” to lead the UK.
I’m skirting over Gove, who I have described elsewhere as the Draco Malfoy of UK politics. However, I do think his Machiavellianism might enable him to claw his way to the top at this stage, though do not think he would be someone who could bring unity to the UK.
It is difficult to see how Jacob Rees-Mogg, who founded a hedge fund he is still involved with, could unite the UK either. Given the sensitivity of markets to political statements and decisions, it’s hard to see how Rees-Mogg could so completely distance himself from his near life-long trade as a financier for there to be a healthy boundary between his politics and financial interests. Not only are these potential conflicts of interest an issue, but he’s a backbencher with no ministerial experience.
That leaves Javid, who backed remain in the referendum. No doubt some on the hard-right will view his candidacy as a remainer plot if he gets close to Number 10, but given the baggage of other possible contenders, we can see why he has better odds.