The Leadership contenders of 2019

Boris Johnson has won, and is now established in 10 Downing Street, working his unique magic on the system of Government. This article was written at the beginning of the race, when this result seemed the most likely, but not inevitable. It is worth leaving for interest, and because the future is never inevitable.

It is always a funny race, for the Conservative leadership: the candidates are all affect politeness and reluctance, while behind them are teams hell-bent on getting their man, or woman, over that line, without seeming to do so. Amongst all the contenders, the first commentary on each has been about where they stand on leaving the European Union, and it rarely goes much beyond this, but after Exit Day finally passes, with a new Prime Minister in place, the focus will be on how they approach Conservative concerns on reducing tax, free commerce and curbing the bullying state.

We have had blog posts on the contest before, and the peculiar Plantagenet personal politics behind it, and considering matters of character. I have come to update the list a number of times, after the results of the various parliamentary rounds have been announced. Now we are down to the final two to be presented to the members.

(For many of the leading contenders, the walking website WildþingUK has taken the idea of ‘the journey to Downing Street a little too literally and provided walking routes, so there are links to those too.)

Looking at the contenders left then:

The last two in the race

Boris Johnson

(Uxbridge, formerly of Henley) – 114 votes at the 1st round; 126 in the 2nd; 143 in the 3rd; 157 in the 4th; 160 in the 5th; WON by the members’ vote, with 92,153 votes (66.4% of those cast).

The bookies’ favourite from the beginning, and ahead in pledges and actual votes throughout. Born in New York to a Somerset family, he served two terms as Mayor of London where he proved popular. His Brexit credentials are riding high: he was the leading public voice of the Leave campaign and resigned rather than accept the Chequers proposals, although as this permitted him to resume his paid career in journalism there may have been more to that.

Johnson is popular amongst the wider membership, if not amongst his parliamentary colleagues. His consistency and trustworthiness are questioned. The strong social conservative wing of the party dislikes his apparent social liberal stance, noting his speech in support for gay marriage in 2013, and his notorious ways with the fillies.

Said to be the most intelligent candidate in the field, nevertheless his public persona as bumbling clown has ensured that nationally he is loved and hated in equal measure and for some reason the latter prevails in Scotland. His position on Brexit has overwhelmed all other analysis of his positions.

Jeremy Hunt

(South West Surrey) – 43 votes at the 1st round; 46 in the 2nd; 54 in the 3rd; 59 in the 4th; 77 in the 5th; lost in the members’ vote, winning 46,656 votes (33.6%). He declined to take a post in the new Johnson ministry.

Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary since Boris Johnson’s resignation and before that the longest serving Health Secretary ever. He also supported Remain in the referendum campaign but says that his has since changed his mind. He is well regarded in his current role and did well also in the thankless job of Health Secretary and, remarkably, seems to have got through it without becoming a pariah.

He is one of the leading contenders, continually running second in supporters, and he achieved a trailing second place in the first round. he has become the main ‘Not Boris’ candidate.

Well liked – Hunt swiftly picked up the largest number of MPs in support as the campaign opened – and perhaps seen as a safe pair of hands, nevertheless amongst the wider membership he is burdened with his previous support for Remain, and a reputation as a social liberal.

Eliminated in the voting

Michael Gove

(Surrey Heath) – 37 votes at the 1st round; 41 in the 2nd; 51 in the 3rd; 61 in the 4th; knocked out in the final

Born in Edinburgh and adopted and raised in Aberdeen, he was with Boris Johnson the public face of the Brexit campaign. He is only a recent politician – like Johnson, he is a journalist by trade, but unlike his was at the top end of the national press, rising to the assistant editorship of The Times in the 1990.

He is a long-time friend of Boris Johnson’s. Extreme-end Brexiteers have spoken against Gove for remaining in the Cabinet through all the resignations, and for appearing to stab his friend in the back at the time of the last leadership contest (though the circumstances, not widely known, acquit him).

Gove’s public persona is more reserved such that he has not attracted great public affection, which may not play well in the media. Amongst colleagues though he has a reputation for sagacity and quiet achievement, somewhat marred by his recent admission of having taken cocaine on several occasions during his career as a journalist.

Mark Harper

(Forest of Dean) – 1o votes at the first round and eliminated

No, we had never heard of him either. Former Chief Whip; he declared for Remain at the Referendum.

Sajid Javid

(Bromsgrove) – 23 votes in the 1st round; 33 in the 2nd; 38 in the 3rd; 34 I the 4th and eliminated

Home Secretary, talented certainly, if lacking in warmth, but damaged by having been on the Remain side at the referendum, although he claims it was with reluctance. He exudes confidence and competence on the public stage, but has not set the contest alight, amongst a strong field.

Andrea Leadsom

(South Northamptonshire) – 23 votes in the first round and eliminated

A candidate for leadership last time round and the last firm Brexiteer standing at that point. She was seen to lose her place with a gaffe about childbearing but overall her lack of recognition amongst the public was more telling. Since then, Leadsom has attracted great admiration for her conduct as Leader of the House of Commons in a troublesome time. The question remains whether the BBC would accept her.

Esther McVey

(Tatton) – 9 votes in the first round and eliminated

Formerly Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, she resigned at the Withdrawal Agreement.  Her trade is as a television presenter and she has the light presentational skills that come with that. Brexiteer; Liverpudlian; just regularising her interesting personal life.  Like Rees-Mogg, she not accepted the Reformation, at least culturally. She has recognised popularity but is perhaps not ready yet for acceptance in the top role.

Dominic Raab

(Esher and Walton) – 27 votes in the first round, eliminated in the second

The nearest behind Boris in the betting. Born and raised in Buckinghamshire, he had a career as a high-flying solicitor. He has been in Parliament only since 2010 and was almost unknown to the public until he was appointed as Brexit Secretary when David Davis resigned following the Chequers Summit. Raab burnished his Brexit credentials by himself resigning rather than support the Withdrawal Agreement. He may be ‘Thatcherite Boris’ or ‘Boris with his trousers on’.

Rory Stewart

(Penrith and the Border) – 20 votes in the 1st round; 37 in the 2nd; 27 in the third and so eliminated

An unexpected declaration of interest, and suddenly the break-out surprise of the contest, in which he rapidly became the media’s darling. He was recently appointed as International Development Secretary.

Stewart is a diplomat with a late interest in politics. He has a distinguished an exotic record serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even having a temporary commission in the Black Watch for six months – his slight demeanour belies the reality of his physical achievements, recorded in his books. He is respected for his heroic past but hampered by having supported the Remain campaign.

When the leadership campaign began he appeared to be a good bet for fence-sitting ministers, several supporting him to avoid being seen in the Johnson or Hunt camp, but as it progressed he made an actual go of the campaign and became the media’s favourite, but made enemies too and consolidated a reputation for Remainer tendencies.

Not standing, or withdrawn

Sir Graham Brady

(Altrincham and Sale West) – not standing

Chairman of the 1922 Committee at a very difficult time; he resigned on 23 May in order to stand for the leadership.  His steersmanship of the ’22 was never going to win plaudits from everyone but has been admirable and even-handed.

He has not hitherto shown keenness to stand for the top job, though perhaps his new public profile encouraged him. he campaigned for Leave at the Referendum.

James Cleverly

(Braintree) – declared but now withdrawn and supporting Boris Johnson

Tipped early as a contender, Cleverly has only been in Parliament since 2015, rising swiftly to become Under-Secretary of State in DExEU in April 2019, after the slew of resignations that month.

Born in Lewisham, Cleverly has worked in publishing and also serves in the Territorial Army, where he has risen to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

He withdrew from the contest on 4 June 2019 and is and supporting Boris Johnson.

Liam Fox

(North Somerset) – once considered a possible, but not standing

Also a candidate for leadership last time and another firm Brexiteer, but who has not hinted at another run at the position. A doctor by trade, born in East Kilbride and educated in Glasgow, he served in the army medical corps and has sat in Parliament since 1992.

He is firmly in the Thatcherite camp and indeed he served in the Cabinet of John Major. He has been since 2016 the first and so far only Secretary of State for International Trade, in which capacity he has been busy negotiating across the globe. He has been criticised for failing to sign any major trade deal in this time, although as that would be barred by EU law until actual exit, this is muted. He may be crippled politically by the mysterious Werrity scandal from his time as Defence Secretary.

Sam Gyimah

(East Surrey) – declared: withdrawn 10 June 2019

A recent declaration. Gyimah has been in Parliament since 2010. He resigned from his position as a junior minister over the Withdrawal Agreement, uniquely as a Remainer though.

He remains a Remain supporter and says that he would support a new referendum on any withdrawal deal and would vote ‘Remain’ in such a vote.

He launched a campaign website, but withdrew due to lack of support on 10 June.

Matt Hancock

(West Suffolk) – 20 votes at the first round; withdrew on 14 June 2019

An unexpected contender and the youngest, at merely 40 years old. Cheshire-born but now in Suffolk, he is an economist and was economic adviser to George Osborne. Currently Health Secretary. He was briefly famous when he lunched a ‘Matt Hancock app’ (which formed an extended anecdote by Theresa May at the party conference). He campaigned for Reman at the referendum.

He is not considered a likely contender, the cult of youth having passed, but can be expected to have his half-hour.

Kit Malthouse

(North West Hampshire) – declared; withdrawn on 4 June 2019 and now supporting Boris Johnson

Born in Liverpool, more associated with London, and now representing a Hampshire constituency; only in Parliament since 2015, Christopher Malthouse has nevertheless had longer political in exposure, in Westminster City Council and serving as a deputy mayor of London under Boris Johnson.  He is best known for devising the Malthouse Compromise plan to replace the Ulster backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement, which was ultimately rejected by the EU.

He only announced his candidature on 28 May, but the rumours in the tea-rooms suggested a run for some weeks beforehand. His stock amongst social conservatives is low as his own website proclaims him to be the House’s leading advocate for euthanasia.

Penny Mordant

(Portsmouth) – not standing

Mordaunt is one of the last remaining original pro-Brexit members of May’s cabinet. She became Britain’s first female defence secretary in May 2019. Before her appointment she was best known for occasional fruity speeches in Parliament and for looking good in a swimsuit on Splash!, a reality TV show.

A Royal Navy reservist, Mordaunt was previously international development minister. Many had expected her to join the wave of resignations that followed the publication of May’s draft withdrawal deal.

She was hotly tipped to stand, relying on her popularity as a straight-talking Brexiteer and naval service (rather than her swimsuit round) and considered a possible candidate even up to the moment she declared for Jeremy Hunt.

Jesse Norman

(Hereford and South Herefordshire) – not standing

After an interesting career in banking and international charity work, Jesse Norman is now Chief Secretary to the Treasury. He joined the Commons in 2010. He said that he was considering standing, but did not put his hat into the ring in the end. He was the only one-time candidate who refuses to say how he voted in the Brexit Referendum.

Priti Patel

(Witham, Essex)– unlikely to stand

Young, driven and impulsive, which got her sacked as International Development Secretary. Patel is a Brexiteer and seen as very Thatcherite.  Perhaps too young and impulsive; the members may have to consider.

Jacob Rees-Mogg

(North East Somerset) – unlikely to stand

London-born but of a Somerset family and now living back in his ancestral home in north-east Somerset, Jacob Rees-Mogg is the son of the late William Rees-Mogg, a long-serving Editor of The Times and all-round member of the great-and-good. He is not apparently in the running, but he has a cult following amongst a section of the party membership and the wider nation.

Unwaveringly a leading Brexiteer, and an intellectual force behind the campaign, he is also unapologetically Thatcherite in the public forum, which has made him a particular target for the left.  His old-fashioned manner has attracted barbs and support in equal measure.  His inability to accept the Reformation has been commented upon.

Amber Rudd

(Hastings and Rye) – not standing: now supporting Jeremy Hunt

One of the most outspoken of Remainers in the Cabinet, she has spoken favourable towards a ‘try again and give the right answer this time’ referendum, and consequently her leadership would cause a mass exodus of members and donors.

Previously considered a contender, she has recently declared that she will not stand. She has did give support to any candidate unit 10 June, when she got behind Jeremy Hunt.

Liz Truss

(South West Norfolk) – not standing: now backing Boris Johnson

A stronger contender than her lack of seniority or experience suggest, she is well regarded as a Brexiteer notwithstanding that she actually voted Remain in the referendum, but has said that she has since changed her mind.

She has now said that she is not standing, and that it needs someone who did vote Leave in 2016.

Truss was a Cameronian A-list candidate originally parachuted into Norfolk to some disquiet from the ‘Turnip Taliban’ as the CCHQ named opponents.  She now makes fun of her cheese speech.  She served as Secretary of State for the Environment and Lord Chancellor, both briefly and without distinction.

What next?

These declarations of interest were only settled at the last minute for nominations, hence the large field of speculative might-have-run MPs. The candidates and potential candidates had their public profiles, but time and exposure to the race affects perceptions.

It was Conservative MPs who drew the shortlist up for the final two to be presented to the members, and they did as was expected: the graphic now at the head of this article was drawn up days before the final two were chosen as it seemed pre-ordained. There was talk of plots: it was open to the to choose their actual preference and a cypher as his rival to fix the result, but the party is in enough trouble as it is. There was talk of a concerted ganging-up against Boris Johnson as an unsuitable candidate but he ended up with amore than half the votes of the parliamentary party at the last round.

This time there will be no coronation and the members, for the first time, will have a genuine choice of two. The result, I could not possibly speculate. But I think I can guess.

Books by the candidates and outriders

Politicians must be bored, to be able to produce such a large literary output, although several books they have written were written before their political careers began or really took off. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are journalists first and foremost and so writers by instinct. Jeremy Hunt is a business entrepreneur. Rory Stewart an accidental adventurer.

The books sometimes give an insight into the character of the men who wrote them, so here is a selection:

Jeremy Hunt:

Boris Johnson:

Rory Stewart: