Exeter, Devon UK • May 22, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Features Conservative Leadership: The Battle Continues

Conservative Leadership: The Battle Continues

Theseus Stefanatos reports on the recent Conservative race for No.10 and examines the campaigns of all the top candidates.
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In the wake of May’s resignation, an unprecedented thirteen candidates announced their intention to succeed her. As is often the case in Tory leadership elections, not all the candidates who announce their decision to stand in the election expect or even intend to win it, with many so-called ‘no-namers’ running to demonstrate their influence within the parliamentary party or secure a future cabinet position. Due to the sheer number of candidates, the executive 1922 committee ruled that MPs needed to garner the support of at least 8 of their colleagues in order to reach the first ballot, after which MPs would vote in a series of secret ballots until only two candidates remain. The two remaining will then be voted for by the party membership, which polling suggests are largely Eurosceptic, socially conservative and largely supportive of candidates who have made Islamophobic statements.

The subsequent ballots of MPs have shown Boris Johnson to emerge as the frontrunner

In the build-up to the first ballot, Steve Baker announced that he would run unless one of the candidates backed his plan for a ‘managed, orderly departure from the EU’ which would see the UK leave without a deal on October the 31st. Baker is key allies with Jacob Rees-Mogg, and is one of the leading voices of the European Research Group (ERG) which represents the radically Eurosceptic faction of the Tory party which is more socially conservative than the rest of the parliamentary party, and has been accused of being anti-immigrant and anti-NHS. Following meetings with all the leading candidates, Mogg decided to back Boris Johnson. The subsequent ballots of MPs have shown Boris Johnson to emerge as the front runner with 126 votes (40.3%), followed by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Environmental Secretary Michael Gove fighting for second place with only 4 votes between them with a third vote expected this afternoon. Rory Stewart, who was barely expected to pass the first round of voting, has emerged as a possible upsetter, clinching the fourth-place position from Home Secretary Sajid Javid.

Though there have been no formal endorsements, the Sun ran a front-page report on Trump’s endorsement of Boris Johnson, the Telegraph has been largely critical of Stewart’s candidacy, and the Express, despite its consistent anti-immigrant, pro-Brexit headlines, has mostly had articles critical of Johnson since he refused to back Theresa May’s deal.

Amber Rudd is largely seen as a possible kingmaker

Amber Rudd is largely seen as a possible kingmaker despite not running herself, due to her influence on the backbenches. Rudd had previously held the role of Home Secretary before being implicated in the Windrush Scandal, which saw immigrants and the children of immigrants from the Caribbean having their documents destroyed and being sent to the Caribbean, as the Home Office operated on what May described as a policy of ‘deport first, ask questions later’. Rudd is widely seen as a lead representative of the ‘moderate’ faction of the Tory Party.  She endorsed Jeremy Hunt, yet has ‘left the door open’ to working with Boris Johnson should he be elected leader. Rudd’s tacit toleration of Johnson reflects a general trend in his campaign where he has attempted to balance the support of socially liberal conservatives with his support from the Tories’ Eurosceptic wing. This was seen in how he has dealt with his comments about Muslim women in Burkas resembling ‘letterboxes’ resurfacing. Johnson has continued to stand by the comments while using them as part of an argument that there should be no ban on head veils – he is endorsing a stance that is supported by conservative ‘moderates’ while still using racist rhetoric that is often echoed by the anti-immigration Right wing of the parliamentary party.

Matt Hancock withdrew his candidacy after the first ballot of MPs in order to endorse Boris Johnson, despite running on a far more pro-EU, liberal ticket which was far more closely aligned to that of Rory Stewart. His influence in the contest appears to have waned as it appears that most of his supporters in the parliamentary party ignored his recommendation and backed Stewart in the subsequent ballot.

Sajid Javid and Boris Johnson have both claimed that they would take the UK out of the EU on the set deadline of October the 31st

In terms of policy, the campaign has been dominated by how candidates have chosen to position themselves in relation to the prospect of a No-Deal Brexit, with Boris Johnsons’ plan to cut taxes for those earning over £50,000 being the only fiscal policy to really cut through to the headlines. Even then, candidates have been incredibly vague in their stance on Brexit. Jeremy Hunt, who backed Remain during the referendum, has described a No-Deal Brexit as both ‘acceptable’ and as ‘political suicide’, while agreeing with rival and long-time Leave supporter Michael Gove that he would allow for ‘extra-time’ to negotiate a deal with the EU. Sajid Javid and Boris Johnson have both claimed that they would take the UK out of the EU on the set deadline of October the 31st, but only Johnson has gone so far as asserting he would do so ‘with or without a deal’.  Rory Stewart has begun to emerge as a possible flag-bearer of the ‘moderate’ conservatives looking to resist Boris Johnson, following a series of successful leadership debates where large sections of the press commented on his ‘Etonian oratory charm’ where he announced he largely accepted Theresa May’s deal. He is largely seen to have the most momentum given that many MPs have been seen to be switching to voting for him in the secret ballots.

A recent controversy emerged when Trump retweeted a racist post by Katie Hopkins which berated London Mayor Sadiq Khan for turning the capital into ‘Londonistan’, which Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt were seen to be largely supportive of. A former ally of David Cameron, Michael Gove has sought to forge a coalition of Brexiteers and socially liberal MPs, and has thus stayed away from commenting on the tweet, in what has been seen as an attempt to avoid alienating the more overtly racist MPs who back him.

it is speculated that the reason the leading candidates have failed to place much emphasis on policy is because they all largely share similar voting records

Many have commented on the lack of substance or even the contradictions of the leading candidates’ policy statements, with Boris Johnson attempting to instead focus on how he is the most likely candidate to lead the conservatives in an election. Rory Stewart has attempted to carve out his niche by highlighting his more socially liberal credentials, but it is speculated that the reason the leading candidates have failed to place much emphasis on policy is because they all largely share similar voting records: all candidates running have supported the bedroom tax, lower taxes for higher earners, closing down refuges for women fleeing domestic violence, deregulation of environmental protections, cutting benefits for the disabled, and selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

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