Leadership manoeuvring is afoot in both the Labour and Conservative parties, although the prize is greater for whoever wins the Tory crown as they get to be Prime Minister as well. So ambitious Conservatives are having to get their bids together before nominations close at midday on Thursday, with the party’s ruling 1922 committee announcing an accelerated timetable which will see the new leader announced by September 2, a month earlier than expected. A faster election will inevitably favour the front-runners, Boris Johnson and Theresa May, as it gives less time for challengers to build up their profiles . A YouGov poll for the Times confirmed they are way out in front among Conservative voters, with the Home Secretary ahead of the former Mayor by 6 points. But that doesn’t mean the pair have locked the race down, as the last frontrunner who went on to win the Tory leadership was Ted Heath in 1965.
Johnson’s allies, we report, are doing what they can to get out in front, with efforts being made to court Cabinet ministers like Amber Rudd. If they can convince the Energy Secretary, who repeatedly insulted Johnson during the ITV referendum debate, then that would show how much of a unifier he could be. They are also increasingly confident that George Osborne, who ruled himself out of the running in an interview with the Times, will swing behind them in exchange for staying on as Chancellor or agreeing to be Foreign Secretary. Nick Boles has given Johnson the Cameroon blessing by formally endorsing his bid, while Jo Johnson has declared his support, thus avoiding any echoes of Labour’s fratricidal Miliband antics. The fiercest critic to have emerged so far is Jamie Oliver, who said if Johnson became Prime Minister: “I’m done. I’m out“.
May is shaping up to be a formidable challenger, with one senior source saying she has an “unbelievably good chance” and MPs describing her as the “stop Boris candidate”.Gavin Williams, David Cameron’s parliamentary aide, is also understood to have joined her camp. Meanwhile, Work and Pensions secretary Stephen Crabb is discussing running on a joint ticket separately with both Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, and Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, in a bid to represent the 2010 intake. “The next Tory leader has to be able to keep the Labour Party pushed to the fringes of politics, with a style of Conservatism that combines economic credibility with a modern social liberalism to dominate the centre ground of political debate,” says William Hague in today’s paper.
The faster timetable will mean the Government cannot delay too long before triggering formal Brexit talks, and will give the leader time to call a general election for November in order to win a mandate from the British people. So in that light today’s Telegraph piece by Jeremy Hunt, who could be tempted to chuck his hat in the ring, is well worth reading. The Health Secretary touches on the hot Tory issue of Europe, suggesting that there should be a second vote on the terms of Britain’s exit “either in a referendum or through the Conservative manifesto at a fresh General Election.”
Meanwhile, Labour’s breakdown under Jeremy Corbyn continues apace, with the Labour leader forced to find replacements for two thirds of his shadow-cabinet. Angela Eagle, one of the “Jexiteers”, refused to rule out running against him, and – we report – is discussing launching a formal bid to win the Labour leadership with aides over the coming days. After a tempestuous PLP meeting last night, up to 150 MPs are expected to join together in an effort to oust their embattled party leader. But Corbyn has vowed to fight on, tweeting a message that basically amounted to “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”, or in his words: “Those wanting to change the Labour Party leadership will have to take part in a democratic election”. Labour-leaning papers have weighed in, with the Daily Mirror telling him on their front page to “go now”, while the Morning Star sticks with him, lauding Dennis Skinner for sticking two fingers up at anti-Corbyn “traitors”. As Labour MPs fight to get Corbyn out, and top Tories vie for position, make sure to follow today’s events on our liveblog.