By Tim Montgomerie
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Who might be the Cameron's successor is, of course, a prematurely impossible question but yesterday and today more than 1,500 Tory members did have a go at offering an answer. In an online ConservativeHome survey participants were asked who could be the next Tory leader if (for unspecified reasons) Cameron is forced to quit before the next election and who might be Tory leader if he steps down after the next election, sometime during the next parliament.
I will publish the answers of ALL respondents in the next few days but tonight, to coincide with my toughest ever critique of Cameron's leadership (published in The Guardian) here are results of the Influentials Group within the ConHome panel. The Influentials are 122 in number on this occasion* and include centre right journalists, think tank leaders, special advisers, public affairs consultants and parliamentarians.
This side of the next election respondents named six people as their first choice. 20 chose William Hague. 19 chose Boris Johnson. 16 chose Michael Gove. 12 chose Jeremy Hunt and also George Osborne. 10 chose David Davis. Or to put it another way – there is no obvious immediate leader-in-waiting in the eyes of this panel.
More interesting, in my view, were the answers to the question about the next parliament. The 'Influential' respondents switched from the current political generation and more than half chose members of the 'Class of 2010' – the huge intake of new Conservative MPs from the last election. Some of the male stars of the 2010 intake – including Matt Hancock, Sajid Javid, Dom Raab and Rory Stewart – were certainly mentioned but only by two or three Influential panellists. Mark Harper and Grant Shapps each picked up a few votes too. But women got a much larger portion of the votes and four women in particular – Priti Patel (12), Andrea Leadsom (10), Anna Soubry (8) and Liz Truss (8). Margot James and Justine Greening (2005 intake) also scored okay.
Here's what I say in my Guardian piece:
"It’s as if the party is yearning for another Thatcher. All four aren’t just women. They’re fighters. Each have strong beliefs. They perform well in the media. In different ways they all challenge the perception of what it means to be a Conservative. Three of the four – not Ms Soubry – are on the Right of the party. It is, of course, far too early to make credible predictions about who might become Tory leader at an unknown point in the future. Few of the names I’ve mentioned have been tested in the political furnace. What is clear, however, even at this early stage, is that one of Cameron’s most significant legacies will be the generation that became MPs under his leadership. They are high quality. They are gritty campaigners. And the brightest prospects appear to be women. Hopefully they’ll have better strategic sense than the man they will succeed."
* There are 210 members of the Influentials group in total but not all answered this survey.