ConservativeHome has nothing against polls that show Boris Johnson leading his competitors in the race for the Tory leadership (already effectively under way). How could we, when our last monthly survey, like a YouGov poll for the Times yesterday, showed the former Foreign Secretary ahead of his rivals?
Indeed, we’ve nothing against his candidacy either – though we want to know the full field, and the policy platform on which all the candidates stand, before taking a view one way or other. Mention of those others takes us to the point.
Our last Next Tory Leader survey question contained the names of no fewer than 26 potential contestors. From it, we now propose to remove some Ministers and MPs who have made it clear that they won’t stand: David Davis, Philip Hammond, Jacob Rees-Mogg (who is supporting Johnson) and, in addition, Gavin Williamson.
However, there are also new names to put in. Andrea Leadsom has said she may stand. Steve Baker could do so too. Kit Malthouse is apparently mulling a bid. On balance, it is worth us putting Johnny Mercer’s name into the mix. For every MP who pulls out, one seems to step in.
Today, a raft of stories and commentary about a Johnson premiership floats through the Sunday papers. It is one of many more to come – about both him and others. But the way in which the leadership election works means that we must all take nothing for granted.
Yes, it could be that Conservative MPs come to believe, rightly or wrongly, that the former Foreign Secretary represents the best means of saving their seats, and so forward his name to Party members, who back him overwhelmingly.
But it could also be that one of those other Brexiteering candidates – and not necessarily Dominic Raab either – upends him, and goes through instead.
In a field this fractured, anything could happen. Our columnist Robert Halfon has compared the coming contest to the spectacular and bloody chariot race in Ben Hur, and Johnson may not necessarily be the Charlton Heston of the contest. Beware peaked chariots.
Just as he divides voters, so he divides the media. Most of the centre-left commentariat couldn’t stand him even before the EU referendum. And that he fronted the victorious Vote Leave campaign has given them a reason to like him even less. But he also has fervent partisans.
We expect a passionate campaign by some writers on the Spectator, which he edited not all that long ago, and by the Daily Telegraph, for which he still writes his weekly column, to get him into the membership stage. Indeed, the latter is already well under way. The cry will go up: “Give the members and the country the contest they want.”
Anti-Johnson MPs will be portrayed as timid minnows, conspiring to keep a brilliant titan off the final ballot paper. “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world / Like a Colossus, and we petty men / Walk under his huge legs and peep about / To find ourselves dishonorable graves.”
And there will be proposals to change the rules to stop this from happening – by allowing the members to select the finalists themselves; or by empowering MPs to put more than two candidates before them.
The Conservative Party’s constitution, as matters stand, rules the first idea out. (See Schedule Two, which says that Conservative MPs must “present to the Party, as soon as reasonably practicable, a choice of candidates for election as Leader”). The second proposal could be taken up, because the 1922 Committee has freedom to write rules for the Parliamentary stage of the election.
However, that is most unlikely to happen. Ergo, only two candidates will have their names forwarded to Party members. The sum of our case is: make no presumption about which these will be. Though we will be very surprised indeed if one of them is not a committed Brexiteer.