Boris Johnson leads list of top Tories lining up to be next PM – but can any of them win this game of thrones?
PRINCE HARRY says that no one in the Royal Family really wants to be next to wear the crown.
No such problem applies to the Cabinet. There’s no shortage of ministers who would like the top job at No 10.
The problem is that no one can agree who Theresa May’s successor should be.
“No candidate is reconcilable with both Leave and Remain,” says one Cabinet minister who has explored whether a coronation would be possible, sparing the Tories the need for a time-consuming and potentially bloody leadership contest.
Boris Johnson is the leading Brexiteer in the Cabinet, the man without whom the referendum would not have been won.
This, though, is one of the reasons why he is unacceptable to several of his most senior colleagues in government.
Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, has never been a Boris fan. David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, though, backed BoJo for the leadership last year.
However, I am told that his time in government has made him more sceptical of the Foreign Secretary. He has taken to telling colleagues that Boris can’t be deployed in Europe, such is his unpopularity there.
The hostility of these colleagues means that Boris could not be crowned without a contest. At the same time, it is hard to see how any of the Remain-supporting members of the Cabinet — such as Amber Rudd or Philip Hammond — could be either.
The most committed Tory Leavers are already acutely concerned about any back- sliding on the Government’s Brexit position.
One tells me that if Mrs May started to water it down, then “the bottom would fall out within 24 hours”.
At 68, he is also older than all the other contenders, which helps — young cardinals vote for old popes. But senior Tories wonder whether it is feasible to have three Prime Ministers within one parliament, assuming Davis wouldn’t lead them into the next election.
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The next obstacle to a coronation is just how many people want a crack at the crown.
One of those who would have to orchestrate them all standing aside says: “Imagine having to sit down with half a dozen candidates and persuade them all not to run. It just wouldn’t happen, would it?”
Another problem is that Tory party members don’t want a coronation. They didn’t get a say last time and would be furious if they were again denied the chance to choose their leader.
The upshot of all this is that Mrs May is likely to carry on for some time.
“It is hard to see her not getting to conference, which takes place in October,” one secretary of state tells me.
Interestingly, ministerial backers of both Boris Johnson and Amber Rudd think their candidate would be best served by Mrs May not going until the Brexit deal is done.
Boris’s backers believe this would make it easier for him to deal with the Leave campaign’s promise that there could be £350million a week more to spend on the NHS post-Brexit.
While one minister, who will back Rudd, argues she would find it easier to win a leadership contest where Brexit is not the defining issue.
Mrs May’s position remains extremely precarious. But, oddly, her weakness is becoming a source of some strength.
No one thinks she can recover sufficiently to lead the Tories into the next election, so there is no need to rush to get rid of her.
DUP handout will be hard to sell
SIX Cabinet ministers will have to approve any confidence and supply deal with the DUP.
Mrs May’s involvement of this Big Six – made up of Philip Hammond, Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd, Michael Fallon, David Davis and the Prime Minister’s close ally, First Secretary of State Damian Green – is a recognition of her weakness.
She knows she cannot just sign this off unilaterally. It also means that the confidence and supply arrangement isn’t just Mrs May’s deal, meaning it is more likely to survive her departure from No 10.
I am told that Hammond is the most involved in these discussions as “the financial side all lands on the Treasury”.
One Government figure laments that: “He’s got to find the money for it, and that’s not easy.”
It also doesn’t help that Hammond, and the Treasury, hate this kind of pork barrel politics.
One Cabinet minister tells me the reason the talks have dragged on for so long is that “It is the start of the relationship, so both sides want to show they are not going to be a pushover. The DUP have to bring home the bacon. But we have to say, ‘Hang on a second, not at any price’.”
The great Tory worry is what the public will think of extra money being sent to Northern Ireland as part of a deal that keeps them in power.
Even allies of Theresa May are fretting about voters contrasting the amount spent on dealing with the Grenfell fire and the tower block emergency with the cash that’ll be lavished on Northern Ireland to guarantee the DUP’s support.
Tories queuing up for a crack at No10
WHEN Theresa May does go, there will be no shortage of candidates to replace her.
There are more than half a dozen Tories seeking to build the support base they would need to run.
There are three reasons why the field will be so crowded.
First, there is a sense among ministers that if Theresa May can be Prime Minister, so can I. Second, politics is so volatile right now that people feel it is worth chancing their arm – they might end up as Prime Minister, after all. This feeling is compounded by the fact the leading candidates all have their flaws.
Finally, many regard running as the best way to secure a good Cabinet spot under the new Prime Minister. As well as Boris Johnson and Amber Rudd, Sajid Javid – the Local Government Secretary – is expected to throw his hat in the ring.
Tory MPs report that Andrea Leadsom, who made the final round last time, and Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, are both doing what you would do if you were planning to run.
Philip is ‘out for election revenge’
FIGURES in Downing Street are worried that the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, is on manoeuvres.
They fear he has not forgiven Theresa May for how he was humiliated during the election campaign and will now exact his revenge.
“He is really pushing it,” says one Cabinet minister.
When I asked another Cabinet member if Hammond would run for the leadership, I was told: “He is serious about it.” However, one leading ally of Hammond claims that: “He is not on manoeuvres.
“He just really cares about these issues.”
While an official No10 source claims that the idea they think Hammond is causing trouble is “absolute nonsense”.
-ARE shy Boris backers the new Tory phenomenon?
In the past few days, I have been struck by how those who will vote for Boris next time round don’t just come out and say it.
Instead, they talk about the need for someone who has charisma, who connects with people and who can make an argument.
Only when pressed do they admit that this means they’re backing Boris.
– James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator
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