by Peter Franklin
Monday, 16
May 2022
Analysis
14:00

Who will topple Boris Johnson?

Not since 2005 has the field been this open
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Getty

Since the implosion of Rishi Sunak, the position of Tory leader-in-waiting has been vacant. But nature abhors a vacuum — and this particular void is beginning to fill with Jeremy Hunt. 

The man himself is refusing to rule out standing in a future leadership contest. Commentators, like Harry Lambert in the New Statesman, emphasise his nine years as a Cabinet minister. Then there’s his ever-so-slightly prim public image, which currently stands in helpful contrast to Boris Johnson’s. 

Hunt was on the Remain side during the Brexit referendum campaign, but the same was true of Theresa May, which didn’t stop the Tories from choosing her when they found themselves short of a Prime Minister. Should they find themselves in the same position before the next election, then Hunt is in with a chance.

In the event of a contest, it’s likely that several serving ministers would put their names forward too. Liz Truss, Sajid Javid, Michael Gove, Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab and Nadhim Zahawi are among those who might give it a go. However, it’s telling that not one of these ministers — not even Truss — has emerged as a replacement front-runner.

In fact, there hasn’t been a leadership race this open since 2005 — when Ken Clarke, David Davis, Liam Fox and David Cameron were all contenders. Of course, back then, the Tories were in opposition and a leadership contest had been officially declared. Therefore each candidate had a formal opportunity to set out their wares. Especially important were the speeches made by each man at the party’s annual conference that year: Cameron wowed his audience, Davis did not, Fox did OK and Clarke gave what sounded like valedictory address. The dynamics of the race were transformed, putting Cameron on the path to power. 

Could a speech make all the difference this time round? For most of the possible candidates, the opportunities are limited — the Conservatives are in government and Tory ministers bound by collective responsibility. Furthermore, there’s no official contest — and no guarantee that Boris Johnson will be deposed as Prime Minister.

Of all the names I’ve mentioned, only Jeremy Hunt is free to speak his mind. But so far, he’s only nibbled around the edges of his big opportunity — for instance by publishing his book on the NHS. And perhaps this illustrates the paradox of Hunt: he might be seen as the anti-Boris — calm, measured, and sensible — but it is also those qualities that failed to excite the Conservative base when he first stood for leader in 2019. Whether the next leadership contest will be any different remains to be seen.

As David Cameron said in 2005, “we can change this party and we can change this country, but we need the courage to do it.” Which Tory candidate, if any, will step up?

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Justin Clark
Justin Clark
2 months ago

If I had to vote and choose an alternative it would be Lord Frost, or Steve Baker.

Iris C
Iris C
2 months ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

For me, it would be Stephen Barclay.
He spoke well from the despatch box when he was the Brexit Minister in the May government – always informative and rational in his responses and never with the hostility we so often hear nowadays.
Besides that, I like his accent with its northern inflection – a man of the people.
I believe he was side-lined after that because his ability and appeal was noted. The red wall MPs will barely know him..

Last edited 2 months ago by Iris C
hywell Roberts
hywell Roberts
2 months ago

NO NO NO , Mays right hand traitor who tried to sell this country down the river . Refused to restock PPE prior to the Pandemic ( which he conveniently forgets as he heads the Health select committee ) and a man so liberal with the truth he makes Boris look a saint !!

Last edited 2 months ago by hywell Roberts
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  hywell Roberts

I have no particular brief for Hunt but that is 20-20 hindsight selective demonisation.

‘Refused to stock PPE’? No pandemic alternative universe: – ‘why has Hunt wasted hundreds of millions on facemasks mouldering in government warehouses’!

The idea that the country should be autarchic was held only by a few voices on the far Left and is hardly a specific fault of Hunt’s.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
2 months ago

“In fact, there hasn’t been a leadership race this open since 2005”. But there isn’t a leadership race now, because the party knows that there isn’t an electable alternative to Boris Johnson. This reflects the decline of the party membership, and the disastrous impact of Central Office interference in candidate selection in safe seats under Cameron. But it means that there won’t be a change in leadership until after the Tories lose the next election, if they do.

Last edited 2 months ago by Stephen Walshe
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 months ago

I saw an article in the DT not so very long ago which suggested that the British electorate likes to swing between what you might call “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” leaders (i.e. the colourful reformers and risk-takers who are exciting – maybe a tad too exciting – like Boris Johnson) and those who are ultra-sensible and can bore you rigid with their grasp of technocratic detail but generally get the boring stuff done (emphatically NOT Boris Johnson).
After Boris, so went the argument, we are absolutely due a stolid, beige bureaucrat. Which perfectly describes Keir Starmer, so if the Tories want to keep Labour in its box, then, if they depose Boris, they should replace him with someone that makes you feel drowsy when you watch them talk on TV.
An absolutely unscientific observation, but an interesting pattern nontheless.

Last edited 2 months ago by Katharine Eyre
JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

But not J Hunt, please. His re Ord with the NHS should disqualify him anyway

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
2 months ago

Kemi Badenoch. End of story. Close the book.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Michaels

Shows how out of touch Franklin is that she’s only mentioned in the comments.

Matt M
Matt M
2 months ago

Last week the Tories were 1% behind Labour in the YouGov voting intention poll. In poll-of-polls they are about 4% behind. They lost c.350 council seats (net) in the local elections. This during an inflation squeeze, a European war and wall-to-wall “partygate” coverage.
In other words Boris is doing as well as you would expect mid-term. He’ll be fine once the voters have to choose between two alternatives.

Last edited 2 months ago by Matt M
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 months ago

Hunt is like Starmer, prim and insincere, trading on hindsight to score points.
Hunt = Remain.
And until Brexit is settled with the acceptance of all parties, he cannot be a leader for the conservatives. The example you cite, of May, resulted in the near destruction of the party.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
2 months ago

Ben Wallace please. The Stanley Baldwin of our times.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian McKinney

Is that a good thing?

M. M.
M. M.
2 months ago

Boris Johnson has done a good job as prime minister. In particular, he recognizes the dangers of “open borders” and has implemented a policy of deporting illegal aliens to Rwanda. If they seek political asylum, then they must apply for it from Rwanda.

Illegal aliens can damage British society to the same extent that Hispanic illegal aliens have damaged American society.

Get more analysis and info about this issue.