Conservative Leadership: Come what May

30 June 2016

As convention dictates, Conservative 1922 Committee Chair Graham Brady formally announced those entering the Tory Leadership race this afternoon. From technocrat (Theresa May) to Blue-Collar Conservatism (Stephen Crabb), DeHavilland provides an overview of those who will enter the race.

Theresa May

Home Secretary Theresa May was notably campaign-light during the EU Referendum, leading many to speculate on her leadership manoeuvres – whatever the outcome. A seemingly reluctant remainer, Ms May’s major intervention during the campaign centred on her opposition to the European Convention on Human Rights. She revised this position this morning, accepting that it had no Parliamentary majority and was a divisive proposal.

The oft-cited fact that Ms May is one of the longest serving Home Secretaries in British history puts her in an extraordinarily strong position in such deeply uncertain times. In her speech outlining her intention to stand for leader, Ms May said she did not often wear her heart on her sleeve, gossip over lunch or drink in Parliament’s bars, but “just [got] on with the job in front of me”, clearly playing up her position as an austere and resolute politician.

Educated at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, Ms May went on to work in the Bank of England and the Association for Payment Clearing Services. Elected in 1997, Ms May used her maiden speech to discuss educational support for children from less privileged families, echoing the One Nation conservatism she continues to profess. Her appointment as Home Secretary has not been without difficulties, and has led to public spats with leadership rival Michael Gove, over the so-called "Trojan Horse" scandal.

On Europe, she stated “Brexit means Brexit” – clearly an offering to those who demand a Vote Leave supporter takes charge. She also stated she would not call a snap election or invoke Article 50 by the end of the year. On the UK’s continued membership of the Single Market, Ms May stressed the need for trade access to be balanced with demands for control over migration. “Any attempt to wriggle out of that – especially from leadership candidates who campaigned to leave the EU by focusing on immigration – will be unacceptable to the public”, she said.  

Michael Gove

This morning, Justice Secretary Michael Gove terminated the career ambitions of his Vote Leave partner, Boris Johnson. Mr Gove’s decision to stand in the Tory leadership race was met with outright surprise, but those watching should have been wise to his wife’s miss-fired email yesterday afternoon, as it signalled the potential fallout that was to come. For a man whose campaign for Britain to leave the EU forced the resignation of one of his oldest political allies, David Cameron, he is now closer than ever to controlling a party he said he never wanted to lead.

Educated at Lady Margaret Hall, Mr Gove read English and went to become a journalist with The Times and BBC. Elected in 2005, Mr Gove’s maiden speech detailed how regulation and legislation could enterprise and limit opportunity, citing his family’s small business, before criticising the centralisation of power in the UK.

A self-styled neoconservative, Mr Gove is recognised across the party for his liberal and social reformist approach to policy making, and as part of the “Notting Hill” set of Tories. During his tenure Education Secretary, controversy over reform ended with a demotion ahead of the 2015 General Election, but as Justice Secretary, his prison reforms have somewhat softened this image.    

On Europe, the questions remains whether Mr Gove will advocate for Britain to leave the European Single Market, a commitment he made under the guise of Vote Leave. In his statement this morning, he stressed that the public had clearly instructed politicians to “restore democratic control of immigration policy” – a sign he may put immigration ahead of economic concerns in the negotiations ahead.

Stephen Crabb

Having been appointed Work and Pensions Secretary a mere three months ago, Mr Crabb’s rise through the ranks has accelerated of late and led him to become the youngest candidate in the race for his party’s leadership. His “joint ticket” campaign with Business Secretary Sajid Javid could work to his advantage, alongside his noted friendship with Scottish Conservative Leader Ruth Davidson.

Since joining the House of Commons in 2003, Mr Crabb worked his way through the Opposition Whip’s Office and served as Secretary of State for Wales until his promotion earlier this year. He was described at the time by the Independent as the party’s “working class poster boy”, and was raised by a single mother on a council estate.

Mr Crabb himself turned to this theme in the speech in which he announced his candidacy, declaring that: “This is the moment for modern, compassionate, reforming Conservatives”. His aim appeared to be to appeal to the more centrist elements within his party without alienating his base.

However, his compassion was brought into question somewhat by his being forced to defend himself against charges of homophobia. He disavowed his previous opposition to gay marriage, stating that he was “very happy with the outcome” and insisting that the “issue is now settled”. He has also previously been linked to groups promoting “cures” to homosexuality.

Mr Crabb’s own record has also been somewhat mixed. During his time as Secretary of State, the Wales Bill, which was designed to devolve powers to Cardiff, had to be delayed after the draft was criticised heavily by Welsh Ministers and the Welsh Affairs Select Committee in Westminster.

His relatively recent promotion also leaves him open to charges of being inexperienced and means that he will have to work much harder to build a public profile and reputation over the course of this context.

On Europe, Ms Crabb spoke of the constitutional implications of Brexit, lamenting that “a United Kingdom without Scotland is not the United Kingdom; a Great Britain without Scotland is not Great Britain”. Outlining his three negotiation priorities, Mr Crabb said they centred on: controlling immigration, a close economic relationship with the EU as we have now, and to end the supremacy of EU Law.

Liam Fox

Prominent leave campaigner, Dr Liam Fox is firmly positioned on the right of the Conservative Party, and welcomed the EU Referendum result as a “new dawn” in the UK.

Not his first attempt at bidding for leader, Dr Fox unsuccessfully contested the 2005 race, and is the only candidate with prior experience at the race.  Educated at Glasgow University, Dr Fox studied medicine and worked as a GP before entering Parliament in 1992. During his maiden speech, Dr Fox discussed the benefits of preventative health. Implicated in the expenses scandal, Dr Fox went on to serve as Defence Secretary from 2010 -2011, but was forced to resign over a lobbying scandal with his adviser Adam Werritty.

On Europe, Dr Fox is likely to position himself as the backbench Brexiteer – as he remained untarnished from formal Vote Leave campaigns. Writing in the Telegraph¸ Dr Fox clearly stated that he did “not believe there is room for membership of the single market, if it entails free movement of people”, and welcomed trade opportunities with the US. “Last week we showed that we truly value our freedom”, he wrote.

Andrea Leadsom

Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom is one of the more junior candidates in the race and is the only one never to have held a senior Cabinet position. Indeed, her announcement came rather unexpectedly in the form of a tweet this morning that said “Delighted to say I'm running for the @Conservatives Leadership. Let's make the most of the Brexit opportunities!”

However, she came to the fore during the EU referendum campaign as one of the more vocal ministers supporting the Leave campaign. One of her most explosive interventions came during a TV debate on Brexit in which she asked the room whether anyone could name the five Presidents of the EU and citing the high number of officials employed by the EU.

Ms Leadsom’s previous experience in finance, including for Barclay’s Investment Banking division, may make her an attractive candidate to lead in the upcoming negotiations between Britain and the EU. Further, her pro-Brexit credentials may make her more appealing to the Eurosceptic base of the party.

However, her candidacy may be overshadowed by the more prominent and well known Brexiteer Michael Gove. Further, having only joined the Commons in 2010 and only become a minister in 2014, she may struggle to make the significant leap to becoming Prime Minister.

At this stage, she remains one of the less likely candidates to win. Nevertheless, her background and support for Brexit could certainly allow her to use the leadership contest to catapult herself to more senior role in a new Conservative Government.

On Europe, Ms Leadsom has come out as strongly opposed to mass migration from within the EU.

She was also dismissive of the suggestion that Brexit would damage the economy, writing an article for City AM in which she cited her experience as a City Minister to insist that the UK’s inherent strengths meant it would flourish regardless of its EU membership.

Further, she argued for the need to construct free trade deals across the world and suggested that London’s position as the pre-eminent European centre of finance gave the UK a strategic advantage in negotiations.

Jasmine Mitchell
Jasmine Mitchell
Political Analyst

Jasmine Mitchell is a Political Analyst at DeHavilland, where she monitors the UK Parliament and devolved institutions. She first joined DeHavilland as a Research Assistant in January 2015. Jasmine holds a BA in Modern History and Politics from the University of Liverpool and a Masters in Conflict, Security and Development from King's College London.