Current Affairs

Who will be the next Conservative Party leader?

The race is on

With the first round of voting done, and four contenders down already, the Conservative Party leadership race is heating up. Following yesterday’s vote, Boris Johnson is in pole position with 114 votes, and is the bookies’ favourite for headed into No 10, followed quite a way behind, by Jeremy Hunt with 43, and Michael Gove with 37. But at this stage, it’s far from a done deal, and there’s still weeks of fresh drug scandals, open animosity and public debates to go before a winner is sworn in to Downing Street. Here we break down the attributes of each potential candidate, what they’re planning to bring to the Brexit table, and how their voting record so far might give us a clue as to how Britain could look under their leadership. 

Boris Johnson

Domestic policy: As PM, Boris is likely to reward the Conservative right with key positions in his cabinet, as they’re the people who would back his leadership bid should the time come. Critics speculate that this means human rights at home and in the workplace may be put in jeopardy considering that the party – and especially the more right-leaning members – haven’t committed to keeping the UK within the Human Rights Act after Brexit.

International policy: During what was widely seen to be a disastrous term as foreign secretary, arguably Johnson’s biggest failing was an inability to convince the countries he visited that Brexit wouldn’t harm Britain’s international trade relations – despite being vehemently pro-Leave. A series of shocking and/or inappropriate comments made about Libya, Myanmar, Turkey, China and Russia (to name only a few) didn’t help to endear him to other nations either.

Brexit: Although he’s currently in the lead in terms of votes, Johnson is also the most divisive figure in the leadership race, mostly due to his to-ing and fro-ing on Brexit. Most recently, he agreed to vote for Theresa May’s Brexit deal after heavily criticising it and calling it ‘dead’ months earlier – Brexit has become a microcosm for Boris’s general inability to send consistent messages on topics. He’s also said that he’d happily accept a No Deal, and has suggested he would suspend parliament in order to make it happen. 

Risk analysis: High. The public gaffs alone suggest Johnson would be a risky candidate, especially when liaising with important figures from around the world with a variety of different backgrounds and beliefs. His reluctance to take part in TV debates as part of the contest mean his policies haven’t been publicly challenged, either. 

Jeremy Hunt

Domestic policy: Jeremy is the longest-serving health secretary in history, but was criticised during his tenure for drastic funding cuts in 2016. His most controversial move was to enforce junior doctor contracts which reclassified evenings and weekends as ‘core hours’ for junior doctors, rather than antisocial hours. The move was viewed as unfair for forcing employees to work longer hours for less pay. The dispute led to mass strikes by NHS staff, who said patient care and safety was at stake.

International policy: Hunt succeeded Johnson as foreign secretary last year, and he has made bold moves early on, such as ignoring a request from Number 10 not to appoint Amal Clooney as special envoy on media freedom. Jeremy has also declared Saudi Arabia an important ally for Britain, supported a military intervention in Yemen, and has supported the production of arms in the UK to create more jobs.

Brexit: Jeremy supported Remain in the referendum, but became a Leave supporter in 2017. He has said that Britain should absolutely avoid a No Deal scenario, but has also been critical of May’s deal, saying that there is a better one to be had. Speaking on the Today show, he pointed to his past as an entrepreneur, as well as his relationships with European governments and how he ran the NHS, claiming there had never been a prime minister with such a background.

Risk analysis: Medium. Hunt recently made a gaffe when he visited Slovenia, when he congratulated locals on re-aligning themselves with European democracy following their Soviet history – although Slovenia was never part of the Soviet Union. Otherwise, Hunt is well media-trained and comes across confidently in the public eye.

Michael Gove

Domestic policy: As education secretary, Gove made changes to teaching standards that were seen as widely unpopular. Gove’s standards were generally discredited by the industry because they were seen to be putting ideas before practical sense, and drove many teachers out of the profession (among other things, he suggested primary children should be able to recite a classic poem, and attend a school with a Bible in every bookcase). He was eventually sacked, and now as environment secretary Gove has improved his public image by lengthening the maximum term for animal cruelty sentences. He has also been praised for his pro-active approach to tackling climate change (he’s asked businesses to plan ways in which they can help with flood management). 

International policy: Gove is a strong neoconservative. He praised the liberation of Iraq as a British foreign policy success, as he claimed the country’s economy was set to enjoy a 10 per cent GDP growth as a result of allied intervention.

Brexit: Gove and Johnson were the figureheads of the Leave campaign in 2016, and in the years since, Gove has supported May’s deal, which lost him the support of the far right of the party. However, his strong vocal criticism of Corbyn in Parliament has been seen by his supporters as demonstrating his leadership potential.

Risk analysis: Low. Gove has had a couple of poor taste moments over the years (his tone-deaf joke about Harvey Weinstein and sexual assault on the Today programme in 2017 being the most notable), but in comparison to many of the other candidates, he is relatively gaffe-free. Ultimately, Gove’s an unlikely leader due to his unpopularity both inside and outside of the party.

Sajid Javid

Domestic policy: As the current Home Secretary, Javid is know for his hardline stance on terrorism, asylum and security, as well as for consistently voting for welfare cuts, along with higher thresholds for income tax, among other things. Javid also pledged to hire 20,000 extra police officers if elected prime minister, and his voting record also shows he’s continuously voted against laws to promote equality and human rights; in 2016 he voted in favour of repealing the Human Rights Act 1998.

International policy: As part of this tough approach, Javid has consistently voted for a continued British military presence in combat operations overseas, as well as for replacing Trident with new nuclear weapons programme.

Brexit: Javid has stated that he’d be prepared to take Britain out of the EU without a deal if he becomes prime minister and fails to get concessions from Brussels before 31 October. He’s ruled out a second referendum, and has said he would prepare for a No Deal Brexit with an emergency budget, to show the EU: ‘we are ready – so when we turn up to negotiate, they know we are not afraid of walking out.’ He also said the technology required to avoid a hard border in Ireland already exists.

Risk analysis: Low. Javid’s hardline approach to home office issues continues through to his calm and authoritarian public persona. Highly media trained, he only occasionally sticks his head above the parapet – most recently, calling his lack of invitation to meet Trump at Buckingham Palace ‘odd.’