Following a week of political manoeuvrings in which we saw the rise and fall of the Prime Ministerial dreams of several, the Conservative Party leadership battle is down to a field of five potential candidates.
The enigmatic and populist Boris Johnson saw his hopes fizzle out before announcing he would not be standing on Thursday. George Osborne, the long-time anointed heir of Mr Cameron, came quickly to the realisation that a leadership bid would be unfeasible and stepped aside – perhaps with a view to retaining the Chancellor’s office. Mooted runs from Life Sciences Minister George Freeman, 2005 runner-up David Davis, and prominent Eurosceptic Priti Patel came to nothing; while Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s initial leadership ambitions were laughed off early on and Jeremy Hunt’s apparent Prime Ministerial desires evaporated soon after.
The field that has been left contains five contenders for the keys to Number 10…
1) Stephen Crabb
The 43 year-old Work and Pensions Secretary announced his run early on and will be a strong contender with former Osborne ally Savid Javid alongside him on the ticket. Born in Inverness in Scotland and raised on a council estate in Pembrokeshire in Wales by a single mother, Crabb would represent a stark contrast to the Eton and Oxford educated Cameron. With his working class background and personal experiences of welfare and social housing, he reflects the trend of the modern Conservative Party in its attempts to tackle issues for those on the lowest incomes, and Crabb himself firmly believes that the Party is the best option for working class voters.
His experience of the top jobs in politics includes two years as Secretary of State for Wales (2014-2016) and he was appointed as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in March. He was in the 2005 intake of MPs and is seen as a moderate Remain-backing candidate – having expressed his desire for unity within his party and ruled out the possibility of a second referendum. A Crabb premiership could be the answer for those who want a pro-European candidate who isn’t Theresa May.
The addition of Javid to his ticket – a long-time Eurosceptic who backed Remain at the referendum – adds additional appeal to voters. Mr Javid’s experience in the City and with financial institutions across the world make him a potential Chancellor, and his Thatcherite politics nicely mirror those of Crabb himself.
Concerns have been raised over Javid’s links to controversial financial trading in his career before politics, as well as over Crabb’s links to so-called ‘gay cure’ organisations.
2) Liam Fox
An MP since 1992, the 54 year-old is the political veteran of this leadership campaign. Another candidate with a working class background, having grown up on a council estate in East Kilbride, Scotland, Dr Fox represents the right-wing section of the Party and is expected to have strong appeal amongst more right-leaning Brexit voters. He has been strong in his politics, criticising ring-fenced NHS funding in the past and voting against same-sex marriage; in his previous run for the leadership he compared abortion to the death penalty. Fox supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and voted in favour of military intervention in Syria. He also supported the Bahraini government in its battle with Arab Spring protestors.
He has been in politics since he was 23 when he unsuccessfully contested a council election for the Conservatives. Since his Parliamentary career began in 1992 he has served in several high profile roles, including as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Foreign Office under John Major. He ran unsuccessfully for the leadership in 2005, failing to get on the ballot, and most recently served as Secretary of State for Defence (2010-2011).
Controversies have dogged Fox throughout his career. He supported a Students’ Union ban on gay societies when at university because he didn’t want ‘the gays flaunting it in front of [him]’, a position he dismissed in 2008. Dr Fox was one of the MPs implicated in the expenses scandal and had to resign his post as Defence Secretary after he allowed a close friend with no security clearance to sit in on meetings.
3) Michael Gove
The 48 year-old Justice Secretary was a late entrant to the leadership race, having decided against supporting fellow Vote Leave campaigner Boris Johnson. Considered by many to be the heir to the liberalising reforms of David Cameron, Gove opened his campaign with passionate support for a global Britain. He spoke of improving the United Kingdom and the relations between its four constituent parts, and his belief that the UK is a family like his own – himself born in Scotland, his wife in Wales and his children in London. As the more socially liberal candidate, Mr Gove’s opening speech demanded far reaching changes to make Britain fairer and more prosperous and set out his stall for the leadership as being the liberal reformer in the race.
He entered Parliament alongside Crabb in the 2005 intake, having formerly been a journalist. He has significant Cabinet experience, having served as Secretary of State for Education (2010-2014), Chief Whip (2014-2015) and as the incumbent Secretary of State for Justice. His Brexit credentials are well established – he was one of the leaders of the Vote Leave campaign – and his campaign was largely based on creating a global Britain and the strengthening of British democracy.
Mr Gove has rarely courted controversy in his career, although he was extremely unpopular with teaching unions during his tenure as Education Secretary, and his support for the Iraq War drew criticism from some in Iraq.
4) Andrea Leadsom
Energy Minister Leadsom, 53, is the least experienced candidate in this leadership election. Relatively unknown before her appearances on behalf of Vote Leave in the EU Referendum, Leadsom’s rise has been stellar. She had been a passionate campaigner for a change in the UK’s relationship with the EU prior to the referendum and during the campaign she impressed many. She believes that Britain should not pursue membership of the single market post-Brexit. In 2012 she came to the fore for her questioning of Bob Diamond during the Treasury Committee’s investigation into the Libor scandal.
Leadsom entered Parliament in 2010 as MP for South Northamptonshire. Prior to 2010, she had a successful career in the financial sector and served as a Councillor in South Oxfordshire from 2003 to 2007. Her experience in finance combined with her impressive performance in finance debates saw her appointed Economic Secretary to the Treasury in 2014, before she was appointed as Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change in 2015.
Leadsom’s appointment at the DECC attracted controversy due to her previous opposition to wind farms and renewable energy targets. Her appointment in her previous role at the Treasury also courted controversy when it was revealed that she had placed assets belonging to herself and her spouse into a trust for the benefit of her children – a move commonly taken to avoid inheritance tax. Leadsom dismissed concerns over allegations that she had used offshore banking arrangements, as she had not avoided paying tax, but she was criticised by Tom Watson for taking donations involving a holding company in the British Virgin Islands.
5) Theresa May
The bookies’ favourite for the Conservative leadership at the time of writing, the 59 year-old is the most experienced candidate – having been Home Secretary since 2010. May’s bid has been based around her ability to prove strong leadership in a bid to unite the party after the Brexit vote. She has spoken of the need to control migration from the European Union and has quickly dismissed calls for a second referendum. As Home Secretary, May has lead demands to replace the European Convention on Human Rights with a British Bill of Rights. She has led reforms to give the police more powers and taken a more authoritarian approach by pursuing policies such as the ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ which has been criticised by many pro-civil liberty campaigners.
Since her election to Parliament in 1997, May has gained significant experience. She was first appointed to the Shadow Cabinet in 1999 and served in a number of Shadow Cabinet roles before being appointed as Home Secretary in 2010. Her leadership campaign has received the backing of the highest number of MPs, including Cabinet members like Amber Rudd, Patrick McLoughlin and Jeremy Hunt.
Outside of criticism over the Snoopers’ Charter, there has been little controversy in May’s career. She was criticised for voting against greater adoption rights for homosexual couples, although she later professed to have ‘changed her mind’ on the issue and in 2012 she championed same-sex marriage. May has also been criticised for her hard stance on Home Office issues, once described as being willing to allow someone to die ‘to score a political point’.
So, you decide. These are brief snapshots of the five people vying to be the next Prime Minister, but only time will tell who will come out on top. Are you backing Stephen, Liam, Michael, Andrea or Theresa?