It was, initially at least, billed as a two horse race for the Tory leadership and thus position as the next Prime Minister. Boris Johnson, fresh from spearheading the Leave campaign in the EU referendum, looked set to cash in on his new found popularity with a stint in 10 Downing Street.
But remarkably, ‘BoJo’ has decided not to stand for the role after seemingly being stabbed in the back by his Leave right hand man, Michael Gove. The Secretary of State for Justice controversially claimed that Johnson was not up to the job, telling the BBC that “I came in the last few days, reluctantly and firmly, to the conclusion that while Boris has great attributes he was not capable of uniting that team and leading the party and the country in the way that I would have hoped.”
So Gove (7/1) will take his position alongside May (2/5), Stephen Crabb (25/1), Liam Fox (50/1) and Andrea Leadsom (4/1) in the first round of voting. We have already discussed the chances of May and Crabb here, so can the newcomer in the race steal a march after backstabbing his former ally?
While not being the most serious of politicians, it is fair to say that Boris had built himself a fanatical following both in the public domain and with his fellow Tory party members for straightforward, to the point politics. We also, as a nation, love a bumbling idiot, a loveable rogue – why else do you think the films of Richard Curtis are so beloved?
As such, Gove’s betrayal of his Leave running mate is hardly going to go down well with those who have a vote in hand.
But his mastery of the Brexit strategy – Gove was seen as the puppet-master to Johnson’s Punch and Judy show – will have curried a lot of favour with his fellow Leave supporters; of whom there were millions, after all.
His argument during that campaign was that the UK should introduce a points-style system, similar to that of Australia, for judging immigration applications; a move Gove claimed would ensure this key political hot potato would be kept to a ‘manageable level’. Again, that would go down well with an electorate that seems far more transposed to keeping people out of the country than fiscal or legislative concerns.
Mud slinging is rife during leadership battles, and it is fair to say that Theresa May and her fellow candidates have plenty to work with here. Gove is a known friend of Rupert Murdoch’s – not a particularly good start, although he would be treated in the highest regard by Murdoch’s various media titles; a key consideration in General Election campaigns given that they are, ultimately, a popularity contest (as Ed Miliband found out to his cost).
A vote of no confidence was also proffered on Gove by the National Union of Teachers during his time as Secretary of State for Education; again, not ideal from the potential leader of the party and future Prime Minister.
And, without wanting to reinforce the xenophobic stereotype that will no doubt dog the UK in the weeks, months and years to come, Gove is actually Scottish – having been born in Edinburgh – and do not underplay the effect that this will have on the voting, given that the Conservatives will be seeking a leader who the public will take to.
Lastly, but no doubt most pertinently, during the expenses scandal Gove was found to have claimed back money spent on hotel bookings while his house was undergoing building work. Did he check into an acceptable Travelodge, Premier Inn or similar? No, of course not: he chose the £500 per night Pennyhill Park Spa Hotel. Be under no illusions, controversies like this will be used as ammunition during the leadership battle in an attempt to sway the public and thus the Tory Party voters.
As such, Theresa May fully justifies her position as market leader at 2/5. Prepare for the Iron Lady 2.0.