It is unlikely that Boris Johnson will lead the Conservative Party into the next General Election. If Johnson is defenestrated, who could become Prime Minister? There might be a vacancy at Number 10 in May 2022. Who then could become First Lord of the Treasury? Whoever is, it would be Elizabeth II's 15th Prime Minister and likely her last.
Rishi Sunak was the golden boy of 2020. He was popular when he was dishing out the cash. State spending as a % of GDP shot up from 39% to 51%. That is partly because the GDP shrank. But now that has to be paid for. The state cannot keep shelling out staggering sums forever. Tax rises and spending cuts have been unpopular. Moreover, he has not raised taxes on the affluent. A windfall tax on companies that thrived under lockdown has not been introduced.
His National Insurance hike was inept. It impacts the whole United Kingdom. The SNP (Scottish National Party) misrepresented it as those evil English stealing again. The tax affairs of Sunak's heiress wife marred his image. Sunak's stock is low. His lockdown fine hurt his standing.
If Bo Jo is ousted over such a party, surely his replacement cannot be a co- offender? He is one of the most unpopular cabinet ministers. But that always happens to a Chancellor of the Exchequer in times of austerity. However, he can bounce back in several months. Yet for the moment he would be a rider and not a runner. The longer the leadership challenge is delayed, the better his chances.
Priti is not sitting pretty. The Home Secretary is seen as dim, shrill and emotionally unintelligent. But she has her advantages. She is youngish, good-looking and from an ethnic minority. Other cabinet ministers find her uncollegial. Her civil servants revile her, and several have accused her of verbally abusing them and being grossly disrespectful. Expect a lot more toxic leaks from bureaucrats about Miss Patel. She has already been obliged to resign in disgrace for breaking the ministerial code on a trip to Israel. Her plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda plays well with those who want to get tough on the issue. However, it is probably unworkable and possibly illegal. The civil service might strike over the issue. This proves, yet again, the British civil service is not the envy of the world. Far from being apolitical, it is institutionally left wing and self-serving.
Rabb is the Deputy Prime Minister. Therefore, should Johnson fall under the proverbial bus, it is Raab who the Queen would appoint at least in the interim. Raab is just the right age. He is a safe pair of hands and scandal-free. The former City solicitor has a razor sharp mind and is affable. He does not have the star quality of Johnson, though.
Raab's vulnerability is his constituency. In Esher and Walton, he is only 2,700 votes ahead of the Liberal Democrats. However, people tend to like being represented by famous MPs. He would likely be returned by a thumping majority if he became Prime Minister.
Moreover, with Brexit out of the way, the orange surge in Surrey is surely over. Though Raab would be unexciting, his competence is not in doubt. He has been satisfactory as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. He already filled the prime ministerial role for a fortnight when Johnson was stricken with COVID.
Mr Raab passes the Downing Street test. Imagine him on the steps of Number 10 about to go in as PM for the first time. Are you comfortable with that image?
Truss is seen as over promoted. She is presentable but unimpressive and not particularly congenial. She has been jetting around the world seeking to secure trade agreements. Her success has been limited. She has not set the world ablaze in handling the Ukraine situation. Civil servants do not warm to her. She is accused of distorting information to try to make it more ideologically acceptable to the Tory base. Miss Truss does not have a following.
Gove has had a non-job in the cabinet for a while. The over opinionated former Times journalist does not have much of a public profile these days. He tried to become Conservative leader before and performed poorly. He is almost as old as Johnson and is yesterday's man. He is perceived as oleaginous. Michael Gove is also a disgraceful hypocrite, having taken cocaine even in his 30s but banning people from teaching who have taken cannabis once.
Hunt was runner-up to Johnson in the 2019 Tory leadership contest. Since then, he has languished on the backbenches. He has hardly been seen in the media. Hunt is stick thin as a marathon runner. He was headboy of Charterhouse and is very much the headboy type. This son of an admiral is always ship-shape. His Chinese wife led some Tories to mutter that he was a security risk. Was his wife a spy for President Xi?
Jeremy Hunt would be a real change of vibe from Johnson. Hunt is bland but responsible. Perhaps he would be just the tonic that is needed. He is experienced and not too old. His face fits.
Miss May chose not to go to the House of Lords when she stood down as PM. No Prime Minister has been kicked upstairs since Maggie Thatcher. Miss May still sits for Maidenhead. The Thames town is the sort of dully prosperous place you would expect Theresa May to represent.
The Maybot has not made many public interventions since resigning in July 2019. But when she has spoken up, she has been accorded a respect she never achieved whilst in office. She lacerated Johnson over his irresponsibility and deceitfulness. She is in danger of becoming a Grocer Heath type sulker. Yet Miss May has grown in stature. This elder stateswoman has gravitas and is still not too old.
Is it beyond the bounds of possibility that Theresa May might attempt a comeback? Alex Salmond did it. Some former leaders have come back again such as Grover Cleveland, Dr Mahathir Mohammed, Charles de Gaulle, Gladstone, Disraeli, Harold Wilson, Churchill and even Putin. Admittedly, when British PMs came back for a subsequent term, they had remained party leader in the interim. Will May be able to reclaim the party leadership? I do not see it transpiring in the United Kingdom. But stranger things have happened.
The author is a political analyst based in the UK. You can also watch him on YouTube, 'George From Ireland'