At the moment the narrative of the Conservative Leadership election is relatively simple. The successful Leave campaign failed to adequately plan for actually winning. Lost confidence in the figurehead most responsible. And are now fighting like ferrets in a sack for the right to represent the true Brexit flame. Through this chaos emerges St. Theresa of May. The voice of calm. Of continuity, and the only sorta-Leavy Remainer capable of bringing unity to the Party, stability to skittish markets, and and discipline to future negotiations in the national interest.
Reinforcing this narrative is the overwhelming support of the majority of declared colleagues. And what little polling data exists, where her name recognition alone puts her comfortably ahead amongst Conservative voters and members. This in turn means she’s also way ahead on betting markets.
But these are early days. When the shock of the Borxit subsides, there will be one Leave contender in the final two. Or if May is feeling supremely confident, Stephen Crabb (the other Remainer), through a cleverly engineered final round with overwhelming numbers. Let us for now assume not.
The Leave champion at the moment is likely to be Leadsom not Gove. His unusual approach. Trust me I can’t be trusted. Choose me to lead, I’m not a Leader, appears to be going down like a lead balloon. While Leadsom has lead in her pencil (apologies that’s too much heavy metal).
So let us assume May versus Leadsom from mid-July to early-September. May’s name recognition is still going to matter. But is a declining asset. Her stability narrative is going to matter, but will be open to more scrutiny, as will her record. Something she has already tried to block examination of by a bizarre attempt to get a critical article suppressed by the Telegraph.
Her allies have also erred by attempting to suggest the members vote should be avoided. There should be a coronation suggests Anna Soubry. This might have flown, had last week’s markets not rebounded so strongly. But with a recovery and settling down to business as usual. What’s the case?
It’s a bold gamble. It will be reinforced if she gets over 150 MPs in round one. But it’s also a huge, huge error. Theresa May may not have noticed. Hiding in the Home Office as she was for most of the campaign. But the British establishment just got an almighty kicking from the electorate. Conservative voters being some of the bootiest kickers.
Her pitch then… trust us… we’re the team that know what we doing… what a vote… gosh why bother… and besides which… you little people sometimes get this wrong… I mean look at Corbyn… You lot… you’re just like Momentum on the right really… Why risk it when all your seniors and betters are saying I’m your gal?
Seems to fly in the face of both the recent result, and growing rebelliousness of the voting public over the course of a decade.
When the Conservative members do get a proper chance to look at the final two they may well think she’s right. Particularly if Brexigeddon ignites all over again and they start believing Project Fear. The Little Englanders are making England little they might think. Cling to nurse for fear of worse. They are after all conservatives.
Or they might start feeling that familiar roar of irritation. They may look at the May coalition, and see careerists and opportunists, not nobility and calm. They may look at her opponent and see a plausible alternative. A chance for a fresh start, and to remind their MPs that the leaflet pushers are not to be patronised. That marginal policy differences aside they’d rather their Leader stood up for them and the public, not the island of Westminster and it’s self-serving certitude of the right to rule. That is a plausible risk for May.
And if she ploughs on like the Remain campaign. Lecturing not listening. Demanding respect not earning it. The result could well be a surprise.