ANALYSIS: The Tory leadership hopefuls should be very careful what they wish for

Posted On: 
24th May 2019

No sooner had Theresa May announced her intention to leave Downing Street than shares in political humbug began to climb.

The race is on to be the new resident at Number 10.
PA Images

Boris Johnson, who has schemed and connived to replace the Prime Minister, solemnly praised her "stoical service to our country and the Conservative party".

He was swiftly joined by Dominic Raab, another who found serving in May's Cabinet incompatible with his Brexiteer beliefs, who described his old boss as "a dedicated public servant, patriot and loyal Conservative".

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A whole host of leadership rivals dutifully paid tribute to the outgoing PM as they crunched the numbers and got their teams assembled for the campaign to come.

The number who could end up chucking their hat into the ring is truly remarkable, as my top colleague Emilio Casalicchio explains. And there could yet be more.

But the obvious question is: Why on earth would anyone want to do the job at this particular time.

I get the obvious appeal of getting to run the country. Why else get into politics, after all. But why now? Because if you think that Theresa May had it tough, just wait till you see how it works out for her replacement.

The next Prime Minister, no matter how much they love Brexit, and no matter how enthusiastic they are, is going to run into the same obstacles that May did: an obdurate European Commission and a deadlocked Parliament.

There's nothing they can do about the former, but they could have a go at reshaping the latter. But only if they're really brave. A quick look at the opinion polls - and the looming European election results - will tell any Tory leader that the party isn't exactly riding a wave of popularity at the moment. Even the inevitable bounce that comes with any change in leadership will be short-lived, as voters soon realise that their new Prime Minister is no more likely to deliver Brexit than the last one.

Of course, there is always the nuclear option of a no-deal Brexit, which might make the new PM a hero to the European Research Group, but a hate figure to anyone whose life is affected by the economic disruption which follows. Chuck in the fact it would cleave the Tories in two and you can see why the new incumbent of Number 10 might think twice, regardless of the gung-ho rhetoric they may have employed in order to secure the crown.

So good luck to whoever wants to be the next Tory leader as the UK faces its greatest ever peacetime crisis. They are certainly going to need it.