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CON leadership betting analysis: This is less about Brexit and more about personal characteristics

April 1st, 2019

After TMay the Tories need someone who does “human”

Every day it seems we have a new potential candidate for the next Conservative leader. Liz Truss tells us how she will say what she wants and wear what she wants in the Sunday Times, Dominic Raab tells us what he will do about knife crime, Even IDS may be making a comeback (sorry, joke – I am assuming that was the April’s Fool Day story, right?)

However, one theme that is consistently common is that the key determinant of the next leader is their stance on Brexit. JRM writes at the weekend  that the next leader must be a Brexiteer. Javid and Hunt (and others such as Truss) have seen the light and favour no deal over a softer Brexit to atone for their previous Remain sins. Meanwhile, Amber Rudd positions herself as the Joan of Arc of the Remain Conservatives, ready to free the party from the filthy, St George-worshipping Brexiteer hordes.

I think, though, we may be looking at the wrong key parameter for what will determine the next Conservative leader. In a case where a political leader is seen as a failure and / or tainted, the reaction tends to produce a leader who is seen as the opposite (Corbyn after Miliband springs to mind, Thatcher after Heath etc).

In May’s case, it is not her views on Brexit that are the issue, it is she just doesn’t “do” human. She finds it tough to be emotionally warm to those she hasn’t known for a long time and she seems naturally secretive. It is that inability to connect that is causing the problems. 

I think most Conservative MPs and, less so, members get that. There is grudging admiration for her tenacity but a realisation that it is the lack of human empathy that has caused many of the problems we are seeing now.

That means that the key lesson that Conservative MPs take from May’s Premiership is not they need a committed Brexiteer or, conversely, a Remainer to stop the Brexit faction but that the next leader should be someone who does human: is comfortable in their own skin, is not necessarily perfect but who can actually connect with what ordinary people are thinking and whom people would like – in effect, someone with whom they would like to go down the pub for a pint (and, no, I am not thinking Farage).

It gets forgotten but the headbangers on both sides are a minority in the Conservative party. Most Tory MPs are concerned with their jobs. They look at the latest Delta poll  and the threat of an election and a P45 is suddenly looming very closely. Their focus will be on a candidate who is likely to win. While the membership is obviously more ideological, the threat of Corbyn as PM is likely to be seen as so grave that the focus will switch to who is the candidate who can win over the electorate.

What does that mean in terms of betting tips for the next Conservative leader (and PM – I think given the FTPA, it is better to bet on the PM odds for whom you think will be the next Conservative leader)? I think you can discard a whole swathe of the most mentioned names  because they come across as just not normal people and whom a trip to the bar with would be a pain not a pleasure. Bet against Raab, Hunt, Javid, Gove, Rudd or similar politicians on this score (but I wouldn’t put JRM in that camp – I think, on balance, he pulls it off). They are not the sort of individuals you want to spend an evening with after work.

Who does that leave (pardon the pun)? I think Boris Johnson, for all his faults, comes out well. I know many people on here don’t like him and he has skeletons galore but most people are not saints and look where having a saint as PM got us this time around.  I’ve tipped Esther McVey on her before (she is 66/1 for next PM) and I still think she is worth a punt – she is clearly interested and her interview in the Times is clearly making a play for the social mobility / working class Tory angle (and she loves dogs – never underestimate how well that goes down well with a big chunk of the population). Liz Truss is also making her play and has a good back story (and at 100/1 is a good long shot) but I fear she comes across as a little bit too geeky / needy, which may put voters off.

You will notice there are no Remainers on the list. The reason for that is that none of them really comes across as having warm characteristics, more of a “I know best you stupid people” attitude. I would argue it is this, rather than their views on Brexit, which would be the main impediment to becoming leader. Rudd is a case in point – her whole manner would just be off putting to a swathe of the population who would feel as though they are being talked down. If I’m right, Remainers will only have themselves to blame for one of their standard bearers not making the cut by coming across as too clever and arrogant by half.

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