After weeks of speculation about potential Tory leadership contenders, the moment of truth arrived on Monday with the closing of the window for nominations for the race to replace Theresa May.
Ten names will be on the initial ballot of MPs, which will take place on Thursday, with further rounds scheduled to next week in order to reduce that list to two names, which will then be voted on by the Conservative Party membership, with the final winner announced towards the end of July.
Last time round, in the summer of 2017, that final vote never took place as Andrea Leadsom withdrew before members could vote, leaving May to be crowned leader without opposition, but that seems an unlikely outcome this time round, and most of the ten names on the ballot – including Leadsom – have serious ambitions of taking on the job of Party Leader and Prime Minister.
The contender to beat, as he has been for some time, is Boris Johnson, the current odds-on favourite, who is as short as 4/7 with some bookmakers, and who has been keeping a conspicuously low profile. Johnson remains popular with Conservative members and MPs casting their votes this week will have that mind, no matter their personal opinions of the former Foreign Secretary. Of course, Brexit-inclined MPs will have plenty of other options if they’re looking for a solid Leaver, including Leadsom (10/1), Michael Gove (16/1) and former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab (33/1) although Raab, who was once the main challenger to Johnson, appears to have missed the boat.
The role of leading challenger has now fallen to Jeremy Hunt (9/2) the former Health Secretary and Johnson’s successor at the Foreign Office. Once regarded as something of a political liability, Hunt’s popularity with the general public remains a significant doubt, but he has shown considerable tenacity, serving a number of roles in Cabinet, and has also astutely positioned himself as a moderate Brexit supporter, and a potential alternative for Tory members who would like the party to come together.
His comments on abortion at the weekend drew headlines, but while they may not help his standing with the general public, Tory MPs and members are the only electorate that matters for the next five weeks, and, based on his current odds, they are starting to warm to him.