Normally, I would agree that speculation about the next leader of a party is fairly pointless, although that has never stopped me. But Theresa May could go at any moment and we are in the odd position of knowing that she is most likely to be replaced before the next election, and so the identity of her successor is of pressing interest.
The last time we were in this position, Tony Blair had announced he would be standing down, but it was assumed – despite occasional flurries about David Miliband, Alan Johnson, John Reid and Charles Clarke – that Gordon Brown would be his successor.
This time there is no such certainty. There are currently four or five candidates with a good chance, and the way politics is, it could be someone else entirely. I say “four or five” because I am not sure whether to include Jacob Rees-Mogg as a serious contender, but more of him later. The other four are, in the order by which they are favoured by the betting market, Boris Johnson, David Davis, Amber Rudd and Ruth Davidson.
There was a lot of speculation about Davidson at the Conservative conference in Manchester, although she told a Social Market Foundation fringe meeting, “I’m not sure the party would be happy with a drippingly wet, pro-immigrant lesbian Scot.” Those are of course precisely the reasons the party should choose her: she is their best hope of countering Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal, especially to young voters.
By the end of the conference, most Tories seemed to have decided it was all too difficult. She’s not an MP, she hasn’t been a minister, and it would be too late to install her before the next election. So they went back to worrying about Brexit instead. But the succession question won’t go away, and since the conference I have come across three more reasons for thinking she could do it.
First, the Tory party seems surprisingly ready for a drippingly wet, etc, leader. A YouGov poll of party members last month gave her a better “good leader” rating (58 per cent) than Boris Johnson (56 per cent) and put her just behind him, by 23 per cent to 19 per cent, as their first choice to take over from May.