The State of the Nation: a new Prime Minister in waiting

Date published

25/06/2019

Locations

As the Conservative Party leadership contest plays out before us, the political mood around the country appears to be worsening. Our politics is becoming more polarised as Brexit reshapes the traditional left/right party lines. It presents unique tests for political incumbents and new challengers alike. Labour and the Conservatives have both struggled to contain the divides driving a wedge between both their MPs and grass roots members, whilst the sharp rise and fall of Change UK/The Independent Group proves the difficulty of starting a political organisation from the top down.

Research by BritainThinks (an international insight and strategy consultancy) shows a national mood that is pessimistic when thinking about the UK as a whole. 65% of the public is pessimistic about the Brexit outcome – including 50% of Leavers – but only 58% think it likely the UK will leave the EU in the next year. Outlining the clear challenge that the next Prime Minister will face, 72% of the public think it is very or fairly likely the UK will become more divided in the next 12 months.

The Tory leadership contest – Boris Johnson’s race to lose?

Boris Johnson is the clear frontrunner to succeed Theresa May and become the next Prime Minister. The former Mayor of London and Foreign Secretary has always harboured ambitions for Downing Street, and in a two-horse race against Jeremy Hunt, he is the favourite.

The greatest risk to Boris Johnson is Boris Johnson – considered an asset on the campaign trail, he also brings a degree of self-inflicted volatility.

The chance of enforced errors means his team have enforced a ‘submarine’ strategy throughout the campaign so far, heavily limiting Johnson’s public appearances and TV debates. It remains to be seen if questions about his personal life or character have a material impact on this race.

Nevertheless, Johnson is still the most popular overall candidate amongst party members and is regarded as the candidate most trusted to deliver Brexit on 31 October – the central issue of the campaign.

What would Boris mean for business and Brexit?

The mid-June edition of The Economist asked a simple question: Which Boris would Britain get? The former Foreign Secretary who had an insufficient grasp of details? Or, the liberal Mayor of London who advocated the benefits of immigration and economic cooperation?

The Boris Johnson seeking a path to Downing Street is touting his right-wing credentials in order to win over the Conservative Party membership, the majority of whom (160,000) voted for Brexit. As a result, he has committed to taking the UK out of the EU by the 31 October 2019 deadline with or without a deal. This may be politically expedient for the Conservatives in the short term, despite the clear economic risks.

In many ways, Boris Johnson has faced pressure from the business community to prove his pro-business outlook. In response, he has pledged to promote UK business in this country and abroad if Prime Minister, but what remains less clear is how that marries with his populist streaks designed to appease the Conservative Party membership.

Looking ahead, leadership hustings are due to continue into mid-July, ending in London on 17 July. Ballots will arrive with Conservative Party members between 6-8 July and the winner of the contest is expected to be announced during the week of 22 July, before the House of Commons rises for summer recess on 25 July. It waits to be seen what the mood of the nation is at that point before the UK turns to what next?