Boris’ main problem is the MPs

So the Boris leadership rumours have begun again. Did they ever go away? A few months after his departure from Cabinet he is again the frontrunner to become next Conservative leader.

However, Boris still faces one major problem; the MPs. In a Conservative leadership race the MPs narrow the candidates down to two. These final two candidates are then presented to the members who make the final decision. Should Boris make it to the final two his popularity would make him a clear favourite, but can he reach the final two?

Simplistically, we can split Tory MPs into three groups when it comes to Boris.

Firstly the strong anti-Boris group. This group includes MPs who have not forgiven him for the EU referendum, but also MPs critical of his time as Foreign Secretary and his general behaviour. MPs who believe he lacks the capacity to become Prime Minister. This group of MPs has grown in recent months. They would never back Boris and will actively plot to prevent him ever becoming leader.

Secondly, the more pragmatic group. MPs not in the Boris fan club but also not emotionally engaged against him. These are the MPs who are likely not to vote on ideology but who is most likely to win General Elections. If Boris could convince these MPs that he was this candidate he could attract their support. However, Boris popularity is waning. The latest poll from YouGov indicates the public think he would be a worse Prime Minister than Theresa May. He is not the ‘Heineken’ figure he once was.

Lastly, you have the extreme Brexiteers, namely the European Research Group (ERG). Boris remains somewhat of a hero to this group. These MPs remain loyal to him and would back him in any future leadership race. Yet, we do not know the exact number of MPs in this grouping. If we say there are 80 MPs in the ERG who would all support Boris (and this is probably a generous number), than Boris would still not be guaranteed to be in the final two (315 Tory MPs in total). He would need support from the second group.

Based on current calculations Boris would struggle to reach the final two (assuming there is no runaway frontrunner). If Boris still harbours any ambition of becoming Prime Minister he must work out how to convert the pragmatic MPs to his side.

Photograph by Sky News

Article by Mike Hough

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