The next Tory leadership race promises to be a crowded affair. As I say in The Sun this morning, the whips are now worried about Rory Stewart’s ambitions. In a meeting with the government’s parliamentary private secretaries, the deputy Chief Whip Julian Smith demanded that anyone who had been to dinner at Stewart’s house the night before raise their hand. He said that he was determined to put all those with leadership ambitions ‘back in their box’.
But this is the wrong approach. Leave aside, that those at dinner claim that it was a farewell to Stewart’s PPS Amanda Solloway, who lost her seat at the election, not a plotting supper. For even if Stewart is planning a leadership bid, he is no threat to Theresa May. He is not working out how to bring her down, rather he is thinking about a vacancy that will inevitably arise at some point before the next election.
In the coming years and months, the Tories need to find out who might be able to beat Corbyn. This will require the whips changing the habit of a lifetime and taking a lenient view of those flashing a bit of leadership leg. For if they crush any Tory who thinks about the future, they’ll make Prime Minister Corbyn that much more likely.