There are so many people angling for the Tory leadership now that it really is easier to list those who haven’t yet written an attention-seeking op ed or been spotted plotting in a shady spot in Westminster. It’s not just the ones who fancy the job for themselves, or the little nascent campaign teams that are springing up around them. It is also those who plan to run in order to guarantee themselves a top job in the Cabinet when the new leader carries out a unity-focused reshuffle.
As James says in this week’s magazine, some are so advanced in their plans for the next leadership race, whenever that might be, that they are now activating their Stop Boris procedures in order to knock the Foreign Secretary out of the race before he reaches the final two for members to choose between.
Does Theresa May care about all the jostling going on behind her between those who want to be the next Prime Minister? In one sense, it at least distracts attention from her ongoing woes in Westminster as she struggles to do anything remotely interesting with legislation, aside from the repeal bill. But in another, the noisy leadership race without a date just serves to underline how little authority she has as the current leader.
Indeed, the noise of the race also obscures a quiet grumbling sound coming from many Tory MPs about how many of their ambitious colleagues are behaving. A number have told me in the past few days that they would be very supportive of the Prime Minister delivering a gentle smackdown to one of the contenders, reminding them that she is still in charge and that this rowing in the Sunday papers and on the airwaves is unseemly and unhelpful, and not just because they should be helping her command as much authority in Parliament as possible so that the Conservative party stands a vague chance of achieving something with the poor pack of cards it has dealt itself.
Whether May has the confidence to give one of her colleagues a dressing down is another matter. She also needs to decide which ambitious Conservative is safest to scold in public. While senior backbenchers currently feel the Prime Minister has done a reasonable job in securing her position for a fair while (and currently is an important word, as the party is still so up and down that it is currently perfectly normal to start a conversation with a Tory MP in which they’re quite positive about the future, and end it with them having bounced from despair to resignation and back to utter despair again, all in ten minutes), scolding the wrong MP could be like removing the wrong block of wood in Jenga, bringing all the security she has built for herself tumbling down as a vengeful minister sets to work.