The race to replace Cameron might come down to recognition rates

The race to replace Cameron is well and truly on.

Cameron’s lack of popularity within his own party is well documented. The pertinent questions are now ‘who’ and ‘when’ – not ‘if’ he will be replaced.

So to start with the ‘who’ question. Ladbrokes offers us a reasonable overview (erring as always on low risk predictions):

Four names May, Hague, Boris and Hammond- only two credible though: Boris and May.

Let me explain why by starting with Boris.

Well, people respect Boris in a way they simply don’t the other serious contenders (May, Hague and Hammond). They also know who he is – recent polling by Lord Ashcroft showed 94% of people recognised Boris’ picture, and significantly 91% got his name right.

In contrast, Hammond was recognised by 23% of people and only 10% of people got his name right. Ouch.

I still maintain that Boris would be as much a disaster for his party as he would the country – but if the Tories want to run this experiment I am more than happy to pick up the popcorn and watch their implosion.

A straight Boris win then? Not quite. It boils down to the crucial ‘when’ question.

If Boris is to take over from Cameron before the next general election he needs to overcome three quite big challenges:

  • To become an MP
  • Not to piss off Londoners by appearing to abandon them
  • Keep the rabid backbenchers happy

Tim Montgomerie (for whose opinion I have a certain amount of respect) insists this is all possible – I though, remain dubious.

If Boris is to become leader Cameron has to stay leader until after the next general election. This is in itself highly unlikely with everyone assuming Labour will win a (small) victory at the next elections.

So, if a leadership election is called before the next general election the Conservatives are left with three choices:

  • May – by far the most likely to win. Has being a woman on her side, is at least recognised by half of the public and certainly will keep the rabid right happy. Whether she can win the party an election or not is another question.
  • Hague – although popular, it would be hard for Hague to go back to his old job without it being seen as a step backwards. It is also worth remembering how atrociously unpopular he was last time he was in the job.
  • Hammond – as already suggested, it is hard to make a case for leading a country if no one knows who you are and is often mistaking you for Jeremy Hunt.

May is the only credible choice.

In short:

Predication A: If Cameron goes before the next election then May will take over and last only a few years as Conservative leader before she loses the next election and then the party slumps even further in the polls. This might then open the way up for Boris.

Prediction B: If Cameron hangs on in there, then Boris may well come through as the next leader and will last until just after the 2020 elections and leave behind him the chaos of a divided party, in-fighting and a catastrophic electoral defeat that makes the 2015 results look not too bad.

Either way – things are not looking good for the Conservatives. Their only hope? Labour continuing to flounder.

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