Boris Johnson’s Resignation and The Conservative Leadership Contest

George Baker, Chairman of the Exeter University Conservative Association, gave an interview with Pippa Quelch from BBC Radio Devon on Friday 8th July. He gives his opinion on who should be the next leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister as well as his thoughts on what direction the Party needs to be steered towards to win the next election.

The transcript of the radio interview can be seen below:

PQ: Can you give us an idea about the type of person that you would like to see as the new party leader?

GB: What I want to see is someone who is competent, who has integrity, but also holds important conservative values. I want someone who believes in British values and family values. It is important that the next leader of the Conservative Party believes in low taxation and someone who can really get the economy going again and deal with the current rise in the cost of living.

PQ: Do they need to have Cabinet experience?

GB: I think that it is important to have someone with Cabinet experience, especially someone who has held a more senior role.

Although, in this leadership race, I think that someone who hasn’t been in Cabinet, for instance Tom Tugendhat or Steve Baker might stand a chance as well.

In my opinion, someone like Sajid Javid, whose had experience of being Chancellor, Home Secretary, and Health Secretary would be a very good option.

PQ: Would he [Savid Javid] be towards the top of your list then?

GB: I think that it is really important that the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister brings integrity and competence, and I think that Sajid Javid would be able to deliver that. He’s had experience of making tough decisions before as Chancellor, Home Secretary, and being Health Secretary during a pandemic. I think that he’s got that experience and would be well equipped to be the next Prime Minister.

On a personal level, it would be pleasing to see an alumnus of the University of Exeter and a former member of EUCA be successful.

The next leader needs to regain trust with the Conservative Parliamentary Party, the Party members, and the general public. Looking towards the next election, we need someone who is able to get people voting Conservative again and realise that the Party is more than just Boris Johnson, and more than just one individual.

PQ: During the last leadership contest, who would you have supported?

GB: I was quite keen on Jeremy Hunt. I felt that at a time where there was paralysis in Parliament and a Brexit deal that needed to be negotiated, he would have been the best person to go to Brussels and to take the country forward.

However, looking back, I think that Boris Johnson has done better than I thought he would do. He came in, called the General Election, and helped to win the biggest mandate for the Conservative Party since 1983, winning seats in areas that had never been won by the Party before.

Jeremy Hunt has had this opportunity to stand for the leadership before. He was outnumbered 3-1 in votes against Boris Johnson in the final two.

I think that he will go again. He is a really competent politician but unfortunately being out of government for the last three years will stand his chances of being successful. He is possibly someone to look out for to receive a senior role in the next Cabinet.

PQ: Whoever gets chosen, clearly they really do need to appeal to the wider electorate, in particular “Red Wall” voters. To what extent do you think that will be on people’s minds when they decide who to pick?

GB: I think that it is important that the next Conservative leader is someone who can appeal to those voters. After all, our in the last General Election was based upon winning those seats.

We are now seeing areas that were regularly voting Conservative, such as in the suburbs of London, now going to the Liberal Democrats. I think that trend will continue, that anti-Brexit vote.

Therefore, maintaining and regaining the support of those “Red Wall” seats is important. We need someone who is able to appeal to those voters. Boris Johnson was able to do that very well. I think that it is something that the Parliamentary Party will look at because many of those MPs that won their seats back in 2019 in those “Red Wall” areas will want to be re-elected in the next General Election.

I think that having someone such as Rishi Sunak, who is an MP in Yorkshire, will be able to reconnect with those voters and regain their trust of the Party.

PQ: Who do you think will be in the final two?

GB: I think it will be Rishi Sunak with possibly more of an outsider. Penny Mordaunt has a chance of reaching that final two.

I would like to see Sajid Javid in the final two, but it just depends which aspects of the candidates’ campaigns are played against each other.

Penny Mordaunt has the prior experience of being Defence Secretary. That could be an important determining factor and benefit her campaign considering the ongoing war in Ukraine. I hope that the next candidate, whoever they may be, will advocate increasing defence spending, and I think that Penny Mordaunt would likely deliver that. Given that Ben Wallace has announced that he will not run, the Conservative members who see the war in Ukraine being the most important issue, will likely support Penny Mordaunt.

To go back to your question, I think that the leadership election will be a little bit like the Grand National. There are the initial favourites and the front runners. These include people such as Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss (although she has not yet announced her candidacy), and, to an extent, Sajid Javid. However, as we see with the Grand National, the favourites to win are not always successful. This will be a long and highly competitive contest, so a less-fancied candidate, such as Penny Mordaunt, may be able to reach the final two. We saw something similar in the last Conservative leadership election in 2019, when Rory Stewart, who was largely under the radar, was able to quickly gain a lot of support. I think that Penny Mordaunt will likely do something similar, or perhaps do even better than Rory Stewart, by reaching the final two. By not being involved in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet and not having the political baggage associated with that, she would be my prediction as someone with the potential to reach the final two.

PQ: Do your views reflect those of your members at the University of Exeter Conservative Association?

GB: I think there is a wide range of opinions within the society. EUCA is a very broad-church conservative association.

It is worth pointing out that there are a number of people who are sad to see Boris Johnson go, particularly those who campaigned for him during the 2019 General Election, and, as a result, feel loyal to him.

In this leadership contest, there is no clear frontrunner. Therefore, within the society, there will be people who support a variety of different candidates. In my initial conversations with members, there are a number of people who would like to see Penny Mordaunt, Sajid Javid, Rishi Sunak, and Kemi Badenoch in particular become the next leader.

I think that variety in opinion demonstrates one of the great qualities of the society. All forms of conservative, centrist, and right of centre views are welcome within EUCA.

Someone like Tom Tugendhat is very much the centrist candidate. There will be some people within the society supporting him.

I don’t think though, from my perspective, there is a particular candidate that our members are all behind. Support for candidates will vary. Support for Boris Johnson and trust in him varies too.

However, I am sure that a lot of our members would like to see Sajid Javid, General Secretary Emeritus of the Society, be successful.

PQ: Final question George, very quickly, what’s your opinion of Boris Johnson remaining as Prime Minister until a new leader is in place?

GB: The convention has been set that when a Prime Minister announces their resignation that they stay in office until that new leader is in place. That was the case when Margret Thatcher, David Cameron, and Theresa May all announced their resignations.

Boris Johnson, leading the Conservative Party, helped to gain that elected mandate in 2019. He is the right person to stay as Prime Minister until that new leader is elected. This, to an extent, will add to the stability of the Government during the leadership election period.

Also, what has to be considered is who would take over instead until that new leader is elected. The Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, perhaps does not have the same experience of the brief as Boris Johnson who has been receiving information regarding Ukraine and national security to a greater extent.

There have also been calls for Theresa May to come back but I don’t think that is a good idea and I’m not sure she would want to do it either!

I think that Boris Johnson is the right person to stay as Prime Minister, until that new leader is elected. Hopefully there can be a quick and peaceful transfer of power when that new Conservative leader is chosen by the members.