Conservative Party Leadership Election – advice for Boris and his competitors.

Boris has come out of the closet. The one everyone knew he was in. He will almost certainly get a seat – I would definitely rejoin my old association Battle and Bexhill if he came here but he will probably get John Randall’s London seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

So the Conservative Party leadership election has now unofficially, officially, started. Actually it started some time back but now it just got serious. No matter what anyone says and despite the fact that David Cameron is Prime Minister and Leader – plans and plots are well underway.

ID-100249349I have always thought that David Cameron would leave parliament, or at least stand down from the leadership, probably around 2017 just after the European Referendum. If it happens. Cameron has young children, doesn’t need the money and is probably emotionally grown up enough to leave Westminster and go and enjoy life outside politics like William Hague is planning on doing.

George Osborne is definitely in the game, has a decent parliamentary team and a strong record to point at – he stuck to his guns and was proved right – although some will wish he had done more. Theresa May will be the safe pair of hands candidate – I am not sure if anyone has ever run the poisoned chalice of the Home Office for as long as she has. She wouldn’t have started with as many MP supporters but respect for her is growing. Then there are a bunch of other contenders – some fruitcakes, some outsiders and a sizeable bunch of seriously competent people. Let’s face it – every wannabe MP secretly wants to be Prime Minister – when they become PPS or Minister it becomes tantalisingly close! But Boris has changed the whole thing.

Guido Fawkes has a lovely piece today on the leadership campaign in which he asks whether you are a FOB (Friend of Boris), FOG (Friend of George), FOT (Friend of Theresa), FOE (Friend of Esther), FOM (Friend of Michael), FOS (Friend of Sajid) and so on. He also quotes Harry Mount in The Spectator who has some interesting insights into the difference between the FOGs and the FOBs :

And here’s where the FOBs have the edge over the FOGs. George’s gang are largely in it for themselves. Their loyalty remains tied up with their own ambitions, which Osborne wisely satisfies from time to time. Boris’s gang are in it for the man himself. And the gang is growing every day.

So now that everyone else is talking leadership campaigns, I thought I would throw in my advice for the leadership contenders and their supporters since Boris has entered the race.

Three essential leadership factors for Boris, Theresa, George and their competition, and ALSO their supporters, to consider.

  1. Leadership and Vision. These are rare things. Leadership and vision inspire loyalty that is often stronger than fear or self-interest. You can’t lead unless you have a vision that your people can buy into and resell. All the leadership contenders will be continually assessed on their leadership and their vision – where they want to take this wonderful country. A vision is big picture –  forests rather than trees and trajectory rather than timelines. It should be very retail, clear and concise. It’s a sales pack that can be passed from person to person without being corrupted. This trajectory and direction also needs to be credible, otherwise people will simply not buy it and the media will rip it, and the “visionary”, apart. It must be focused on the good of the country rather than The Conservative Party – and this is where the appeal of Boris lies according to his supporters. But will he have the vision to lead more than the Parliamentary Party?
  2. Likeability. Boris does very well here. He is funny and popular and has name and hair recognition that all politicians would kill for. I am often asked by my wannabe MP clients why Boris is liked despite coming from Eton and Oxford and being a member of the Bullingdon Club. I don’t think most people have a real issue with people going to Oxford, Eton or being members of drinking clubs at university. They do, however, have a massive issue with snobs and people who take themselves (too) seriously. Boris is neither.  Warning to Staffers and Activists! But the Leader being likeable is not enough. This is a parliamentary and members election. The contenders need to make damn sure that their supporters – MPs and staffers/campaign team/groupies are likeable too and do not come across as arrogant jerks. This is hard for leaders to do – they want all the help and support that they can get and hate to discipline or refuse supporters. But they do have a direct influence on their immediate team and staff and how they act and communicate with others.
  3. Reliability/Safe Pair of Hands This was part of Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008 – the Who Do You Call at 3:00 am when something kicks off ‘somewhere in the world’ video. It will be the argument against Boris. But as Harry Cole pointed out on Twitter yesterday: Boris has been underestimated before.


There are two points to make here:

        1. It didn’t work out that well for President Hillary although she did end up taking those calls anyway for President Obama’s first 4 years. It was outweighed by Obama’s off-the-scale “getting people like us” rating. Boris is likely to do well here too and he will have a solid list of achievements that he can point to.
        2. A friend who worked directly for him emphasised to me years ago, the now increasingly accepted wisdom, that Boris is incredibly hard-working and competent and that his assets are not limited to his self-deprecating charm and humour.


Good luck to them all. I haven’t decided yet who to support – it’s actually quite hard. I like all of the current contenders and have worked with a couple. Every single one of them is competent and capable – which is more than can be said for the shower in Ed Miliband’s world. I am glad I have a difficult choice.


Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee /


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