Tory race should come down to experience

Christian May
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Home Secretary Theresa May Launches Her Bid For The Conservative Leadership
Home secretary Theresa May won the first round of voting in the Conservative Party leadership contest (Source: Getty)

By Thursday night we'll know which two Tory MPs will face a ballot of the party membership. One will emerge as David Cameron's successor in No 10. Five aspiring PMs entered the first round of voting yesterday, and now just three remain.

Liam Fox was the first to fall. Having stood unsuccessfully for the party leadership back in 2005 (when an unknown and inexperienced David Cameron won the contest) the former defence secretary was unceremoniously hurled off the ballot paper last night after securing just 16 of the available 329 votes. He now backs front-runner Theresa May.

Work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb, having bagged 34 votes, subsequently withdrew from the race and also declared his support for May. The home secretary, whose ambition for the top job stretches back years, secured a commanding lead from the first ballot, narrowly clinching a majority of all the votes cast.

Two prominent Brexit backers now face a fight for second place, and a space on the head-to-head ballot. Andrea Leadsom secured more support than Michael Gove, but the latter is hoping that his government experience can propel him ahead of the former before tomorrow's showdown.

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Indeed, Leadsom's lack of experience beyond being a junior minister may give MPs pause for thought as they offer up two candidates from which the party membership will select the next PM. Many have been surprised at the pace of Leadsom's rise and if she does make it on to the ballot there's a very real chance that a eurosceptic party membership will swing behind her and saddle the country with a worryingly inexperienced and untested leader at a time of constitutional, diplomatic and economic upheaval.

At least a showdown between May and Gove would result in a winner with heavyweight government credentials. Gove, a former education secretary and chief whip, and currently justice secretary, launched his leadership bid with a speech fizzing with policy and ideas way beyond the confines of the Brexit debate. He sees himself as the face and voice of change, whereas May presents herself as the unifying, steadying candidate. A battle between these two opposing approaches (and it would be some battle) would likely generate a debate worthy of the challenges facing the country.

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