Be under no illusion, the Conservative leadership race is already underway.
From bickering arguments at The Spectator summer party to an increase in “speaking engagements” for many MPs at think tanks and drinks receptions, the posturing for the top job has begun in earnest.
Parliament’s summer recess may well have given politicians some respite, but with reports that Theresa May will use October’s conference as an opportunity to apologise for the election result, this is likely to further fuel speculation over her successor within the Conservatives – and may be too little too late for frustrated activists.
However, who might succeed May looks increasingly uncertain.
A recent poll of party members by Conservative Home found that “none of the above” was the outright winner when party members were presented with cabinet ministers and other prominent Tory figures to select as the next leader.
The idea that the Conservatives must skip a generation and look instead to the 2010 or even 2015 intake is, rightly, getting increasing traction. As with the refreshing election of David Cameron in 2005, it is time for a fresh challenger untainted by the recent General Election result to deliver the party a much needed boost of energy and a new direction.
The next generation of MPs have already been making their mark on Westminster in recent weeks – the appointment of staunch Remainer Nicky Morgan MP to the Treasury Select Committee – the first female Chair ever – over Jacob Rees-Mogg, was seen as a triumph for liberal conservatism.
Meanwhile the election of Tom Tugendhat, a 2015 intake MP and former army officer, to the coveted role of chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee revealed an appetite for ambition and confidence from more recently elected MPs.
Ultimately this fresh face needs to be able to engage, to crack a joke, to appear “normal” and above all relevant. Any bold and ambitious candidate knows that a sense of humour and a decent online following will go far within the Conservatives as they actively seek an authentic leader who can connect with people.
Whoever the next leader may be, they must try to win the votes of those under 45, whether through policies or the sheer force of their personality. The Conservative party cannot rely on older voters alone to keep it in government, new (and perhaps even younger) leadership offers a chance to reconnect with this voter base.
Whenever the official leadership race kicks off, who will walk off with the prize really is anyone’s guess – much like the Grand National, we could see countless MPs putting themselves forward. From the competition within the current Cabinet, to the ambitious 2010 intake, or even more reckless 2015 challengers, who falls at the first hurdle will depend on how they win support and curry favour within the parliamentary party.
One thing Conservatives know to be certain is that up against Corbyn and his populist policies, the party needs a leader who will not only fight tooth and nail in the campaign, but present an optimistic and aspirational vision of the country for voters.
Whether they are sitting around the cabinet table at the moment remains to be seen, but with “none of the above” resonating, it may be time for Conservatives to skip a generation and elect a fresh face for the top job.