As a Conservative Party member, I am privileged to be among the 0.2% of the population who may be offered a say in choosing the country’s next Prime Minister.
Like most privileges, this one carries with it a heavy responsibility. Do I vote with my heart for the individual whose views seem closest to my own? Or with my head for someone who might stand a cat in hell’s chance of winning the next General Election?
Or do I attempt to cast self-interest aside altogether, and choose whoever seems likely to do the right and best thing for my country?
Or do I simply toss a coin? (If necessary, giving myself the leeway of “best of three”.)
Luckily I have current plight of the Labour Party before me, as a guide to what happens when members vote for a leader who has as much chance of topping a UK poll as Jean-Claude Juncker.
In fact quite possibly less, given the huge amount of previously unsuspected passion for the EU and all its works that is currently blazing through the media, both mainstream and social.
When a self-publicising tax exile billionaire like Sir Richard Branson joins forces with what the late Denis Thatcher allegedly liked to call the smelly-socks of the left to demand a second referendum, who is to gainsay them?
Surely not the 17,410,742 people who mistakenly put a cross in the wrong box on June 23rd, either because they were too old or too stupid to know what they were doing; or because they were grievously misled by Messrs Gove, Johnson and Farage; or because they were racists or otherwise disqualified from having an opinion on anything.
I can’t say that I am over-impressed with the choice that seems likely to be put before me, if Conservative MPs don’t yet engineer an unopposed coronation of Theresa May.
I’ve already had to re-write this piece after last night’s non-sensation of Mr Fox going to ground, and the less predictable development of Mr Crabb scuttling sideways into obscurity. It may yet be overtaken by events as Mrs Leadsom’s (or should that be Misleadsome’s?) Jeffrey Archer-like CV currently seems to be unravelling faster than that of a particularly imaginative candidate on The Apprentice.
However, at the time of writing it looks likely that I will be offered a straight choice between a politician I don’t like and either one whose intellect I respect but who clearly lacks wider public appeal; or one with little experience that I don’t know at all.
In the “don’t like” category we have, of course, our current Home Secretary, who has shown herself no great friend of liberty in that role, and is otherwise chiefly known for her track record of fetishizing shoes and being rude about her fellow Conservatives: “the nasty party” as she saw fit to characterise us.
Against this one must set her proud achievement of being rude to and about the police, which goes to show that no one is all bad. No, not even Kim Jong Un.
My problem with Mrs May is that I have met her, at a Tory event in Northumberland many moons ago, and took an instant dislike to her. In answer to the question “why?”, may I refer you to the classic response: “Because it saves time”.
I would like to emphasise at this point that this has nothing whatsoever to do with her being a woman.
In both my previous career as an investment analyst, and my current one as a PR adviser, forming accurate instant judgements about people one meets is a key part of the job. It is one thing I can claim to have been consistently quite good at, allowing me to spend a gratifying amount of professional time saying “I told you so”.
In addition, while there are undoubtedly limits to nominative determinism, on the important question of whether or not Britain will ever withdraw from the EU, Mrs May seems most definitely a may.
Being theoretically in favour of Remain (though not so strongly as actually to campaign for it, just in case that might prove personally disadvantageous later on) does not seem the ideal platform from which to pursue an EU exit negotiation.
The good thing about Mr Gove or Mrs Leadsom is that they were both on the right side of the Brexit debate from my point of view … and, er, that’s it.
I admire many things about Michael Gove, but he has set out the reasons why he is unsuited to being Prime Minister far more eloquently than I ever could, and we have seen in the career of Ed Miliband how the assassin of a more popular potential leader is likely to fare a little later in the electoral cycle.
Whether or not she is proven to be a fantasist about her past achievements, handing the keys to Number 10 to Mrs Leadsom would be rather like handing the controls of a packed double-decker bus to my seven-year-old son, who is confident that he knows how to drive but has never actually done it before.
So which of these three is most likely to get a grip, trigger Article 50 and begin a serious negotiation about the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, for which I and 17,410,741 other people voted? As in so many previous elections, I feel that I am likely to yearn for a non-existent box marked “none of the above”.
One has to question whether this magical Article 50 ever be invoked by anyone. With every day that passes it seems to become more embroiled in legal challenges and conditions, including a need for Parliamentary approval. All curiously reminiscent of the hurdles that were erected by the blessed Gordon Brown to ensure that Britain’s membership of the euro remained theoretically possible, but would never actually happen.
As of now the UK’s activation of Article 50 looks more likely than the use of our independent nuclear deterrent or Tony Blair’s arrest for war crimes, but less likely than most other things at the disposal of those in power.
Ironically, if only he had stuck to his lifelong anti-EU principles, my best bet for getting the Brexit show on the road might well have been dear old, beleaguered Jeremy Corbyn.
As it is, my strongest card seems to be this. Nigel Farage, notoriously a man of poor judgement and a serial quitter and re-joiner, has proclaimed victory (massively prematurely, in my view) and announced his withdrawal from the stage.
Surely all we need to do is use the prospect of his return to dragoon our next leader into line?
“I’m sorry, I know you don’t want to press that button marked Article 50, but if you don’t I’m afraid Mr Farage is going to have to come back, make a load of speeches, be photographed with countless fags and pints, and appear on Question Time every week.”
And lo, with a shaky and reluctant hand, the button is duly pressed.