In Depth

Theresa May rejects calls to increase Indian visa quota

Prime Minister says UK already has a 'good system' as she visits Delhi to foster post-Brexit trade links

Tory leader race: Will Michael Gove throw his hat in the ring?

23 June

The result of today's referendum is likely to determine the political future of a number of senior Conservatives, including leading Brexit campaigner Michael Gove.

It is widely anticipated that David Cameron will stand down as prime minister and leader of the Tory Party if Britain votes to leave.

So who would replace him? Brexiter Boris Johnson is currently the bookies' favourite to move into No 10, followed by Remain campaigners George Osborne and Theresa May.  

However, the Justice Secretary appeared to rule himself out of the race last month. "I don't want to do it and there are people who are far better equipped than me to do it," he told the Daily Telegraph

He made similar comments to the Financial Times in 2014, saying: "I don't have what it takes."

Nevertheless, if Britain votes to stay in the EU and Cameron stays on, Gove is expected to play a central role in the post-referendum reshuffle aimed at restoring party unity.

"Gove is the key," a cabinet minister told the FT. Another said: "There's a lot of talk about Michael becoming deputy prime minister in a unity reshuffle. That might make a lot of sense."

Tory leader race poll: Can anyone beat Boris Johnson?

31 March

Boris Johnson seems to be sitting comfortably ahead of his rivals in the race to become leader of the Conservative Party.

The London Mayor is the favourite to replace David Cameron among both the public and Tory faithful, according to a new ORB survey for The Independent.

The poll put public support for Johnson at 38 per cent, with his closest rival, Home Secretary Theresa May, getting 16 per cent of the vote. George Osborne trails in third place, with a mere 9 per cent.

The Chancellor, once seen as the obvious successor, is still bruised from his bungled Budget, the U-turn over cuts to disability benefits and Iain Duncan Smith's resignation earlier this month.

Cameron has said he will stand down before the general election in 2020, but could hand in his resignation letter as early as June if Britain votes to leave the EU in the referendum.

This means Johnson could become leader by the end of the summer.

"His strength is his cross-party appeal, the ability to reach parts of the electorate other Conservatives can't and don't," says the BBC's Mark Mardell.

But the rambunctious politician could still lose out to his rivals.

"Being out in front in the early stages of the Tory steeplechase is no guarantee of success," says The Spectator's James Forsyth.

"They are a curious tribe and their leadership campaigns follow a pattern," he adds. "A frontrunner emerges and then a stop-the-frontrunner campaign begins."

Mardell agrees, warning that while Johnson's "blokeish buccaneering bravado" may go down well with the public, it may not "calm nerves and soothe spirits".

The long-serving Home Secretary is named as being among those who could scupper his leadership ambitions. "Some people believe that Theresa May has had her day as a Tory leadership contender, but she is a woman who has been underestimated throughout her career," says former home secretary Jacqui Smith.

Mardel adds that despite coming across as "harsh and cold", May could rise to the top "if MPs are looking for a safer-than-safe pair of hands, and value competence over pizzazz".

Does all of this mean Osborne is completely out of the race? "He has indeed been damaged and will know peril lurks around the corner, but he's still breathing. He won't think it so, but it might even help," says Mardell.

"It may not be true of horse races, but in political ones, there is no more dangerous place to be than way out in front, early on."

Tory leader race: How Osborne could still be next Prime Minister 

22 March

Boris Johnson has taken aim at leadership rival George Osborne and branded his planned disability cuts a mistake.

The London Mayor, who is favourite to take over from Prime Minister David Cameron, is the latest senior Conservative to attack the Chancellor over the personal independence payment fiasco.

"It's obvious from what’s happened that [the government has] admitted that it was a mistake," he said.

His comments came ahead of Osborne's appearance in the House of Commons today, where he defended his handling of the economy. The Chancellor told MPs his measures were the act of a "One Nation Conservative government determined to deliver both social justice and economic security".

Osborne's speech is unlikely to quell the tide of criticism he has faced from members of his own party. "He has been found out," one Tory MP told the Daily Telegraph.

"He doesn't believe in anything and no one likes him. It was useful for people to support him when he was on the way up, but no one will stick with him on the way down."

Despite all of this, some still believe Osborne could become leader and next prime minister, with Conservative MP Heidi Allen saying he needed to learn the lessons of the last few days.

"Sometimes the strength of a man is how he picks himself up. If this is attempted to be brushed under the carpet, I would say his chances are over," she told the Financial Times.

The newspaper points out that the Chancellor has escaped from "near-death political situations" before and he could recover from this one: "But he needs some good news soon."

An old friend of Osborne's told The Guardian he expects the Chancellor to bounce back quickly. “This is not terminal for George. Things come and go. There are waves. Better to have bout of scarlet fever now than in 2018," he said.

Conservative leader race: Osborne's hopes dashed by IDS's resignation

21 March

George Osborne's hopes of becoming leader of the Conservative Party appear to have been scuppered by the surprise resignation of Iain Duncan Smith and the government's U-turn on disability benefits.

Once seen as the obvious successor to David Cameron, the Chancellor's leadership ambitions suffered a serious blow when the former work and pensions secretary quit over the weekend.

"Duncan Smith's sudden and dramatic resignation crystallised nagging concerns about the Chancellor within his own party," says The Guardian's political editor, Heather Stewart.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has led calls from the opposition for Osborne to stand down. "The Chancellor has failed the British people," he told the BBC. "He should follow the honourable course taken by Iain Duncan Smith and resign."

Divisions continue to deepen among the Conservatives, with The Guardian citing a Tory backbencher as saying an "Anyone but George" campaign was gathering momentum in Westminster.

Osborne's main rival, London Mayor Boris Johnson, is the bookmakers' firm favourite to win the crown. "Punters have begun defecting from [Osborne] to Boris in particular and others such as Michael Gove in droves," William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe told City AM.

There appears to be similar sentiment among grassroots members of the party, as Osborne "had already been eclipsed by Brexiteer Johnson in the hearts of many individual members, who tend to be more Eurosceptic than the Tory party in parliament", says Stewart.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Adam Boulton agrees that the London Mayor is most likely to be the next Tory leader and, by default, Britain's next prime minister.

"Several Tories told me, 'Theresa May looks like the last grown-up standing', then added that they didn't think she wanted to run for the leadership," he says.

"In that event, the prospect of Prime Minister Boris looks like a no-brainer."

BBC eyes Boris and Osborne to debate EU referendum on TV

03 March

Boris Johnson and George Osborne, widely seen as the two main rivals to lead the Conservative Party after David Cameron, are being lined up to argue the merits of membership of the European Union in a television debate.

The two men are among the big names on the BBC's list, according to the Daily Telegraph. The panel discussion will be held in front of an audience of 12,000 at Wembley Arena in London on 21 June – two days before the referendum.

Representing the Out campaign, London Mayor Johnson could be joined by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Ukip leader Nigel Farage and Respect leader George Galloway.

For the In campaign, the Chancellor could share a platform with Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Labour grandee Alan Johnson and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

The BBC claims the debate will be its biggest-ever "campaign event", with thousands of voters invited to question representatives from both sides of the argument.

There will be three presenters - Mishal Husain, Emily Maitlis and David Dimbleby, who also hosted the only television debate before the 1975 European referendum, between cabinet ministers Tony Benn and Roy Jenkins.

If Johnson and Osborne take part – their respective camps say they have not yet been approached – it will be the first time the two pretenders to the Tory crown have faced each other in front of a live audience.

The show is likely to be "one of the most watched programmes of the year", says the Telegraph, quoting an un-named source as saying: "It will be an absolute bearpit."

The BBC is also hosting a special Question Time on the referendum on 15 June, with the Prime Minister among its guests, as well as a programme aimed at young voters, presented by Victoria Derbyshire, live from Glasgow on 19 May. 

Boris Johnson favourite to be Tory leader after backing Brexit

22 February

Boris Johnson is now the bookmakers' favourite to become the next Conservative leader after announcing his intention to back the Vote Leave campaign in June's referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union.

After months of dithering, the London Mayor declared his support for a Brexit to reporters, television cameramen and photographers outside his London home yesterday, giving the pro-EU Prime Minister just a nine-minute warning via text message.

While Johnson insisted his decision was the product of "many, many years" of thought, many political commentators suspect leadership ambitions lay at its heart.

"The scrum was meant to look spontaneous but was in fact engineered to within an inch of its life," says Nicholas Watt in The Guardian. "Behind every Johnson intervention is a calculation about whether it will help or hinder the most important mission of his professional life: ensuring that he becomes prime minister."

Johnson's move could "define his place in history", says Andrew Pierce in the Daily Mail. "Once, discussing the prospect of leading his party, Boris famously said that 'if the ball came loose from the back of a scrum, it would be a great thing to have a crack at'. It seems that he has just spotted that rugby ball spin loose – and reached out to grab it."

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Fraser Nelson says the gamble "could either leave Boris in the wilderness, or writing the next set of No 10 Christmas cards".

Party leader David Cameron has said he will step down after the next election, but Nelson believes he might have to go earlier if he loses the referendum.

John Rentoul at The Independent agrees. "His party would not countenance Brexit negotiations being handled by a leader who wanted to stay in. His time would be over," he writes.

In that scenario, Johnson "wants to be the more Eurosceptic candidate if he faces George Osborne", a key supporter of EU membership who is now second favourite to replace Cameron.

Others suggest Johnson may still benefit if Britain votes to stay in the EU. "A valiant loser on the Leave side will carry a romantic credibility among activists," says the Daily Mail's Chris Deerin. "Every decision Boris has taken to this point has been geared towards becoming PM."

Tory leader race: Osborne's defeat boosts rival Boris

27 October

William Hill have lengthened George Osborne's odds of becoming the next Tory leader following his humiliation in the Lords last night over tax credits. He remains favourite to take over from David Cameron at the next election, but his odds have gone out from 6/4 yesterday to 11/8 today, while the odds on his closest rival, Boris Johnson, have been cut from 4/1 to 7/2.

"Mr Osborne remains favourite… and his current discomfort may soon be forgotten," said a spokesman for the bookmakers. "But he will need to re-establish his credentials quickly before rivals like Boris Johnson, whose odds we have shortened, take advantage."

As Justin Webb of Radio 4's Today programme suggested this morning, the tax credits episode raises the question: should Osborne be praised for sticking by tough decisions, or is he guilty of political error? If the latter view gains momentum, Osborne's discomfort could indeed prove more than short-term.

James Kirkup in the Daily Telegraph calls it "a moment of supreme political danger" for Osborne. The Chancellor gambled over tax credits – and lost. "Now he must decide whether to fold, or go all in. His choice could determine whether he becomes prime minister."

One commenter at The Guardian suggested Osborne was paying the price for trying to "sneak through" his tax credit cuts via a statutory instrument rather than a fully-fledged bill, which would have attracted proper scrutiny in the Commons. "Hardly the actions of a PM," commented Richard Farrell-Adams.

Isabel Hardman of The Spectator also zeroes in on Osborne's not so "cunning plan" to use an SI to avoid Commons scrutiny. "What has happened isn't so much the unelected Lords ganging up on the Chancellor, but his luck running out," writes Hardman. "He chose to implement these cuts through a statutory instrument when they could have formed part of the Finance Bill, and now another cunning plan looks a little silly."

Observers keen for the Tories to succeed in reducing Britain's deficit have urged Osborne to make a U-turn in recent weeks, rather than his being forced into one by the Lords. Yet he has refused to listen.

Only ten days ago, Michael Deacon of the Daily Telegraph wrote of Osborne's tax credit mess: "If he doesn't do a U-turn on this soon, he'll never be prime minister. He'll be as despised as he was that night in the Olympic Stadium, back in the summer of 2012."

Deacon was referring to the chorus of boos that greeted the appearance of the Chancellor – then the most unpopular member of the Tory government following his "Omnishambles Budget", according to an ICM opinion poll – when he stepped up to present a Paralympic medal.

Boris Johnson, whose hopes of capturing the party leadership took a knock when the Tories unexpectedly won a majority in the May general election, can argue that he's been warning Osborne since the early summer against cutting in-work tax credits.

As the Daily Mail reported in late June, the London mayor and recently elected MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip agreed it was "scandalous" that private companies were paying their workers so poorly that the government needed to top up their wages with tax credits.

"But he warned the Chancellor not to used next month's budget to begin 'hacking back' in-work benefits while pay was still so low," the Mail reported

In his Budget speech on July 8, Osborne ignored his rival's advice and did just that.

As Laura Kuenssberg, political editor of the BBC, writes, Johnson "knew exactly what he was doing when he raised the tax credit issue repeatedly before and after the Tory conference, and to an extent he has succeeded, using this issue to puncture some of the inevitability about Osborne's primacy, planting questions in Tory backbenchers' minds about the Chancellor's judgement."

So what does Osborne do now to regain momentum? There'll be plenty of people telling him to back down, soften the cuts and make the package acceptable to the Lords, says James Kirkup in the Telegraph. "But that would have costs," he argues. It would prove that Osborne is vulnerable, susceptible to pressure – mortal. "He'd stay in the race to succeed Mr Cameron, but he'd take a wound that would slow him up; he might go from prohibitive favourite to just one of the pack."

So Kirkup suggests an alternative: "stand firm, lay siege to the Lords and wage bloody political war to pass the tax credits package as written. Make this a point of fundamental political principle, the defining battle of the Parliament and his career: who governs Britain – unelected lefty peers, or George Osborne?"

Osborne loves the political game, Kirkup concludes, perhaps even too much. "A great deal rides on the next hand he plays."

Tory leader race: Boris and Theresa May wreak EU havoc

7 October

The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, has had to step in after Boris Johnson and Theresa May both used their Tory conference speeches yesterday to demand tougher rules against limitless EU workers coming to Britain.

In addresses to the party faithful which were thinly-disguised auditions for the Tory leadership, the London mayor and the Home Secretary both took up the same provocative issue.

Johnson said: "It should be up to this parliament and this country - not Jean-Claude Juncker - to decide if too many people are coming here." May said mass immigration made it impossible to build "a cohesive society" and that the influx of workers from the EU was "unsustainable".

As a result, the Financial Times reports, Hammond used an address to a fringe meeting yesterday to try to "close down" the issue.

Hammond made it clear that Europe's sacred free movement rules are "off limits" when David Cameron renegotiates the terms of Britain's membership. After Angela Merkel said last year she would never accept any watering-down one of the EU's fundamental freedoms, Cameron "dropped the idea".

So, other than asking Cameron to deliver the impossible, how did the two rivals to George Osborne for the leadership do yesterday?

Theresa May

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"content_full_width","fid":"85110","attributes":{"class":"media-image"}}]]May's speech received rapturous applause in Manchester but did not go down well with the Institute of Directors which accused her of jeopardising Britain's economic recovery with "irresponsible rhetoric and pandering to anti-immigration sentiment", The Guardian reports.

As for the Refugee Council, it said May's "clear intention to close Britain's border to refugees fleeing for their lives is thoroughly chilling".

The Daily Telegraph's James Kirkup wrote: "It's hard to know where to start with Theresa May's awful, ugly, misleading, cynical and irresponsible speech."

Kirkup felt May's address could be summarised like this: "Immigrants are stealing your job, making you poorer and ruining your country. Never mind the facts, just feel angry at foreigners. And make me Conservative leader."

He accused the Home Secretary of ignoring a review carried out last year by her own officials which found: "There is relatively little evidence that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives from the labour market in periods when the economy is strong."

Peter Oborne of the Daily Mail couldn't agree less. It was May's most brilliant, bravest Tory conference speech yet, he wrote.

However, while May was right to raise the problem - with the net immigration figure hitting 300,000 last year, way above the "tens of thousands" promised by Cameron - there is nothing she can do about it while Britain remains a member of the EU.

"If Theresa May is to be true to her speech," said Oborne, "she will have to campaign for Britain to leave the EU.

"The No campaign may just have discovered its leader."

Boris Johnson

Johnson took more trouble over this speech than normal, wrote Philip Webster in The Times. Usually he settles for a "knockabout affair that has them rolling in the aisles". Yesterday he had some serious points to make.

As well as demanding that Britain, not Brussels, dictate the number of immigrants Britain can cope with, he took on George Osborne - his main rival for the party leadership when Cameron stands down at the next election - for cutting in-work tax credits.

Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail loved it. "Boris Johnson approached the lectern jabbering to himself - the snuffles of some albino warthog rooting goodish truffles under an Etruscan tree… Oh no, I thought, he's going to live down to stereotypes."

Happily not. "He leavened the customary clowning with serious content about the oppressive nature of egalitarianism: the way political correctness is an obstacle to aspiration…

"He deplored economic libertarianism, attacking capitalist fat-cat excesses… He was forthright in opposition to Heathrow expansion while being covetous of the word 'progressive'. This was the best speech I have yet heard Boris give."

Tory leader race: Boris hits at Osborne over tax credits

06 October

The three leading candidates to take over the Tory party leadership from David Cameron at the next election – George Osborne, Boris Johnson and Theresa May – are using the party conference in Manchester to set out their stalls.

The Chancellor wants the Tories to claim the centre-ground and used his speech yesterday to appeal to working-class Labour voters, even borrowing the famous words of Aneurin Bevan from 1945: "We are the builders".

Johnson will use his speech today to take on Osborne over tax credits and position himself as the compassionate 'One Nation' Tory candidate. May will issue a stark warning over mass immigration, risking accusations of toying with the party's right-wing, but reminding Tories that she's still in the frame. 

George Osborne

In what he called "the biggest transfer of power to our local government in living memory", Osborne yesterday announced plans to revitalise British high streets by allowing local councils to set their own business rates and keep all the revenues raised.

It is not without its risks. "Business and local leaders cautiously welcomed the proposals," the Financial Times reports, "while other observers questioned whether they would widen the gap between poor and rich parts of England and Wales."

Osborne also announced his new National Infrastructure Commission – both the idea and its chairman, Lord Adonis, are borrowed from Labour.

But much of his speech was devoted to selling the 'new George Osborne', a man who after five years in the job understands better the power and responsibility of government.

"No longer obsessed with restraining government, now he could see its potential to do good," writes Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian, who felt Osborne's "desire to be seen as a leader-in-waiting could not have been clearer."

But the Chancellor's ambition is not confined to himself, says Freedland: he believes the Tories have the chance to command the centre ground vacated by Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.

"So he billed the Tories as not only the party of work but as 'the only true party of labour', a land-grab breathtaking in its audacity."

The Daily Mail warns Osborne against betraying Tory values in his rush to impress traditional Labour voters. 

"What exactly did the Chancellor mean when he said Tories should 'extend the hand' to those who voted Labour in May, and 'understand their reservations'? the Mail asks in an editorial.

"Of course, there's nothing wrong with showing magnanimity in victory (though was it necessary to borrow the theme of his speech – 'we are the builders' – from Labour firebrand Nye Bevan?).

"But if he means his party should shift to the Left to occupy the ground vacated by Jeremy Corbyn, this will be a gross betrayal of Tory voters."

Boris Johnson

The one thing George Osborne has refused to budge on this week is his controversial plan to cut in-work tax credits. Boris Johnson will use his speech today to attack Osborne head-on, saying the Chancellor is hurting "striving" families.

The Tories, Johnson will say, should "protect the hardest-working and the lowest-paid… shop workers, cleaners, the people who get up in the small hours or work through the night because they have dreams for what their families can achieve".

These, says Johnson, are the people "without whom the London economy would simply collapse - the people Labour is leaving behind". The London mayor is clearly positioning himself as a champion of compassionate 'One Nation' Conservatism, says the Financial Times.

Boris will also accuse Osborne of stealing ideas not from Labour but from him. According to The Sun, 'Bojo' will claim that the new national living wage, the devolving of business rates and the use of pension funds to build major infrastructure projects were all originally his policies for London.

"It is wonderful now to see the London agenda being rolled out across the country", Boris will say. "In fact the only type of crime currently going up is theft of City Hall policies."

Theresa May

Mass immigration is making it impossible to build a cohesive society in Britain, the Home Secretary will tell Conservative delegates in Manchester today.

The shortages of housing, classrooms and hospital beds is evidence that the country's migration boom is not in the national interest, she will say. "And we know that for people in low-paid jobs, wages are forced down even further while some people are forced out of work altogether."

As The Independent reports, the advance notice of May's speech has already brought the response from Nigel Farage that the only solution is to leave the EU. Labour's Diana Abbott responds via Twitter: "Theresa May gets down in the gutter with UKIP chasing votes for her leadership bid."

Nevertheless, May's hardline speech could boost her chances in the leadership race. According to the latest betting odds, May has slipped to fourth favourite to replace Cameron, behind even Sajid Javid who only became an MP five years ago.

Currently, Osborne is the clear favourite, ahead of Boris Johnson. But as Mike Smithson of Political Betting says, there is plenty of time for Osborne's star to wane in the same way that Johnson's has since the general election.

"The one thing we know about Conservative leadership contests is that the obvious favourite generally does not win," says Smithson. "You only have to recall David Davis from 2005 or Michael Portillo four years earlier.

"The latter did not get enough votes from fellow MPs even to make the final run-off in the membership ballot."

Nicky Morgan mulls Tory leadership: does she stand a chance? 

1 October 2015

Nicky Morgan has revealed that she is considering running for leader of the Conservative party when David Cameron stands down.

The Prime Minister ruled out serving another term as leader in the run-up to the general election, naming Tory heavyweights Boris Johnson, George Osborne and Theresa May as his likely successors.

But as the Conservative Party prepares for its annual party conference, Education Secretary Morgan said she was mulling over whether to throw her hat in the ring but added that "a lot of it would depend on family".

The Loughborough MP and minister for women and equalities has a seven year old son with husband Jonathan and told The Spectator: "I'd be saying this if I was male or female. Being leader of the party is so all-consuming, putting such a pressure on family relationships."

Asked what her leadership pitch would be, she said she represented a part of the country that is incredibly down to earth. "It wants good schools, good hospitals, solid economy, support for those who have started businesses and wants to know that the government is on their side."

So does she stand a chance? "Many will scoff at the idea of Morgan as Tory leader and Prime Minister," says the Spectator's James Forsythe. "But then nobody predicted that she would join the cabinet just four years after entering Parliament. She is making a habit of surprising people."

But Morgan may simply be too "normal" to become the next leader, says Channel 4's Cathy Newman. "She doesn't have the inspiring back-story of some of her leadership rivals – son of a bus driver Sajid Javid, for example," Newman writes in the Daily Telegraph.

Morgan was born in the affluent area of Surbiton, went to a private school and went on to become a corporate lawyer. "So far, so Conservative," says Newman. "But her unglamorous hinterland might well endear her to traditional Conservatives and swing voters alike." 

Morgan is a rising star in the Centre-Left of the party, acknowledges Conservative Home's Paul Goodman. But he concludes that "all in all, she is an unlikely successor to the prime minister".

The political betting odds currently rank Morgan as ninth most likely to succeed Cameron. Osborne remains the bookies favourite, while Johnson comes in second and May in third.

Meanwhile, a poll commissioned by the Evening Standard revealed that the London mayor was the public's choice to become the next Conservative leader, while the Chancellor was the firm favourite among Tory supporters.

Osborne, May or Johnson: who will be the next Tory leader?

24 July

Chancellor George Osborne has been the bookies' favourite to become the next Tory leader since his July Budget – and now he is gaining ground among Conservative supporters too, according to a new poll.

A new poll by Ipsos Mori, carried out last weekend, shows that support for Osborne among Conservative supporters is up too, by 13 per cent since last year.

This puts him on an even footing with the Home Secretary. Both were rated by 45 per cent of people as having what it takes to be a good prime minister. Johnson, however, is still in the lead, with a rating of 47 per cent.

Since David Cameron revealed that he would not be fighting another general election, a "quiet Tory leadership battle" has been under way, says Fraser Nelson in the Daily Telegraph.

Osborne, Johnson and May have long been touted as the three favourites, but unlike the Labour leadership election only two candidates will be shortlisted by Tory MPs before the winner is chosen by Conservative Party members. This election is unlikely to happen for years, but it looks as if Osborne is getting a head start.

"Anyone wishing to succeed Mr Cameron must make lots of friends among backbench MPs; something that Boris Johnson will find rather hard to do while chained to his desk in City Hall," says Nelson. "But to George Osborne, a great game is just beginning."

The Chancellor apparently sent handwritten notes to colleagues who spoke in the Budget debate to praise their "eloquence and insight", while others have been invited to a barbeque at his official country residence. One MP told the Telegraph that Osborne's soirées are "just extraordinary" and that the Chancellor "roars power". New MPs were apparently told by Osborne to "just say the word" if they needed a bridge or bypass built in their constituency, says Nelson. "Being a friend of George means being admitted to an exclusive A-list, the most powerful magic circle in London."

Osborne, May or Johnson: who is winning the leadership race?

1 October 2014

The three frontrunners in the open-ended race to succeed David Cameron as party leader have been setting out their stalls on the stage of the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. 

Political commentators have been scrutinising the speeches of Chancellor George Osborne, Mayor of London and parliamentary candidate Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Theresa May to assess their qualifications as future Tory leader.

Osborne is "certainly a man on manoeuvres in the future Tory leadership stakes", says Andrew Grice in The Independent. "He has bounced back remarkably well from his annus horribilis in 2012, when his 'omnishambles Budget' unravelled within hours and he was booed at the Paralympics."

The Chancellor is seen as "on a par with Gordon Brown" by his cabinet colleagues and could be a contender to take over if the Tories win the next election and Cameron later stands down, says Grice.

However, most other commentators believe the real fight will be between Boris and May.

Boris drew laughs yesterday as he vowed to take on the "quitters, splitters and kippers" and teased Cameron over his recent faux pas with the Queen, telling the audience they had "permission to purr" over the result of the Scottish referendum.

Meanwhile, May drew comparisons with Margaret Thatcher as she launched a rallying cry to defend British values in the face of terrorist and extremist threats.

Compared to the Home Secretary's "steely" speech, Boris's "panto act" seemed "rather tired and flat", says The Spectator's gossip columnist Steerpike. "Boris would only have to burp and the conference hall would clap him, but it was not a vintage performance."

The race for the next Tory leader has begun, says Steerpike. "Theresa May turned up to a knife fight with a sawn-off shotgun. Boris brought a spoon. He's going to need more."

Alex Stevenson at Politics.co.uk also thinks Boris's buffoonery is no match for May. "Normally his outlandish style of delivery trumps everything else on the stage, but the sheer weight of Theresa May's tone for once saw off Boris's banter," says Stevenson.

In the Financial Times, Matthew Engel points out that there is no overt suggestion of Cameron being replaced as Conservative leader. "And yet," he adds. "The hounds have the scent in their nostrils; the horses are all a-gallop; and in the conference hall yesterday morning Theresa May came within inches of sinking her jaws into Mr Cameron's leg."

Objectively, Boris was in "fine form", but the "great upstager was completely upstaged", says Engel. "On came the mayor of London to do his shtick, but the mood was all wrong. It was like bringing on Tommy Cooper after the prophet Elijah."

The Daily Telegraph's Robert Colvile describes May and Boris as "the mistress of substance and the master of style". He compares May to the head girl who has "mastered the traditional political playbook", while Boris has "taken that playbook and turned the pieces into amusingly shaped confetti".

It is impossible to declare a "winner", says Colvile, because both were doing completely different things. "Which of these approaches proves most successful in the eventual race to succeed David Cameron will tell us a very great deal not just about the Conservative Party, but about the country itself."

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