Justine Greening makes her first move for the Conservative leadership
What is it with Tory Remainers in marginal seats and the top job?
At the start of 2018, Amber Rudd was seen as a leading candidate to take over from Theresa May among liberal pro-European Tories. The only problem was her tiny majority of 346 in Hastings & Rye. If the Tories won the general election but the leader lost their seat, it would be something of a problem.
Shares in Rudd then dropped like a stone anyway in the wake of the windrush scandal. At a press gallery lunch in April, the then home secretary was asked if she still had her eye on the leadership. What if the ball came loose at the back of the scrum? Rudd replied: “I’m not thinking about any balls coming out… I’m just thinking of staying in the game.”
Who could step into her shoes?
Justine Greening resigned from the government in January and has since become a vocal proponent of a second Brexit referendum. Asked on ITV’s Good Morning Britain if she was making a leadership bid, Greening noted that “things need to change”.
Questioned again on whether she would stand for the Conservative leadership if there were a vacancy, the former education secretary was more open: “I might be prepared to,” she said. “But I’m more interested in the Conservative party actually showing what it can do for this country.”
In Westminster, that amounts to clear code for yes. However while Greening’s seat is not quite as marginal as Rudd’s, the former education secretary is not exactly home and dry either. Greening got a majority of just 1,766 in Putney in the last general election. In the 2015 election she had enjoyed a majority of over 10,000. Labour are now hopeful of winning back Putney for the first time since 2001.
Are there any hardcore Tory Remainers with healthy majorities who might like to lead the party?
Tory insiders say Remain-voting former justice minister Phillip Lee is very much on leadership manoeuvres. Earlier this year, he resigned from government and then put out a statement his website in which called for a referendum on the final Brexit deal. And reminded people that he used to be a GP. Twice.
On the plus side, unlike Rudd and Greening, there is no question of Lee being ousted from his constituency in the next election. Rather, he enjoys a majority of almost 16,000 in Bracknell.
On the downside, nobody outside of SW1 knows who he is…