FOB, FOG or FOT? Which one are you? In this week’s Spectator, Harry Mount examines the machinations of the Friends of Boris as they set their star man up for a return to Parliament and a future Tory leadership bid against the Friends of George and the Friends of Theresa.
It’s worth reminding all three contenders, though, that these long-drawn out contests between party big beasts rarely lead to those big beasts actually taking the leadership. David Davis, Michael Portillo, Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine could all tell a few tales on that front. After years of moving against one another, spying and trying to convert friends of one contender into being friends of another, the camps might find that a young whippersnapper outstrips them all and bags the prize before their horrified eyes.
Who could that be? It’s not as if there’s no shortage of impressive MPs in the lower ministerial ranks and backbenches who display plenty of potential. Liz Truss, Andrea Leadsom, Jesse Norman, Matt Hancock, and Nadhim Zahawi are just some of the names – but there will be others, too. Sajid Javid is rumoured to be a potential decoy candidate for George Osborne to soak away first round votes from Boris, only for the Chancellor to then take over and storm home.
But there’s a flaw in this Osborne plan, just as there’s a flaw in plotting about the leadership so far in advance of a real contest. As I say in the Telegraph today, much of the Chancellor’s support comes from his habit of rewarding his camp with plum promotions. This is canny, and typical of Osborne’s strategic approach to everything. But it means he is relying on ambitious people sticking to him, rather than getting carried away with their own dreams of the top. And it’s not so much about his personal appeal – which is what unites the FOBs, who want to use Boris to sell Conservatism – as what he can do for someone’s career. So what if he does help Javid all the way to a leadership contest and his protégé then realises that this could be his one shot at the top job, goes for it, and defeats his old boss? Loyalty is rare in politics, but it melts like ice in the oven when something as rare as a leadership contest comes around.