The British political world was taken by storm Wednesday as Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party model-mili announced his resignation amidst reports that the leader of the Libertarian Party UK, Friedmanite19, had tabled a motion of no-confidence in the Government. Friedmanite19, former Deputy Prime Minister under model-mili, announced the motion had been tabled in a press conference alongside Leader of the Opposition ARichTeaBiscuit and Leader of the Democratic Reformist Front ZanyDraco. Opposition leaders have lambasted the Government over claims that the Prime Minister was frequently absent and that the Foreign Secretary had lied to Parliament regarding talks between the UK and Iran over the nuclear agreement.
In the midst of the chaos, a number of candidates have emerged, vying to take the leadership for themselves. Two candidates entered but have since withdrawn. Fast_Leader, an MP on the right-wing of the Conservative Party, withdrew and endorsed candidate _paul_rand_ before defecting to the Libertarians. Duncs11, First Minister of Scotland and MP for Cumbria and Lancashire North, announced his candidacy before similarly withdrawing, citing his desire to focus on Scotland as well as for personal reasons, but is yet to make an endorsement.
Of the candidates that remain, there are a wide variety of candidates across the Conservative political spectrum. Deputy Leader model-willem, Foreign Secretary and former leader of the Classical Liberals, emerged as an early frontrunner. While his leadership credentials are solid, he has found himself fending off attacks from the Opposition over his performance in his role as Foreign Secretary. Next there is the MP for Essex, BrexitGlory, a figure as dedicated as he is controversial. He has built a reputation for himself as a vigorous debater, but one who may be hard-pressed to win support outside of his base. While his path to winning the leadership is uncertain, ARichTeaBiscuit may be hoping they don't have to face him across the dispatch box in a few weeks' time. Next, Yukub, newly minted MP for the South East List and longtime Conservative, will be a familiar face for many in the party and poses a serious threat to his opponents. Next is _paul_rand_, an ambitious member and cabinet secretary. Mr Rand has a reputation for hard work, but has struggled in the past to convert that into successful momentum to enter party leadership. Finally, MerrilyPutrid, MP for the West Midlands, has also announced her intention to run. The Independent contacted all of the candidates to discuss their thoughts about the leadership contest.
The first person that the Independent contacted for a view on the leadership race is the outgoing leader, Prime Minister model-mili. Mr mili took over the Conservative leadership after his predecessor eelsemaj99 resigned in the aftermath of the 12th General Election. He led the Second Blurple Government after the Sunrise Coalition collapsed, oversaw the merger of the Classical Liberals into the Conservative Party, and led the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat government.
Mr mili refused to be drawn on who he thought would be best as his successor, simply stating that "the party and the country would be in safe hands under any of the current candidates running for Leader." He declined to reveal his preferences on who he feels would be best to succeed him.
Three out of the five candidates running to succeed Mr mili are former Classical Liberals. When asked if he felt if the party's ideology has shifted while he was leader, Mr mili agreed, ascribing a shift "due to a change in the makeup of the party's membership." He emphasised the role of the party's members in setting party policy.
Mr mili warned that "tumultuous times are ahead" due to the "shortsightedness of the opposition", and urged Conservatives to rally around his successor – something that they will urgently need to do after the election if they are to retake 10 Downing Street at the next General Election.
From the Sunrise Coalition to the Clegg Coalition, model-willem has been a constant face on the frontbench and a man with significant experience managing the government's foreign policy. The Deputy Leader of the Conservatives assumed his current role when his Classical Liberals merged with the Conservatives in December. Mr willem has been described by many as a frontrunner in the race, but when talking to the Independent he seemed to downplay this label. "I get that by having the positions that I have people see me as a frontrunner so I accept that. But [...] I think Yukub also is a clear frontrunner at this moment."
Mr willem seemed to position himself as the status-quo candidate, pitching himself to be a steady pair of hands and a safe bet for the Conservative Party. He expressed a need to "redefine what our party stands for", but said that he would largely continue the moderate stance of model-mili. "I think our position between the LibDems and LPUK is right for us [...] we have to retain our position again back in between those two parties."
When asked if he could effectively appeal to his party's right wing, Willem seemed confident, pointing to his recently-released manifesto's policy pledges on fiscal, economic, and individual responsibility. A former leader of the Classical Liberals, who make up the majority of candidates in the race, he will seek to bolster his right-wing credentials to those sceptical of the one-nation conservatism that the party has embraced recently.
In his closing remarks, Mr willem offered a somewhat generic pledge to the members of the Conservative Party. "People at this moment are unclear about our vision and what we want to achieve. I know that I’m the right person to guide us through that uncertainty and towards a brighter future for the U.K. I will pledge here to listen to the members and the backbenchers to take their ideas into account because they must be heard as well." While not the radical new start some will be hoping for, he is an experienced candidate who will be emphasising his knowledge of party leadership when party members vote.
BrexitGlory, the Member of Parliament for Essex and Transport Secretary, has had a meteoric rise within the Conservative Party. An unknown figure six months ago, he has launched himself to prominence through his passionate and often controversial speeches and press work. A former press chief for the Conservatives, he's no stranger to run-ins with the Opposition, something that looks set to continue if he were to spar with ARichTeaBiscuit across the dispatch box.
When speaking to the Independent, he was calm and self-assured, but not arrogant. He appears confident that the members of the Conservative Party have viewed his numerous contributions in the Commons and the media and will reward him when the time comes to vote. "I have a bigger presence in the commons than all of the other candidates, combined." He emphasises this is not a statement he makes out of arrogance, but one that shows his willingness to defend his colleagues and his party. "By presence I do not mean charisma or gravitas, I mean the amount of time I have put into defending the Conservative Party and ensuring its message is heard. Since the Queen's Speech, I have said more words [in the House of Commons] than all the other candidates combined; I spent a lot of time reading through Hansard."
It's an impressive track record, but while he has undoubtedly made numerous contributions in the Commons, he lacks the experience in the cabinet and leadership that some of his competitors such as model-willem can point to as strengths. "On my cabinet experience, I am hugely proud of what I have done in the small time frame [as Transport Secretary]," he responded when asked by the Independent how his comparative lack of tenure in the Cabinet could influence the race.
He also points to the long time he has spent on the backbenches as a plus, drawing his colleagues there into action. "In addition to this I did what no other Cabinet minister has done this term: call upon backbench talent and enthusiasm to get involved in decision making and legislation writing. Together me and my Conservative colleagues undertook the huge challenge of facilitating the privatisation of rail services, we completed our plans in just a matter of weeks along with the assorted legislation drafted."
He concludes with an appeal to members of the Conservative Party to set aside the precedent of electing members with experience in leadership to the party's top office, and place their trust in him instead. "The number one thing our party needs right now is energy and passion, in order to form a new vision, regain our lost polling and take back our seats in government." Not many could argue that BrexitGlory lacks energy and passion, but whether or not he could manage to form a government remains an unknown.
Yukub is a member whose name will be familiar to virtually every Conservative. A veteran of the party, he currently serves as Attorney General for England and Wales. Despite keeping a comparatively low profile as of late, he is said to be on good terms with most, if not all, of the Parliamentary Party and his connections and influence within the party make him a very serious contender for the leadership.
Mr Yukub is quick to reject the label 'establishment' and emphasise that he doesn't consider himself to be a part of a collective that holds power within the Conservative Party. "I suppose you could call me part of the ‘establishment’, if that refers to such traits as stability sensibility, strength and confidence. It would be disingenuous to assert that there is any homogenous and coherent ‘establishment’. I suppose you could use the slightly pejorative term of ‘old guard’, but that is not quite a hive-mind either."
He specifically points to his embrace of the Conservatives' flagship Universal Childcare Act – commonly known as AmberCare, after its author – a proposal that proved key in convincing Labour and Shadow Chancellor jgm0228 to abstain on the Budget.
I do not think the party should invariably remain the same. It is an organic entity, and like any, the Conservative Party changes, adapts. We are not the party we are two years ago. The merger with the Classical Liberals is just one facet of that.
He asserts that AmberCare is, in its current form, flawed – and says that his willingness to amend it and rectify its perceived flaws as evidence of his openness to change. "I suppose my recent suggestion that AmberCare is by no means a holy grail, and that it could use some alterations shows that I am not some ‘establishment’ candidate. I am my own person, with my own views. My freshness, openness of mind, my energy, ambition and drive — these are unimpeded."
Next, we discussed what stood Mr Yukub apart from other candidates. While he had underlined his passion and drive, many other candidates had said the same thing – nearly word-for-word – in other interviews. When pressed, he replied that party members had seen his drive before. "I do not wish to speak ill of my fellow candidates," he began. "Everyone who has worked with me will have attest that my drive and my ambition are not merely attractive, pleasing buzzwords." He also reiterated the difficulty of the job, words that echoed fellow contender model-willem. "Leadership will be a significant burden upon the shoulders of anyone who takes up the mantle. I have some reservations about whether some of my fellow candidates are able to perform under such pressures. Especially now, I feel we cannot possibly take such risks."
He ended with a call to unity in the party. "With your aid, with your confidence in me, we will secure our position. We shall not let Labour past. We will persevere. But only if we stand strong, if we stand together." Mr Yukub goes into the contest in a strong position, rivalling only model-willem for the status of frontrunner in the contest.
_paul_rand_ is the Member of Parliament for Northumbria and former Education Secretary. Mr rand has had an interesting political journey, from being Party Chairman of the Libertarian Party UK to the Leader of the Scottish Conservatives. He is currently reprising his role as Secretary of State for Education. He has mounted previous leadership challenges, unsuccessfully contesting the most recent one won by model-mili, being eliminated in the second round of the Single Transferable Vote. A party member with experience, but perhaps not one with the political capital or connections to cross the finish line. Nevertheless, Mr rand has high hopes, as he shared with the Independent.
Mr rand sought to highlight his enthusiasm and energy as characteristics that would lead to a successful tenure. "I think that I have the most enthusiasm, I’m willing and wanting to get people fired up, that’s what my leadership run is all about." Mr rand, the first candidate to declare his entry into the fray, has seen his odds lengthen in recent days, a fact which does not appear to faze him. "Even if I don’t win, I will have “won” so to speak if I’ve managed to fire up even 1 Member who wasn’t before."
He pitched himself as an energetic and radical change that he feels the party needs. "The same old with some tinkering around the edges just won't do this time," he said. "We’ve had that again and again and our problems just keep getting larger. We need a fundamental shift in vision, a shift in approach and, on an individual level, a shift in attitude."
When pressed for specifics, Mr rand offered a vision of internal reform to improve efficiency. "I think we need to look at how we can not only collaborate to produce a new vision for the party, but how we can oil the wheels of the Tory machine to do something different. For example, we need a coherent press strategy, we need to ensure devolved parties serve the whole party, and we need to refresh the external image of the party." His remarks about press strategy are perhaps a slight dig at fellow contender BrexitGlory, whose stint as Tory Press Officer was frequently shrouded in controversy before he was sacked by model-mili.
Mr rand said that party members would look to him because of their appetite for change within the party. "From what I’ve seen so far, I think the overwhelming attitude, especially from more long term members, is that something needs to change. We merged two of the biggest forces on the centre right recently and we haven’t realised the fruits of that because we’ve not really heeded the message from the public that we are directionless." He responded to a question about his prior struggles to enter party leadership by claiming that the circumstances around this election are fundamentally different. "I’ve stood in 2 deputy leadership elections saying a similar thing, that the time for change is now, this time there is no choice but a choice for change."
MerrilyPutrid is not a name known to many outside of the West Midlands or the Highlands, Tayside, and Fife; it's perhaps not one known to many there, either. However, Ms Putrid has shown herself to have a degree of ambition in declaring her candidacy for the Conservative leadership. A former Classical Liberal and current Health Secretary, she's hoping for support from people who want to see the party take a new direction.
When asked what sets her apart from her fellow candidates, she points to the fact that she is a fresh face with a clean record. "I'll be able to prove myself to the British public that the Conservative Party are the best alternative to an increasingly far-left, radicalising Labour Party, and we have more to gain by working together," Ms Putrid said when contacted by the Independent. This is possibly an attempt to set herself apart from other candidates like model-willem, BrexitGlory, and _paul_rand_, all of whom have had their share of controversy.
Ms Putrid has positioned herself towards the left of the party, which is perhaps not surprising for a former member of the Classical Liberals. She intends to "win voters increasingly dissatisfied with a more socialist Labour Party, jumping into bed with the far-left and radical republicans," as she stated in the speech that declared her entry into the fray. Ms Putrid echoed those comments when asked by the Independent as to whether she would favour working with parties towards the centre such as the Liberal Democrats or towards the right, such as the Libertarian Party UK. "I would like to establish positive relations with both parties but I think I would lean more to the Liberal Democrats," she replied. With the Conservatives facing competition on the right of the political spectrum from a continually restless Libertarian Party and the newly reformed National Unionists, some in the party may see her as a strategic choice who could appeal to voters in the centre.
Regardless of who the Conservatives ultimately elect as leader, they will have challenging times ahead of them. With relations with the Libertarians at a low point and facing a resurgent party driven by ARichTeaBiscuit and jgm0228, the next Conservative leader will need to re-energise their party and reverse their fall in the polls if they want to see electoral success any time soon.
Lily Hail is the editor-in-chief and political correspondent for the Independent.
Some quotes have been slightly edited for spelling, grammar, or conciseness. Full transcripts of the interviews are available on request by contacting Ms Hail through Reddit or Discord.