BORIS Johnson’s political life expectancy fluctuates more than Bitcoin’s market value.
One day it looks like he will last at least until May’s local elections, and the next he seems on the verge of being ousted within hours as the Prime Minister – and country – await senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into Downing Street’s gatherings during lockdown.
Either way, MPs, the Tory party and the country are gearing up for a Conservative leadership contest in 2022.
But who is the best choice?
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was for a time the runaway favourite to succeed Johnson in polls of Tory members but of the countless looming fatal flaws with a Truss premiership, perhaps the biggest is that she was an ardent Remainer.
Nobody wants to reignite the Groundhog Day debates over Europe of 2016-19, but we need a Prime Minister who is whole-heartedly signed up to the Brexit vision to oversee the realisation of Global Britain.
While Truss performed well in her previous trade role, following Lord Frost’s resignation she inherited the poisoned chalice of EU negotiations.
Before long, it will swallow her up, along with any leadership ambitions.
Rishi Sunak’s newfound popularity is fleeting. He has been the Covid Chancellor. Any Chancellor could win the hearts of the nation by dishing out furlough cash and boosting government spending to record levels.
But Sunak has been in Cabinet for five minutes, was subservient to Dominic Cummings (whereas Sajid Javid resigned rather than give in) and has shown a worrying willingness to increase taxes. Plus, when he inevitably plunges into post-Covid austerity measures, his polling numbers will tumble.
The other candidates are either inexperienced or uninspiring (or both).
Those who have run for the leadership before – Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and the aforementioned Javid – will struggle to energise the Conservative base, let alone the nation.
In an election fight against Sir Keir Starmer, the dreariest man in the world, the Boris-loving Red Wall will want a charismatic leader.
Other Tory fan favourites – Penny Mordaunt, Tobias Ellwood, Tom Tugendhat and countless others – are far too inexperienced for the top job.
They might enjoy a brief Rory Stewart-esque moment in the sun, but none have the staying power to make it to the final members’ ballot of the top two candidates.
That leaves only one serious contender – Priti Patel.
Her critics often point to her alleged breaking of the ministerial code after accusations of bullying – but the Prime Minister came down on her side at the time, and his decision was upheld by the High Court after a challenge from a trade union.
The details of Patel’s case remain a little murky, but she’s in the clear. Given the lack of alternative credible candidates, it’s no reason to interrupt her premiership before it has begun.
The other common criticism laid at Patel’s feet is her alleged failure to tackle the migrant crisis – but it’s hard to see what more she could have done.
With a make-or-break election coming up in a few months’ time, President Macron resorted to the oldest trick in the book – antagonising the British – to bolster domestic support, with tragic consequences as a dinghy full of refugees sank in the Channel.
She proposed countless solutions to the issue of illegal Channel crossings, from the obvious – British-French patrols along the French coastline – to the outlandish – wave machines to push the boats back onto French shores – but was met with an obstructive palm-in-the-face responses every time.
That crisis is entirely the fault of the French government, and Patel should not be held responsible.
Despite occupying one of the great offices of state as Home Secretary, Patel has not dirtied her hands in the Covid restrictions rows – unlike most of her Cabinet colleagues.
She is a true-blue Conservative, and after Boris Johnson’s libertarianism went out the window, we need a leader with principles.
Her Brexit credentials are rock-solid. She has the Thatcherite steel needed to lead us out of the pandemic and bolster Britain’s place on the world stage.
She is the only sensible choice.