The Tories need an honourable and competent version of Boris Johnson, but that isn’t on offer

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Tory leadership contests have a habit of springing surprises. Margaret Thatcher, who looks so much a natural leader now, was a surprise challenger to the then leader and former prime minister Edward Heath back in 1975. Her secret weapon was probably her very obscurity – many disgruntled backbenchers backed her as a protest vote, considering her a mere stalking horse until she actually won on the first ballot.

William Hague beat the establishment crown prince Ken Clarke in 1997. The upstart David Cameron, with one polished performance at the 2005 party conference, snatched victory from the favourite David Davis. The thing that they all had in common was the ability to create and build momentum. Tories, no less than anyone else, like to back a winner.

At the moment there isn’t any sign of a clear front runner in the 2022 contest. Rishi Sunak seems to have recovered some of his composure after his problematic family tax affairs were revealed in the spring (a scoop that might have finished him for good if it had come out now). He will plainly feature in the early rounds, even with much higher thresholds being set by the 1922 Committee, and very likely in the final two, though he may yet trip up again.

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