“Where the Labour Party only ever elect ageing male leaders, could the election winning machine that is the Conservative Party, now plump for a telegenic Asian mum with two young toddlers?”
Several hours before Boris Johnson’s resignation, the attorney general, Suella Braverman became the first person to declare herself as a candidate for the Conservative leadership.
If you’re willing to forgive the pun, it was a brave and surprising move.
Unknown to the public, and discounted as lightweight by ‘political hacks’ at Westminster, this combative Cambridge educated barrister, remains the rank outsider to be Britain’s next prime minister. For a reason, she is 40/1.
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Before you turn your attention, here are three reasons why Braverman could win the contest far more than many people believe.
1. Initial support from the Conservative right
Suella Braverman seems to be the candidate for the ideological Conservative right on paper. She is a proponent of free market, tax cuts, and Thatcherite. She is also a hardline Brexiter and was the former Chair of European Research Group of MPs.
This may secure Braverman the ‘seed’ nominations she needs in order to be able to enter the contest.
Braverman could have her own stable level of support from the Conservative right, just as Tom Tugenhadt will gain momentum as the standard bearer for MPs on the Conservative Left,
Both Braverman, and Tugendhat might find it easier to get the backing of a rump or MPs in the first phase of the contest than other candidates like Penny Mourdant and Sajid Javid.
MPs are waiting to see how the land will unfold among the current favourites. A first round vote for Braverman would be a way to buy them some time.
If Braverman can somehow tap into this base level of support on the Conservative right, it doesn’t just keep her in the contest. It will give her campaign more media attention and surprise momentum, much like Andrea Leadsom in 2016.
2. The rise of supportive public polling?
So un-fancied is Suella Braverman, she didn’t even appear in yesterday’s ‘You Gov poll’ of Conservative leadership candidates.
Braverman might start to get favourable attention as her profile rises in the media.
Initially, this could be by default.
Barverman may be rated positively by the public simply because she is different from the other Conservative male candidates.
Whilst her political opponents may find little ‘nice’ in Braverman’s politics, to some in the general public, she may come across as simply ‘quite a nice person’, or at least nicer than those she is up against. This may be more important than people think.
Potentially, however, there may be more to the current attorney general than what it appears at first glance.
Last month, this website ran a video clip of Braverman at the Commons dispatch box in which she accused Labour’s Emily Thornberry of being “embarrassed by our flag”. Powered by mass sharing on social media, our video of Braverman’s little outburst gained 1.2 million views. This was a remarkable number for a small clip in the parliamentary process, but people were still interested.
In much the same way that Labour’s Angela Rayner is such an effective communicator, far more so than Sir Keir Starmer, the take up of that video poses the question as to whether Braverman may surprise people with a similar capacity to cut through?
If any of this happened, and Braverman polled well with the public, Braverman would quickly transform her into a more important contender. It would attract the attention of many Conservative MPs holding marginal seats.
Conservative MPs may be able to take their core pensioner vote base as a given, but they might start to wonder if Braverman has the ability to reach areas of the electorate where the Conservative party faces serious problems: young people, middle-aged women, and ethnic minorities.
3. The candidate who is not one of the above
If she somehow stays deep into this contest, Braverman will become the ‘none of the above’ candidate.
Although she is not publicly associated to the decline of Johnson’s government, her knee-jerk optics could not be more different than the current Labour leader or the previous Conservative leader.
Ms. Braverman, a forty-two year-old daughter of Asian immigrants, is a working mother with two children under three years.
The Conservative brand has been badly damaged over the past six months.
The party has lost a quarter its support from the last election. With a worsening economy, there is more risk of toxicity.
Braverman is the ideal candidate for those Conservatives who want to make a complete cosmetic change with the electorate.
She would be doing it as a proponent of the Thatchertite economy and staunch Leave credentials. It is these two things that make the Conservative membership the most valuable.
That combination of success sounds good on paper for any candidate running for the Conservative party leadership.
Braverman will need to raise her media profile exponentially in order to get her fledgling campaign off of the ground. Braverman would need to have some heavyweight backers, as well as a few eye-catching policy proposals to address the cost of living crisis. In her rather brutal hustings to the Conservative MPs, she would need reaffirm that she has the credibility to become prime minister.
It still seems unlikely.
Braverman’s campaign is still most likely to follow the short lived trajectory of the Esther McVey campaign in the 2019 contest.
But, if her campaign does get going, seeded in part by MPs from Conservative right, it would be a mistake not to dismiss it.
David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith, and Margaret Thatcher all came from somewhere back to win the Conservative crown. Before Andrea Leadsom was promoted to prominence as second to Theresa May in 2016, very few people had heard of her.
In a race that appears very open, with a backdrop of real Conservative turmoil and uncertainty, Suella Braverman’s surprising and unlikely candidacy may prove to be more powerful than people realize.