Andrew Vine: Candidates to replace Theresa May are a dismal list of failures

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SO which of them will have the magic touch, the authority to make both a stubborn EU and an unruly Parliament bend to their will?

The race to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister is about to be run by a field of candidates weighed down by the baggage of failure. However much they huff, puff and posture about their credentials to lead the country, it’s all hooey.

Andrew Vine is unconvinced by the thought of Boris Johnson or David Davis becoming the next Conservative leader.

Andrew Vine is unconvinced by the thought of Boris Johnson or David Davis becoming the next Conservative leader.

Whenever the challenge comes to Mrs May, triggered by 48 letters of no confidence in her from Tory MPs, the choice of candidates is dismal and the chances of them being able to deliver a transformed Brexit deal or command the confidence of the country is nil.

Elements of the Parliamentary Conservative Party appear to have progressed from being merely delusional about Brexit into a state bordering on masochism.

They seem hell-bent on inflicting enormous harm on their own party, and probably the country as well, by embarking on a bitter and divisive contest at a crucial juncture.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of them that a track record of publicly hurling abuse at the EU over Brexit is no basis for sitting down with its leaders and sorting out a deal that is good for Britain.

But they are so puffed up with their own self-importance and personal ambition that reality doesn’t enter into their thinking any more. Most appear to exist in a bubble of their own inflating.

The leading contenders are bound to include Boris Johnson, David Davis and Dominic Raab. All are united by a record of failure over Brexit, and it takes a special sort of mentality to believe they have answers now when their time in office demonstrates precisely the opposite.

For Jacob Rees-Mogg to point them out as worthy occupants of 10 Downing Street, as he did last week, illustrates 
just how isolated from reality some 
Tories have allowed themselves to become.

Mr Johnson was a joke as Foreign Secretary. The man whose fingerprints were all over the grubby campaign of untruths that propelled the vote to leave the EU is not fit to be Prime Minister. His overweening ambition and conviction that his destiny is to lead the country is simply not matched by his ability.

When the question arose over who should succeed David Cameron, even his closest ally, Michael Gove, withdrew support saying he wasn’t up to the job.

Then there is Mr Davis. His two years as Brexit Secretary, when he was central to the negotiations, didn’t achieve anything.

How could anybody believe that now, suddenly, he has answers to all the conundrums he could not solve then?

Ditto Mr Raab. He’s just a younger version of David Davis, and his disowning at the weekend of a deal he was instrumental in drawing up was laughable.

The rest of the field is equally uninspiring. Penny Mordaunt’s name is being bandied about, without anyone apparently noticing that she has yet to be entrusted with a really big Cabinet job.

Yes, there are some grown-up potential contenders like the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, but both have been careful to keep as much distance as possible from the mess that Brexit has sunk into, so there is no indication that they would be able to make progress.

And, of course, ever-present in the background is the Machiavellian figure of Mr Gove, who last week turned down the job of Brexit Secretary. Having done so, it would be a bit rich of him to claim he’s the man to deliver Brexit.

It is not a field to inspire confidence. Even though it is plain that Mrs May has struggled throughout, toppling her from power at this stage is neither the answer nor likely to produce any breakthrough in negotiations with the EU.

Part of the problem is that the most ardent Brexiteers jockeying to succeed her now or later have never been able to articulate exactly what their vision is.

All they have ever done is criticise, attacking proposed deals, yet failed to put forward a coherent and detailed alternative.

There is no substance behind their tub-thumping about freedom from the EU and control of borders.

They have no real strategy for how they would approach Brexit differently from Mrs May except to assert they would be tougher with the EU. That conveniently ignores the fact that Brexit has to be a negotiation in which both sides reach a rapport.

This will be as much an exercise in vindictiveness as it is a leadership contest. It is less about what is best for Britain than a final reckoning between rival wings of the Conservative Party that have been at each other’s throats for years. The problem for the Tories is that when the dust settles after an epic scrap, they might find that an ideological battle has been won, but power lost.