A Tory leadership field rivalling the Derby line-up does not bode well – The Yorkshire Post says

WITH the largely unknown Mark Harper becoming the 12th MP to join the Tory leadership race, it is more than possible – with a week to go before final declarations – for there to be more runners than the 13 horses coming under starter’s orders in the blue riband Epsom Derby today.

Here are the 12 declared candidates for the Tory leadership after Mark Harper, a former chief whip (bottom right), was added to the field.
Here are the 12 declared candidates for the Tory leadership after Mark Harper, a former chief whip (bottom right), was added to the field.

Unlike Epsom, it is not, thus far, a race to savour even though the final outcome – at some still unspecified point in late July – is fundamental to the futures of every family.

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And while Theresa May, the outgoing Prime Minister, observed that the Conservatives have always been the party of opportunity, the crowded field reveals the paucity of the party’s current form.

The fact that there are so many MPs, to use racing terminology, jockeying for position, suggests that there are few, if any, outstanding candidates in a position to unite a party deeply divided and damaged by Brexit.

There are certainly no senior statesmen of the calibre of John Major, Michael Heseltine and Douglas Hurd who contested the 1990 contest after Margaret Thatcher – Britain’s only other female premier – was ousted.

And while three candidates – Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom – have varying form from the 2016 race, their sheer number of rivals this time means it will take much longer for MPs to eliminate the also-rans before the final two run off and seek the backing of party activists.

All this while the Government is in paralysis as the country waits for clarity of sorts on Brexit after three years of bitterness following the EU referendum. At this rate, there’s a greater chance of the rank outsider winning today’s big race.

Yet, as favourites like Mr Johnson shun the media in order to reduce the risk of any unforeseen slip-ups, the country at large – the people whose votes will count in the next general election – watch this unedifying spectacle with bewilderment as secret deals, Westminster’s horse trading, start between the key players in return for preferment later in the race.

It should not be like this. The Tories should be seeking the best person to unite the country and also command the confidence of the Commons when the Conservatives, bereft of a majority, are dependent on the support of others in order to survive in office. Yet, as MPs try to identify the least worst option, this contest risks becoming the political equivalent of the ‘donkey derby’ when the stakes have never been higher for Britain.