On all seven occasions since World War II when parties have changed PM mid term the new PM has always been an incumbent of a great office of state.
On three occasions the incumbent Foreign Secretary has taken over, Sir Anthony Eden succeeding Sir Winston Churchill in 1955, Alec Douglas-Home succeeding Harold MacMillan in 1963, and James Callaghan succeeding Harold Wilson in 1976.
On three occasions the incumbent Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken over, in 1957 Harold MacMillan succeeding Sir Anthony Eden, in 1990 John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher, and in 2007 Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair.
Last but not least, in 2016 Home Secretary Theresa May succeeded the only Tory to have won a majority in the last twenty-six years.
I suppose the logic is that you need a heavyweight politician for the occasion and being the current occupant of a great office of state helps and gives gravitas. Just look at the way John Major went from relative obscurity to Prime Minister in sixteen months simply because he occupied two of the great offices of states in those sixteen months.
Previously I had dismissed Philip Hammond’s chances of succeeding Theresa May because he had enraged the hardline Leavers over the difficulty of Brexit. Betfred are offering 66/1 on Hammond succeeding Mrs May, so I’ll have a nibble. No time for a novice might have resonance and Hammond is an experienced politician having served as Foreign and Defence Secretaries.
Now precedents are there to broken, particularly in these paradigm shattering times. I suspect many may cite Boris Johnson as the paradigm shatterer, but I have another suggestion given that there was an abundance of a lack of gravitas with Boris.
I originally wrote this piece on Thursday and thought Michael Gove might break this precedent, given his relative competence and his pragmatism on Brexit.
Overnight it emerged David Cameron regards Michael Gove as a lunatic and that might hinder Gove’s chances. I expect if the choice is a hardline Brexiteer or Michael Gove, who apart from Brexit, is pure Cameroon, the Cameroon wing of the Parliamentary party, which still has substantial numbers in Parliament, will swing behind Gove.
In 2016 Michael Gove torpedoed Boris Johnson’s chances of becoming Prime Minister, he may do so again in the next contest.
There’s also the chance that the incumbents of the great offices of state at the time of the next Tory leadership contest maybe different to today.