Boris Johnson has won an early boost in the Conservative leadership election, thanks to the timetable. CCHQ, and the backbench 1922 Committee, have set out how the process will work, with a series of hustings among MPs to be conducted over the month of June and a short, sharp contest among ordinary Conservative members over the month of July.
It makes it significantly shorter than any of the three leadership elections Labour have held since re-entering opposition in 2010, and while the 2005 Conservative leadership contest won by David Cameron was technically of equivalent length, as it only kicked off officially on 7 October, Michael Howard had announced his intention to stand down in May of that year, and the election-winning speech given by Cameron at Conservative party conference had already been delivered by the time the contest began.
The short race hands a palpable advantage to the established candidates, because their perceived strengths and weaknesses are already well known to both MPs and party members. At the moment, Tory MPs, even former diehard opponents of Johnson’s, are inclined to support the former Mayor of London – because the polls are dire and he is, in the eyes of many Conservative MPs, a surefire winner who still has the same political golden touch that allowed him to win London twice, the second time in a year in which Conservative candidates were being defeated all over the rest of the country.
For any frontrunner, whether they are in a strong or a weak position, the longer the contest, the bigger the risk as it gives time for things to change. That Johnson has already complicated his path to the leadership by suggesting he will take the United Kingdom out of the EU, deal or no deal, on 31 October highlights the risks of a long contest.
But that it is a short one gives him less time to make mistakes – and increases his hopes of getting the top job.