David Cameron is starting to see why announcing that he would not stand for a third term in office was a bad idea. This announcement effectively fired the starting gun for a five year leadership campaign which could be as divisive to the Conservatives as the upcoming EU referendum.
Potential candidates must now differentiate themselves from the competition, and this is causing open splits in the party, with Boris Johnson describing George Osborne’s £130million tax deal with Google as ‘derisory’. There is no doubt that this is an attempt to expose his fellow leadership contender as weak on tackling tax avoidance, a particularly sensitive issue among voters given the government’s austerity programme.
It is less likely that such public confrontation will occur between Osborne and Theresa May since they are both Secretaries of State. This is why Cameron must make Mr Johnson a minister to ensure that he is bound by the Ministerial Code (although anything other than Foreign Secretary will be seen as a great dent in his prospects as the two other main contenders hold Great Offices of State). It is inevitable that some sort of government position will be given to Johnson once he steps down as Mayor of London in May, but if he does not succeed Philip Hammond then there is no guarantee that the quirky MP will follow strictly the convention of Collective Cabinet Responsibility.
Johnson may find more opposition than just the two veterans in the Cabinet, with the likes of Sajid Javid and Nicky Morgan expected to put their names forward for the leadership which is certainly in the Prime Minister’s interests. If he can contain disputes to the Cabinet Room then there is a chance that any premature campaigning will be resisted.
Mr Cameron will be kicking himself for what he said in his kitchen before the election, but he will be thanking his lucky stars that Labour is in no position to criticise.