LONDON — Britain’s next prime minister will be hand selected by a small group of Conservative insiders and will then be free to run the country unchallenged until 2020.
The chosen one could call a snap election to secure his or her own mandate from the British people, but is under no obligation to do so. With no president or strong second chamber for balance, the power granted to the British prime minister is unparalleled in Western democracies.
So who are these Tory party insiders going to choose?
The only thing we can say for sure is that one of these five people will be Britain’s prime minister on September 9th: Theresa May, Stephen Crabb, Michael Gove, Liam Fox, and Andrea Leadsom.
First, 330 Conservative Members of Parliament will vote in rounds—eliminating one at a time—until there are just two candidates left. Around 125,000 members of the Conservative Party nationwide will then vote on which of the two becomes the leader of 65 million people.
First glance: School principal
Known for: Formidable handling of the toughest job in politics. She has survived as Home Secretary—responsible for security and law and order—longer than anyone since the Victorian era.
Pros: Superb command of her brief. Insiders at the Home Office describe her as thorough and unflappable in a crisis. She is renowned for her ability to make the right call on tough security dilemmas. She faced down a high-profile U.S. extradition request, and overturned a European Court of Human Rights ruling that a radical Islamic cleric could not be booted from the country, prompting some, including The Daily Beast, to predict that she could be Britain’s second female prime minister.
Cons: Offended many with a speech in 2002 in which she said the Conservatives had become the “nasty party.” It was a nickname that stuck, and continued to rankle activists, even if her call to modernize was successfully heeded. Says herself that she is not the type to hang out in the bars at the House of Commons and build relationships with fellow MPs. She is more respected than liked.
Chances: Favorite. Could be on the verge of joining Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel in ranks of the most powerful group of women in history.
First glance: A real person.
Known for: Being future leader material. Blue collar.
Pros: Would end the current toff’s era of the Conservative Party which is run by a cabal of old Etonians and former friends from Oxford’s secretive, mega-rich Bullingdon Club. Raised in the housing projects by a single mother. Has proved a safe pair of hands in his early government jobs.
Cons: Lack of experience, has only been in David Cameron’s Cabinet for two years. Voted against gay marriage, and works with a Christian group that has been linked to programs that “cure” gay people.
Chances: Future leader material. Building his profile for another run in the 2020s.
First glance: Lizard in a human skin suit.
Known for: Maneuvering. Plotting. Ideas that are far too complicated for their own good. Strange lips.
Pros: Gove is incredibly smart. Like Boris Johnson, he came up as a journalist at The Times; unlike Johnson he wasn’t fired for making up quotes—he left to become a Member of Parliament as one of the most cerebral and respected political commentators around. Rupert Murdoch is one key admirer. Behind the scenes, he is a master manipulator able to spin stories, come up with genuinely original policy proposals and deliver devastating attack lines off the top of his head.
Cons: Not everyone likes his clever ideas. His reforms as Secretary of State for Education were so unpopular with teachers that he was forced out of the job halfway through. His most cunning wheeze of all—blind-siding Boris Johnson with a last-minute act of betrayal—was breathtaking in its audacity and invited comparisons with House of Cards, a damning bit of praise. “There is a very deep pit reserved in Hell for such as he,” said fellow Conservative MP Jake Berry.
Chances: Francis Underwood is president, isn’t he?
First glance: Slytherin
Known for: Being Brexit before it was cool.
Pros: Darling of the right of the party. Extremely experienced. Was first appointed to the government in 1993, eight years before Cameron even became an MP. Has been a vocal critic of the European Union ever since. A former chairman of the Conservative Party, he has held the party brief for defense, foreign affairs and health.
Cons: Forced to resign as Defense Secretary in 2011 after allowing his best friend to work as an unofficial advisor, accompanying him on paid official visits, without security clearance.
Chances: If Gove and Leadsom weren’t running, he might just have a chance.
First glance: Smiling, kindly, trustworthy.
Known for: Nothing until this year. She was the surprise star of the Leave campaign.
Pros: Succeeded in connecting with the public in debates about membership of the European Union. One of the few people who emerged from the referendum without offending anyone. If Gove becomes tainted by his Machiavellian maneuvers, she could emerge as the acceptable face of Brexit.
Cons: No one had ever heard of her until this year. Has not had the time to build up a strong base of support among fellow MPs or party members.
Chances: Don’t count her out. In the current political turmoil she could even be the last one standing.