Fantastic Mr Fox

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Liam Fox: MP for North Somerset, former Defence Secretary, Eurosceptic, and future PM? Photo by Steve Punter, Flickr.

Liam Fox: MP for North Somerset, former Defence Secretary, Eurosceptic, and future PM?
Photo by Steve Punter, Flickr.

Just before Christmas last year, Liam Fox, the former Defence Secretary and MP for North Somerset, became the highest-profile Conservative parliamentarian at the time to announce that he was planning to campaign to leave the European Union in the upcoming In/Out referendum. Since then, he gave the headline speech at the launch of Grassroots Out (GO), one of the several ‘Out’ campaigns, and has also been in the media a lot, either criticising David Cameron’s EU deal or otherwise promoting the ‘Leave’ campaign in one way or another.

This appears to be winning him a lot of popularity, as is shown by a recent poll of grassroots members of the Conservative party that put him in front.

It’s no secret that Mr Fox is an ambitious man. He stood in the last Conservative party leadership election in 2005, but was eliminated in the second round of voting among Tory MPs, coming third behind David Davis and the eventual winner David Cameron. When asked on the Victoria Derbyshire Show on Monday whether he would stand for the leadership again, he replied “never say never”.

It’s widely expected that in the next leadership election, which will take place before 2020 as Cameron has promised to step down, the final two candidates, out of whom the regular members will pick a winner, will comprise someone who voted ‘Out’ in the referendum and someone who voted ‘In’. The ‘Out’ candidate would then likely have the advantage considering the overwhelming Euroscepticism of the Tory grassroots. I imagine Fox is hoping to be that ‘Out’ candidate, but so are a number of other MPs, including rising stars Penny MordauntPriti Patel and Andrea Leadsom, former Environment secretary Owen Paterson, Leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling (sorry, no chance!), and, of course, Boris Johnson. In a potentially crowded field, Fox will have to make a particularly strong impression in this referendum to win the support of his fellow MPs. He is thought to be trying to strengthen relations with Tory MPs in the South West.

One local Eurosceptic MP who probably won’t be the next Tory leader is Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said he wouldn’t rule himself out of the race as “no one is going to rule me in”. Although you never know, stranger things have happened. He is, after all, only 50/1 to be the next leader on Ladbrokes — not that far behind Fox on 33/1 — while Jeremy Corbyn started last year’s Labour leadership contest at 200/1. There’s hope yet for a Prime Minister Rees-Mogg.

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