At 53, he has survived two bouts of cancer, the second a brain tumor that, he told the BBC, “was quite likely to get me.”
In 2016 he left an oncology ward in a wheelchair, bald and wearing a medical mask, to vote for Britain to leave the European Union. He was unsure how long he would remain in politics, he said, a shift that coincided with a “radicalization process among Brexiters” who were increasingly open to a no-deal exit.
“People have become entrenched in their views, and radicalized in their views,” he said. “So the friction isn’t just a normal rubbing along friction, it’s a clash of one heavy force against another, and so it’s more violent.”
He added, “I wasn’t in the mood to buckle under pressure.”
This standoff points to a difference between the British system and the American, in which parties choose candidates through primaries. In Britain, candidates must be approved by the party association in their constituency, a group sometimes described as the “selectorate.”
In the Conservative Party, in particular, this group is both influential and very small. The party membership has shrunk steadily since the early 1950s, dropping from around three million to roughly 100,000 now.
Two-thirds are men, nearly all are white, nearly half are over the age of 65 and most describe themselves as “very right-wing,” according to research by the Party Members Project. They are significantly more hard-line on Brexit than are Parliament and Prime Minister Theresa May’s government.
Tim Bale, who leads the Party Members Project, was surprised in December when a poll of Conservative members found that 57 percent of Tory members surveyed preferred leaving without a deal to Mrs. May’s deal.