READY, steady, go! The news that failed work and pensions secretary Esther McVey is to join the Tory leadership race means we now have two confirmed wannabe PMs in addition to an entire subs’ bench of rumoured runners.

It’s never too early to start planning your office sweepstake (please gamble responsibly) or building your back-garden bomb shelter (who can say how Britain’s “greatness” is set to be demonstrated in the years to come?), so let’s have a look at the bookies’ odds and the competitors’ track records and current form.

Inexplicably, the favourite for the top job in UK politics is still failed foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who tried to enter the Tory leadership three-legged race in 2016 only to have team-mate Michael Gove sever their bond moments before the starting whistle. Gove then tried to make a solo sprint for the line as a confused Johnson floundered, but tripped over his own foot and landed face-down in the mud. As displays of political athleticism go, it’s matched only by David Cameron setting up a Remain vote own goal then being distracted by a wasp and kicking it straight into the post.

Johnson will be much better prepared this time, having stretched his quads, notched up two years of global gaffes and international incidents, and compared campaign notes with Steve Bannon. Conveniently, in July 2018 he spotted an excuse to resign from the Government and distance himself from the utter chaos he actively campaigned to create. Rumour has it he’ll be at the barber’s on the eve of the first round of voting, in the hope of making himself more aerodynamic and also increasing the chance of right-minded but short-sighted Tories mistaking him for his brother.

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Hot on Johnson’s heels comes Dominic Raab, failed Brexit Secretary and current secretary of the Dominic Raab Fan Club. Raab had a tough act to follow in the Department for Exiting the European Union, given the spectacular failure of David

Davis to even bring notes to vital meetings about the UK’s future, but nonetheless managed to pip him to the title of “worst Brexit Secretary ever” by announcing he hadn’t quite realised that when your country is an island, there’s water all around it. Doubtless the black belt in karate has been notching up lengths in his local pool to ensure he’s ready for the leadership race even if it turns out to be a triathlon.

In the ladies’ changing room you’ll find Andrea Leadsom, the failed 2016 leadership candidate who was undone by dastardly journalists who made her look bad by writing down the exact words that came out of her mouth and putting them in a newspaper. This time, rather than cast aspersions about whether any female rivals who aren’t mothers have a”real stake in the future”, the now Leader of the House of Commons has a fresh strategy: keeping her mouth closed and her eyes on the prize.

The National:

Rumour has it her adult sons are already in training, ready to pick her up and carry her down the home straight. That might sound like cheating, but there’s nothing to stop Esther McVey adopting similar tactics, is there?

What’s that you say? Esther McVey doesn’t have any children? Well that’s a shame. In that case she’d better start doing some circuit training. She’s had plenty of time on her hands since quitting her DWP role over Theresa May’s handling of Brexit and definitely not because a couple of months earlier she’d been caught out telling Parliament a load of fibs about the roll-out of Universal Credit.

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Given the track record of the characters mentioned above, you’d be forgiven for thinking that failing spectacularly at an important job was a prerequisite for throwing your hat in the ring to lead the Conservative and Unionist Party of the UK. But wait, what’s this? Rory Stewart, the first MP to formally declare his prime ministerial ambitions, doesn’t seem to have completely cocked anything up yet.

On the contrary, he’s achieved quite a lot: from restoring historic buildings in Kabul (for which he was awarded the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s Livingstone medal), to teaching human rights at Harvard (he was director of the John F Kennedy School of Government Carr Center for Human Rights Policy), to selling the rights to his life story to Brad Pitt’s production company (Orlando Bloom was at one point rumoured to star). He’s undoubtedly got the stamina for a race too: between 2000 and 2002 he covered an incredible 6000 miles walking through rural districts of Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Nepal.

So how to explain this dark horse candidate? He hasn’t yet had time to mess up as Secretary of State for International Development, given he was only appointed last week, but might he be that rare thing – a die-hard Tory with talent and integrity?

Well no, not quite. In fact, until recently he wasn’t a Tory at all. In 2001 he was reportedly “dismayed” that his parents cast his proxy vote for the party he now wishes to lead. So let’s not start planning for that victory lap just yet...