And so it goes on: parallel instances are legion.
Michael Crick, an old chum of mine and very professional student of these things (no man more so since the late, lamented Vincent Hanna), developed some advanced theorising about what he called "limited electorate" elections (like when MPs choose the leader), honing his observations on frequent, bitterly fought contests in student politics. In his theory, when everybody involved essentially knows everybody else, and when there's a lot of serious ambition in play, i.e. the post is much sought after**, there is no merit whatever in being an heir apparent. Quite the reverse: the key is to be accelerating like crazy up the rankings in a shortish period before the election, maybe even coming from nowhere. That's "nowhere in people's reckoning", not "who the hell is this?" - because, ex hypothesi, everyone knows everyone. Or, to translate into American political vernacular, it's the candidate with the Big Mo at the exact time of the poll. Fresh, novelty value. We've all made a discovery. "Hey, you know what? Maybe ... Fred !"
These days, of course, the leadership elections are technically thrown open to t'membership - but only on some shortlist basis. In other words, the informed, limited selectorship (where everyone knows everyone) gets to pre-qualify what t'membership will find on the ballot. A bit of a hybrid, but it doesn't significantly invalidate the theory, I suggest.
Anyhow. By way of calibration, here's the complete list of runners and riders as listed A-Z by Conservative Home back last December, another time when Boris was on the rocks. (It's not new.)
Badenoch; Baker; Brady; Gove; Harper; Hunt; Javid; Mordaunt; Patel; Raab; Rees-Mogg; Sunak; Trevelyan; Truss; Tugendhat
Who is Harper?, I hear you mutter. And Badenoch .. and Trevelyan ..? But that's not the point. Now: here's this week's YouGov opinion poll list:
Gove; Hunt; Mordaunt; Patel; Sunak; Truss; Tugendhat; Wallace; Zahawi
Read these lists and weep. But note how things change: and while Gove has apparently now ruled himself out, Wallace - nowhere in December - came top of the poll!
Yes, folks - Timing is everything in these matters, with Events running a close second. If Boris staggers on into the New Year (a very big If), it'll be someone nobody is even considering right now.
** Obviously this isn't meant to be relevant in elections where generally there is a dire paucity of candidates, e.g. for the chair of the local WI. Though sometimes it might.