After months of speculation and a borderline constitutional crisis which has thrown the Conservative Party into meltdown, Boris Johnson has finally been persuaded to resign, marking the start of a formal leadership election. Long before his resignation was made official yesterday, prospective successors have been jostling, plotting and shoring up support to make it onto the ballot.
In roughly six weeks time, we will have a new Prime Minister. So, who are the ‘runners and riders’ vying for the top job?
At the top of the betting is Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace. He is thought to be a strong unionist, a campaigner on transparency, and a “deficit hawk”. Praised as a straight talker and popular with the party membership, Wallace’s was largely unknown by the wider electorate before the Ukraine started and still doesn’t have the national profile of some the other contenders.
At Christmas, Sunak was thought to be a shoo-in as Johnson’s successor. But his poor handling of controversies involving his wife’s tax affairs and their vast wealth at a time of a cost of living crisis has led to a backlash against the ex-chancellor. That said, he is a leading Brexiteer and tried to resist some of Johnson’s vast interventionist spending plans which may win him support from the rank and file.
The former health secretary positioned himself as the ‘integrity’ candidate during Wednesday’s speech after PMQs. His promises of tax cuts and the timing of his resignation, coupled with his own personal story overcoming adversity will be compelling to many in the party. But Javid himself has previously been a ‘non-dom’ and backed remain in 2016.
Truss considers herself a “supply-side reformer” keen to cut taxes and take a ‘Thatcherite’ approach to the economy. She has successfully produced an image of herself as a Brexiteer despite voting remain and is the longest serving cabinet minister. However, she is treated with suspicion by many due to her publicity stunts (remember the tank photo?) and thought to be too concerned with self-promotion.
Zahawi’s profile has been boosted by the vaccine rollout which his supporters claim is evidence of his good judgement and reforming zeal. He is likely to run on a platform of corporation tax cuts and cutting VAT on energy bills. As a former colleague of campaigning guru Lynton Crosby, he certainly stands a chance.
Hunt is arguably the candidate the Liberal Democrats would fear the most. Presented as competent and not having served in Johnson’s government, Hunt is untarnished by its collapse, and as a former foreign secretary and health secretary it could be argued he has the experience to step up to the big job. He may struggle to convince the party faithful that he is not too far to the left.
Mordaunt finds herself at odds with much of the ‘cultural right’ on the Conservative benches and is comfortable stating that “trans women are women”. Strangely, as the socially liberal candidate she did not resign from Johnson’s government much to the irritation of his detractors and she has limited public profile. Andrea Leadsom is running her campaign.
Best of the rest
Tom Tugendhat is viewed as an up and coming star due to his charisma and passion for foreign affairs, but his lack of cabinet experience will likely count against him. Brexiteer sweetheart Steve Baker has also thrown his hat in the ring, but as a serial trouble maker it is hard to envisage how he would ever be able to command party discipline. Finally, wildcard candidate Suella Braverman announced she would stand live on Peston to the surprise of many, but her lack of experience and polarising approach means it might not be her time.