The Runners & riders – Conservative Leadership Contest

#1: Ben Wallace (11/4)

According to internal polls of the Conservative Party, Ben Wallace is the current favourite to replace Boris Johnson as leader, and he has been ranked as the most popular member of Cabinet in Conservative Home’s monthly poll since February.

Having held his position as Defence Secretary throughout Boris Johnson’s entire leadership, demonstrating loyalty and commitment to the job, Wallace has also been praised for his response to the Ukraine invasion. His ex-Army background in such a time of crisis has significantly boosted his popularity amongst colleagues and the public. In fact, back in December, Mr Wallace was not even considered in internal leadership polls – now he is coming out on top.

#2: Rishi Sunak (4/1)

One of the current front runners for the leadership position is Rishi Sunak, who will be hoping that his decision to follow in Javid’s footsteps and resign from the Chancellor position will strengthen his chances of being selected in the Conservative Party leadership contest.

Sunak enjoyed huge public support at the height of the pandemic – particularly for his role in delivering Covid financial support packages – and he almost looked like the natural successor to Johnson at one point. However, a scandal involving his wife’s non-domicile tax status, a revelation that Sunak held an American green card whilst in the Chancellor position (raising question over Sunak’s personal financial arrangements), his involvement in Party-Gate, and his arguably slow response to the cost-of-living crisis are all factors that have significantly dented his public image. Alongside these factors, his reluctance to introduce tax cuts, means he is less popular amongst Tory MPs than expected.

Will his resignation from Boris Johnson’s Cabinet be enough to win back the support of his colleagues, and would he garner enough public support to win at a general election? With Labour continuing to be ahead in the polls, it is likely that the Conservatives will want a strong candidate that they believe can win at the next general election.

#3: Penny Mordaunt (5/1)

One of the arguably ‘dark-horse’ candidates, Penny Mordaunt was voted as the second favourite to take over from Boris Johnson for the leadership according to a poll of Conservative activists earlier this month, just behind favourite Ben Wallace by 2 votes.

A keen Brexiteer, Mordaunt has not shied away from criticising this Government for its failings – particularly calling out those at Downing Street who had ignored Covid rules during the Party-Gate scandal whilst ‘blocking reasonable requests to relax restrictions.’ Optics wise, Mordaunt is untainted by associations with the Prime Minister, which will put her in good stead with the public.

#4: Sajid Javid (15/2)

The man who started the collapse of Johnson’s leadership: Sajid Javid will have earned himself kudos points from backbench Conservative MPs who have been calling on Boris to resign, by dramatically handing in his own resignation as Health Secretary on Tuesday evening. During a somewhat scathing resignation speech in the House of Commons after PMQs on Wednesday, where Javid stated ‘the country needs a strong and principled Conservative Party, and the party is bigger than any one individual’, Javid made clear his position on integrity, upholding high public standards, and commitment to restoring the Conservative Party.

However, this would not be Javid’s first attempt at running for the front job – in fact, he battled against Boris for the position back in 2019, but failed to make it into the final round. Will Javid fare better this time around as a result of his bold move that has led to the eventual resignation of Boris Johnson?

#5: Liz Truss (9/1)

Liz Truss has been one of Boris Johnson’s most staunch defenders, standing by him throughout the flurry of resignations in the past few days and claiming she is giving ‘100% support’ to the PM. However, Truss is rumoured to have hosted a series of events dubbed ‘Fizz with Liz’, where the Foreign Secretary is accused of trying to woo backbenchers and gauge their policy positions ahead of launching her own bid for the leadership.

Truss has strong support across colleagues in the Conservative Party, and she has been praised for her prominent role in Britain’s response to the invasion of Ukraine.

#6: Tom Tugendhat (9/1)

Tugendhat is a leading figure of the ‘One Nation’ wing of the Conservative Party, a ‘moderate’ group aimed at keeping the party to the centre of right-wing ideology.  The group’s values include being pro-union, defending human rights, preserving the environment, championing community and unlocking free enterprise.

Tugendhat has been highly critical of Boris Johnson throughout his time in No10, even accusing the PM of having a ‘lack of respect’ for the British people and the Queen. As a former soldier serving in the War in Afghanistan and a foreign affairs specialist, Tugendhat has been outspoken on issues such as the Ukraine Invasion and withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan.

#7: Jeremy Hunt (12/1)

Having lost out to Boris Johnson in the final round of the 2019 leadership contest, there is a strong chance that former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, will put his name forward for the top job once again.

Playing a critical role on the backbenches throughout COVID-19, Hunt has not been afraid to criticise the Government for its failures during the pandemic response, and he continues to hold Ministers to account for the ongoing mishandling of the NHS in his position as the Chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee.

As we head into a leadership contest, candidates will be expected to address priorities such as the NHS – fortunately Hunt has already set out his plan to repair the health system in his recent book, ‘Zero: Eliminating Unnecessary Deaths in a Post-Pandemic NHS’, addressing pressure points around waiting times, backlogs and the workforce.

#8: Nadhim Zahawi (12/1)

It has been rumoured that Zahawi has been planning his leadership bid for months, having put together a team of campaign experts – including close allies of Sir Lynton Crosby who helped Boris Johnson to become Mayor of London twice and led David Cameron’s 2015 campaign – to help him activate a leadership campaign when the pivotal moment came.

Having stepped into the Chancellor position on Tuesday evening in what looked like a show of support to the Prime Minister, Zahawi then turned on the PM just 36 hours later, when he urged him to ‘do the right thing and go.’ This tactical move has enabled Zahawi to benefit from both loyalty to the Prime Minister in stepping in to support the Cabinet at a critical time, but also from taking the bold step to call on his ‘old friend’ to resign.

Zahawi has had a successful time in Cabinet – serving as Vaccines Minister during the initial COVID-19 vaccine rollout, before his promotion into the Department for Education, where he has been praised for introducing the Education White Paper and placing a renewed focus on standards in school. However, his unwavering defence of Boris Johnson throughout the Party-Gate scandal may have done too much damage to his reputation with the wider public.

#9: Steve Baker (20/1)

Former chair of the European Research Group and staunch Brexiter, Steve Baker, claims that he is being ‘implored’ to run for the leadership.

An anti-green MP, Baker claims that if he was successful in the bid for PM, he would work to dismantle many of Boris Johnson’s green policies, which he claims are ‘anti-human life on Earth in the name of environmentalism.’ Within his approach to green policy, Baker claims he would end investment into more wind and solar energy, and he would instead increase the country’s use and domestic production of gas.

The prospect of electing an anti-green MP – just a year after the UK hosted COP26 – may not be the most attractive option for fellow Conservative candidates and could arguably distract away from other national priorities, including Ukraine and the NHS.

#10: Suella Braverman (50/1)

Attorney General Suella Braverman told ITV’s Robert Peston just this morning that she would join a Conservative leadership race, saying it would be ‘the greatest honour’ to hold the position.

Having previously been a strong supporter of Boris Johnson during his time as PM, Braverman has claimed that her position has changed, saying ‘I can’t fight the evidence and the facts we’ve had.’ Braverman has denied being opportunistic surrounding events of the past few days, but it seems that her last-minute comments are an attempt to put some distance between herself and the Prime Minister ahead of launching her leadership bid.

Others?

As well as those MPs listed above who are rumoured to be running for the leadership contest, it is highly likely that we will see more MPs emerging from the woodwork seeking to claim the top job. Amongst these, the freshly appointed Health Secretary Stephen Barclay is apparently considering putting his name forward, as well as Northern Research Group Chair, Jake Berry. We could also see potential ‘new generation’ Conservative MPs such as Bim Afolami and Kemi Badenoch launch a campaign to become PM.

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