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by Eleanor Pugsley
05 July 2024
Conservative leadership race: Who will be the next Tory leader?

Rishi Sunak intends to resign as leader of the Conservatives | Alamy

Conservative leadership race: Who will be the next Tory leader?

Following a devasting defeat at the polls and Rishi Sunak’s announcement that he intends to stand down as leader of his party, the Conservatives are now in search of a new leader.

Senior names such as Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch are being suggested. However, overnight the party lost ­­many senior names, including Penny Mordaunt and Grant Shapps – who had been expected to stand in the leadership election.

So far, the Conservative party has been scarred by internal politics and fighting between the far-right and members closer to the centre. No one has yet confirmed their intention to run but rumours of suspected candidates are growing louder. 

The leadership contest is likely to be divided into two groups. The right of the party will argue a similar position to Reform, with a tough stance on immigration, an end to net zero policies, and the removal from the European Court of Human Rights. This will look to regain the admiration of voters who abandoned the party for Reform. The other leadership hopefuls will position themselves as centrist, moderate candidates, arguing that Reform is toxic and that success will not be sought through imitation.

When will it take place?

It was reported in the Sunday Telegraph that Kemi Badenoch supporters hope to delay the leadership race until later in the year. This would allow Badenoch to strengthen her position and stance on issues, alongside increasing her recognition in the broader public.

A delay may be inevitable as the 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady is standing down. The committee will have to elect a new chairman before they decide on the timing of the leadership race.

Who are the likely candidates?

Kemi Badenoch

The former business secretary and minister for women and equalities is a bookies’ favourite and seen as the person to beat in the leadership race.

First elected in 2017 as an MP for the Saffron Walden constituency, Badenoch rose to prominence through various roles in the party. She was previously vice-chair of the party, member of the Justice Select Committee and member of the London Assembly.

She is known for her combative style, direct approach and position on “anti-woke” principles.  

Badenoch has previously said that the future of the party “needs to be one that occupies the whole of the centre-right, not just the centre, because that’s where we’re losing to reform.

“At the moment, we’re a very broad church, we’re a very broad coalition, which is why sometimes we disagree.”

The Times reported that websites linked to possible leadership bids from Kemi Badenoch have been updated in recent months. Badenoch denies involvement in the websites, but she has previously alluded to running in the leadership race saying: “We will talk about leadership things after an election.”

Suella Braverman

The former home secretary is a popular figure with the far right of the party for her stance on cutting immigration and withdrawing from the European Convention of Human Rights.

Braverman was elected as an MP in 2015. She supported Brexit campaign and chaired the Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs after the UK left the EU.

Braverman has also been reported to appear in websites actively promoting her leadership campaign during the election. She denies involvement, however her previous leadership ambitions are widely known.

James Cleverly

The former home secretary is well regarded for his communication skills and is a regular choice to represent the party in media rounds. He has served as both foreign and home secretary in Sunak’s cabinet.

Cleverly was appointed as Conservative Party Chairman and Minister without Portfolio in 2019. Elected as MP for Braintree in 2015, he was also previously Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union and Deputy Chairman.

Cleverly’s wife, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021, has previously said that he is not currently intending to stand. Allies of Cleverly are said to be urging him to reconsider his position.

Tom Tugendhat

The current security minister is seen to be a popular alternative for the party-centrists after Penny Mordaunt lost her seat.

Tugendhat has served as security minister since 2022 and was previously the chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. He has been the MP for Tonbridge and Malling since 2015. Before entering politics Tugendhat served in the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War, and was also a journalist and public relations consultant in the Middle East.

Tugendhat was unsuccessful in the 2022 party leadership, eliminated in the third round of parliamentary voting.

Priti Patel

Another popular candidate for the right of the party, Patel is known for her tough stance on migration, voting against gay marriage and previously advocating to bring back the death penalty, before she later was said to not support it. She served as home secretary under Boris Johnson and has been on the backbenches ever since.

While serving in the cabinet, Patel was under investigation which found she had bullied civil servants.

Party members have claimed Patel has a “presence” problem. One source said: “I’ve been at events with her where you can’t see her over the crowd, and her voice doesn’t carry enough.”

Robert Jenrick

The former solicitor is not one of the most prolific figures in the leadership race. Elected as MP for Newark in 2014, his slow rise under Johnston resulted in him being known as “Robert Generic”. However he has become popular amongst the right of the party for his stance on the need to reduce net migration.

Jenrick resigned from his position as immigration minister in 2023, saying the government’s emergency Rwanda legislation didn’t go “far enough”.

His Newark seat is considered to be one of the most “at risk”, determining the likelihood of his leadership campaign.

Victoria Atkins

A lesser-known figure of the party, Atkins has only been in the cabinet as health secretary for just over six months. Despite this, she is regarded as a good communicator and is used regularly for media relays of the party message.

In a leaked recording, the I revealed that deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden had told his constituents Atkins was the only other “star of his generation” capable of being Conservative party leader.

David Cameron

Foreign secretary David Cameron is an unlikely candidate as he is not an MP. Reminiscing Conservative members have raised his name, alongside fellow House of Lords member David Frost. The possibility of the two candidates remains slim as the current party’s constitution would have to change to allow them to run.

Nigel Farage

Perhaps an unlikely figure, since he's not a Conservative MP. But his election to parliament under the Reform banner had turned some heads.

Farage has previously said his aim is to “destroy” the Conservatives. Reform UK has pledged to stop all illegal immigrants from settling in the UK, scrap net zero targets, fast-track new oil and gas licenses, and take the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Farage has previously said that he will stand for prime minister in 2029. Braverman has said that the party should welcome Farage, uniting the Conservative right-wing with Reform UK.

“Something new is going to emerge on the centre-right,” Farage said to LBC Radio. “I don’t know what it’s called – but I do think I could end up leading a national opposition to a Labour party with a big majority.”

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