Who are the outside bets for Tory leader if Boris Johnson goes?

Analysis: With a leadership race potentially imminent, we look at six possible dark-horse candidates

With a Conservative leadership campaign appearing imminent, hopeful Tory MPs are checking their contacts and quietly ringing colleagues to gauge support – and not just the ones everyone expects. Away from Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and the other perceived favourites, here are some others who could give it a try.

Penny Mordaunt

The junior trade minister has been increasingly talked up as a possible candidate for those unenthused by the main contenders. While not a household name, she is far from inexperienced, having been an MP since 2005 and a minister at various times since 2014, including as international development secretary and defence secretary under Theresa May. In a slight echo of Boris Johnson, she is Brexity enough to appeal to “red wall” MPs but also socially liberal. However, she is notably less chaotic.

Mark Harper

The chief whip under May and an MP since 2005, Harper has reinvented himself on the backbenches as chair of the lockdown-rejecting and influential Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Conservative MPs. Its policy position appeals to many of his colleagues, not to mention the Tory members who will finally choose the new leader. However, Harper would have to do notably better than last time he ran, after May’s resignation, where he came ninth out of 10 candidates in the rolling series of MPs’ ballots that whittled the choice down to a final two.

Steve Baker

Another potential candidate from the CRG wing of the party – he is its deputy chair – Baker is a long-serving backbencher, beyond a one-year stint as a junior minister, but is nonetheless a relatively well-known figure. With his now traditional if not wholly serious media prefix of “Brexit hardman”, the Wycombe MP is known for his straight-talking approach and has been a regular critic of Covid rules in the Commons. Perhaps too specialist a figure to progress far if he does run.

Tom Tugendhat

Representing a somewhat different wing of Conservatism should he stand, the former army officer and MP for Tonbridge and Malling since 2015 supported remain in the 2016 referendum and is not associated with the Johnson strand of the party. While such views might make him a niche prospect for some fellow Tory MPs, not to mention the wider party membership, Tugendhat could present himself as a sober, policy-rich contrast to the incumbent, with added gravitas from his chairing of the Commons foreign affairs committee.

Esther McVey

Like Harper, another foiled hopeful from the 2019 contest – she finished in last place, as the choice of nine MPs – McVey does have considerable Commons experience and a string of former ministerial posts, including a brief stint as work and pensions secretary. As with her previous tilt at the job, McVey’s pitch would be that she can connect the party with working-class voters. She is the founder of the self-explanatory Blue Collar Conservatism group, which has a large number of Tory MPs signed up as supporters.

Matt Hancock

While the response from many voters, not to mention a number of his own colleagues, might be “What, him again, already?” the former health secretary is nothing if not a politician with a Tigger-ish bounce in approaching even seemingly lost causes. Banished to the backbenches since his breach of Covid rules via his relationship with a friend and colleague emerged last year, Hancock may feel he has served his penance. Photos this week of him emerging from some outdoor swimming, glistening and Putin-like, did not quell the sense that he is a man, once again, on manoeuvres.


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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