Boris Johnson, Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak? The MPs who could be PM

As Tories prepare to elect next leader, here are the MPs who have not ruled out running

So here we are again. Less than two months after Conservative party members chose Liz Truss to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister, the party’s MPs – and, in some way, the members again – will select a successor to Truss in an accelerated week-long contest. Here are some of the contenders who could stand. They have all either indicated they may stand, or at least not ruled it out.

Rishi Sunak

Another bid by the man who topped the poll of MPs in the summer but was rejected by members feels inevitable – not least the fact he has spent the 45 days of Truss’s premiership being quietly proven right.

The former chancellor warned Truss repeatedly against an over-fast introduction of tax cuts, and the subsequent market turmoil proved him prescient, if only by agreeing with many mainstream financial voices.

Sunak would be viewed as a voice of technocratic calm competence, but many Tory MPs are suspicious of him, while his enormous wealth and position as someone whose family used non-domiciled status to minimise their tax could prove a gift to Labour in difficult economic times.

Penny Mordaunt

The third-placed finisher in the summer leadership contest is another seeming near-certainty to stand and, assuming she does, will probably be seen as a favourite.

The former defence secretary has spent her time in Truss’s government on the inside, as Commons leader, but insulated from most contentious decisions and able to occasionally show off her talents, as last week when she stood in for Truss to answer an urgent question.

While Mordaunt is likely to be a popular choice with many Tory MPs, others may wonder if she, like Truss, is somewhat untested, and could be another risk.

Boris Johnson

What, him again? That may be the reaction of quite a few voters, but some Tory MPs, and especially party members, think differently, especially if they contrast his 2019 election win with Tory poll numbers currently floating around the low 20 percents.

Johnson did have a core of supporters who felt a departure forced by a string of scandals inside Downing Street was unfair, and that number has perhaps grown as the faithful grasp for anything that could rescue the party from electoral oblivion.

It is, however, worth remembering that opposition parties would most likely relish facing an opponent who, however gifted a politician, is a tarnished figure disliked by much of the country, and who still faces a formal investigation into whether he misled parliament over lockdown-breaking parties.

Suella Braverman

She lasted a day less in her great office of state than Truss, resigning on Wednesday after using her personal emails to send a confidential document to another MP. But Braverman’s brief stint as home secretary is likely to have burnished her credentials with the Tory right.

Already renowned as a strong voice against immigration and in favour of culture wars, Braverman would not have disappointed her fans when in the Home Office, promising to cut net annual migration to the tens of thousands, and proposing that cannabis become a class A drug.

Her prospects, however, seem relatively slim. Are enough MPs on her ideological wavelength and willing to take another punt on someone with robust rightwing views? Perhaps not.

Kemi Badenoch

In the last leadership contest, the now-international trade secretary impressed many Tory MPs with her robust right-leaning views, coupled with rhetorical fluency and the ability to come across as, more or less, a normal human being.

Like Braverman, Badenoch has a reputation for being something of a culture warrior, but is seen as more thoughtful on such issues, and potentially more alluring to voters.

But Badenoch shares the same status, which also makes her an outside bet. She could be brilliant. She could be awful. But no one would quite know until she was inside No 10, and this would be a precipitous elevation for someone who has been an MP for five years and in the cabinet for just over six weeks.

Sajid Javid

He came a fairly distant fourth in the 2019 Tory leadership contest and did not even stand in the summer, but he has a long ministerial pedigree, serving on the frontbench for a decade, including stints as chancellor, home secretary and health secretary.

Javid occupies a relatively fuzzy position near the centre of the Conservatives, although he did back remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum, and thus carries less ideological baggage than some.

However, it remains to be seen if he wants to stand, and if he does, he may be seen as too niche a choice to even be a unity candidate.

Grant Shapps

A matter of two-and-a-bit weeks ago, when the former transport secretary was firing politely worded shots at Truss from the sidelines at the Conservative conference, the idea of him becoming prime minister would have seemed ludicrous – and to some colleagues it still does. But as of Wednesday, he is home secretary, which appeared almost equally unlikely.

To Shapps’ advantage, he is seen as a steady ministerial hand, a decent media communicator and an ideological pragmatist. But he is disliked by many on the right of the party, and would struggle for support.

And if he were chosen, would the UK really be ready for a prime minister who once marketed online wealth-creation schemes under the pseudonym of Michael Green? We probably won’t get to find out.

Ben Wallace

The defence secretary has been, much like Mordaunt, getting on quietly with the day job as chaos raged around him, with the same arguable increase in reputation, even by default.

Wallace is a favourite among many Tory members and had been expected to be a contender to succeed Johnson, deciding not to do so for reasons that remain unclear.

But if he did stand, Wallace would have the appeal, in contrast to Truss, of seeming refreshingly non-ideological and reassuring competent, even boring. That could take him far.

Confirmed as not running:

Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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