Since Boris Johnson’s resignation on July 7 was forced by junior ministers, several possible successors have been suggested as contenders for the key slot, though not all of them have said that they want the job. Half of these MPs and ministers are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
From political pundits and bookies to psychic seals and fortune tellers, the question of who will be the Conservative party’s next leader – and the UK prime minister – is being hotly debated on screen, at homes and in pubs across the UK.
Ben Wallace tops the list with 13 percent support, according to new snap YouGov polling of 716 Tories.
Defence Secretary Wallace, a former soldier who became MP in 2005, has won international recognition for his leadership during the Ukraine crisis. He served in the army in Germany, Cyprus, Belize and Northern Ireland where he helped thwart a bomb attack by the Irish Republican Army. At present, Wallace is dodging questions about whether he will run for leadership, insisting he will continue to focus on his job.
Wallace, 52, has narrowly topped some recent polls of Tory grassroots’ preferred next leader due to his role in the Ukraine crisis. A Johnson ally, Wallace has downplayed wanting to lead the party but is seen as a straight-talking and competent.
The UK’s first Hindu chancellor of the exchequer, who quit on Tuesday, was until recently the bookmakers’ favourite. But his prospects were dented by questions over his private wealth and family’s tax arrangements.
His resignation has seen him return as one of the bookies’ frontrunners for the top job.
Sunak, 42, has a high profile on social media, and won plaudits for shoring up the economy during the pandemic. But his refusal initially to authorise more support over a surging cost-of-living crisis has hurt his popularity.
Born to Indian parents and married to the daughter of an Indian billionaire, Oxford and Stanford-educated Sunak became MP in 2015. Just five years later, he was Johnson’s chief financial minister.
According to the BBC, Sunak is “one of the first to quit the cabinet … and the most high-profile figure so far to announce his candidacy”.
Sunak was seen as a hot favourite for the slot of PM for months, with research published in December 2021 showing the ex-chancellor had a better chance of challenging Keir Starmer’s Labour than Johnson. Papers at the time featured headline after headline about ‘Dishy Rishi’ and how he would be the ideal candidate for a Tory MP in the event that Johnson stepped down.
The media’s darling, Sunak was even described by a commentator in January this year as “the only choice” as he was then “untainted by scandal”. Unfortunately for the chancellor, the controversy over his wife’s tax affairs and a fine for breaching lockdown rules seriously dented his reputation. Still, the YouGov poll shows Sunak as the closest contender to Wallace in a separate head-to-head poll.
Former foreign and health secretary Jeremy Hunt, 55, lost to Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest, when he branded himself as the “serious” alternative. Hunt sent a thinly veiled campaign message for a new leadership bid last month, arguing that under Johnson “we are no longer trusted by the electorate” and “we are set to lose the next general election”.
But the fluent Japanese speaker lacks Johnson’s charisma. His pre-pandemic record as health secretary was recently savaged by a Johnson ally.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, 46, is popular among Conservative party members, liked for her outspokenness and willingness to go on the political attack. But that has also stoked questions about her judgement, for instance when in February she encouraged Britons to fight in Ukraine. Critics say her leadership posturing is too overt.
When she headed the Department for International Trade, some MPs dubbed it the “Department for Instagramming Truss” because of her prolific output on the social media site.
Javid, who also quit as health secretary on Tuesday, had previously resigned as finance minister in 2020. The 52-year-old is the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver who went on to become a high-flying banker. Like Sunak, he also faces questions about his personal wealth and tax affairs.
Sajid Javid has held various cabinet positions and is widely believed to be a man to watch for the race. Born to Pakistani immigrants from Toba Tek Singh who moved to the UK in the 1960s, Javid was born in Rochdale and grew up in Bristol. He has served in several cabinet positions under three Tory PMs since 2012, even getting the top job of home secretary in 2018.
Most recently, he was in Johnson’s cabinet as health secretary. Appointed to the post as the UK was in the throes of the pandemic, Javid authored a ‘post-crisis blueprint’ for how to renew growth across every part of the UK. In the past, Javid made a bid for the Conservative party leader post but bowed out to support Johnson.
It was Javid’s dramatic resignation letter this week that triggered the avalanche of government departures which eventually sealed Johnson’s fate.
He wrote, “The tone you [Johnson] set as a leader, and the values you represent, reflect on your colleagues, your party and ultimately the country. Conservatives at their best are seen as hard-headed decision-makers, guided by strong values. We may not have always been popular, but we have been competent in acting in the national interest.
“Sadly, in the current circumstances, the public are concluding that we are now neither. The vote of confidence last month showed that a large number of our colleagues agree. It was a moment for humility, grip and new direction. I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership — and you have therefore lost my confidence too.”
With his letter, seen by many as a veiled leadership bid, Javid in recent days is seen as having set the direction for the Tory party, though a common criticism against him is that he has not served in any cabinet position long enough to have had an impact.
While Javid is seen as a serious contender by analysts, a snap YouGov poll of Conservative party members revealed he was not even among the top five leading candidates.
Newly appointed as finance minister, Zahawi, 55, was praised for overseeing Britain’s pandemic vaccines rollout. Before that he was education secretary.
Zahawi is a former refugee from Iraq who came to Britain as a child speaking no English. Before entering politics, he co-founded the prominent polling company YouGov. But his private wealth has also drawn adverse attention, including when he claimed parliamentary expenses for heating his horse stables.
The former army officer, 49, is a prominent backbencher who chairs parliament’s influential Foreign Affairs Committee. Tugendhat has indicated he will stand in any leadership contest but there is no love lost between him and Johnson loyalists.
A hawk on China, he has been critical of the government’s handling of the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Mordaunt, 49, is the first woman to have been UK defence secretary and is currently a junior trade minister. The Royal navy reservist is seen as likely to run but considered a long shot.
A strong Brexit supporter and key figure in the 2016 “Leave” campaign, she has been tipped as a potential unity candidate who could draw support from the Conservative party’s warring factions.
Deputy prime minister and justice secretary Dominic Raab, 48, led the country when Johnson was in intensive care in hospital with Covid-19 in 2020. The former lawyer and karate black belt is seen as a reliable ally.
But his move to justice from the post of foreign secretary was seen as a demotion after he initially failed to cut short a holiday as the Afghan capital Kabul fell to the Taliban.
Meanwhile, Indian-origin Attorney General for England and Wales Suella Braverman and Home Secretary Priti Patel, too, are being floated as names for the top slot, though the odds that either will win appear slim.
According to Dawn, on the question of whether the UK is ready for its first ethnic minority PM, Jonathan Portes, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the School of Politics and Economics of King’s College, said: “Yes. Sunak, Javid and Zahawi are all plausible contenders [Suella Braverman, who has also announced her candidacy, less so]. But their success or failure will not be determined by their ethnicities, but by their policies and personalities.”