The Conservative Party will elect a new leader and prime minister by the end of next week (28 October). The chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, Graham Brady, has hinted that party members will vote on the final two candidates after voting among MPs. That’s very important. Some candidates are popular with the membership but not Tory MPs – and vice versa.
So who’s in the running? The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has ruled himself out. That leaves three main contenders – though others could enter the race.
First, Rishi Sunak. The former chancellor came second in the leadership election over the summer and is the current front-runner. He remains popular with many MPs, but those loyal to Boris Johnson still blame him for bringing down the former prime minister. Some think he has been proven right about the economic impact of Liz Truss’s policies and has the experience necessary to steady the markets.
Second, Penny Mordaunt. The former defence secretary came third in the leadership contest and was popular with the Conservative Party membership. She stood in for the prime minister in the House of Commons on Monday and impressed many of her colleagues. Some see her as a unity candidate because although she wasn’t a central figure of Johnson’s government, she didn’t turn on him in the end.
What about Johnson himself? The former prime minister has kept a low profile since his ejection from No 10, but remains very popular with the membership. If he stands and makes it to the final pair (assuming the leadership contest is run in the same way as last time, with members given a choice of two candidates), then he could quickly be back in Downing Street. But it will be difficult for him to gain enough support among MPs. Oh, and he’s being investigated by the Committee on Standards for potentially misleading parliament.
Outsiders such as Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch may also fancy their chances. Badenoch in particular is well-respected within the party, while Braverman has loyal supporters on the right and has drawn attention with her dramatic exit from the cabinet this week. With the process due to start on Monday (24 October), the shape of the race will soon become clearer. And by the end of next week, Britain will have its third prime minister this year.