The Conservatives have been in power for more than 13 years under five different prime ministers. We have experienced Cameroon austerity, Mayite statism, Johnsonite populism, and Trussite libertarianism. But who now wields the greatest influence among the Tories and on the British right?
In this issue, following on from our Left Power List in May, we publish our inaugural Right Power List – a guide to the 50 most influential people in conservative politics. The individuals below were selected and ranked by a panel of New Statesman staff and contributors and were not told in advance of the project. We define power as the ability to change policy or to change minds: to shape political opinion, ideas and debate. To qualify, individuals must have some affiliation with the right, whether the conservative or libertarian tradition, and be resident in Britain.
Individual rankings can only reveal so much. What are the broad trends that emerge from our list? Though female cabinet ministers such as Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch make our top ten, the list is male-dominated (with 41 men to nine women): a reflection of where power continues to lie on the right. Also notable by their absence are figures who as recently as 2016 would have dominated any list: David Cameron, George Osborne and their allies among liberal conservatives. Thirty-two of those featured publicly backed the cause that ended Cameron and Osborne’s Westminster careers: Brexit. “If we’ve lost Rishi we’ve lost the future of the party,” Cameron said of the future prime minister’s support for Leave in 2016 – words that have proved prophetic.
But while the right is broadly united on Brexit, it is increasingly divided on economics and cultural matters. On our list free-marketeers such as Liz Truss, Badenoch and James Dyson sit alongside post-liberals such as Nick Timothy, Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger. The future of conservatism is contested and the Tories may soon be in opposition. Who will emerge to lead the party, and in which direction? By George Eaton
1 Nigel Farage
GB News presenter and former Brexit Party leader
Nigel Farage has failed seven times to become an MP. When the UK left the EU in January 2020 he lost his berth in the European Parliament. Yet today it is Farage, 59, whom our panel deems the most influential person on the British right.
Brexit alone gives the former Ukip leader a legacy that few postwar politicians can rival. An opportunist and brilliant communicator, Farage did more than any other political figure to create the conditions for Brexit. He has won two national elections – the 2014 and 2019 European elections – leading two different parties: Ukip and the Brexit Party. Though opinion polls show a majority of voters now believe Brexit was a mistake, neither Rishi Sunak nor Keir Starmer exhibits any desire to reopen the European question. For this, Farage can take significant credit: both leaders fear his return to front-line politics should a “betrayal” occur.
But Farage’s influence extends far beyond Brexit. This summer he brought down the CEOs of both NatWest, Alison Rose, and Coutts, Peter Flavel, after exposing the closure of his Coutts account as politically motivated. The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, subsequently announced an inquiry into the “debanking” of public figures.
More recently, in his quest for electoral survival, Sunak has embraced Farage’s policy agenda. When the latter first reported for GB News in 2021 from the English Channel on migrant crossings, he was widely ridiculed. But Sunak has since made “stopping small boats” one of his five priorities, while Starmer has similarly vowed to take action.
Then, on 20 September, the Prime Minister gifted Farage yet another political victory by U-turning on numerous net zero pledges: bans on new petrol and diesel cars and on new gas boilers were delayed from 2030 to 2035. It was Farage who last year demanded a referendum on the UK’s net zero target.
While it is Sunak who is in office, it is Nigel Farage who, in numerous ways, is in power.
2 Rishi Sunak
In September 2022, when he was comfortably defeated by Liz Truss in the Conservative leadership election, many believed Rishi Sunak’s political career was over. Yet just 49 days later Sunak, 42, became Britain’s youngest prime minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812, and the first of Asian heritage.
But this achievement was marred by his grim political inheritance: a profoundly weak economy, a fractious and divided Tory party and a large Labour poll lead of 20 points. For all this, Sunak has had some successes: the Windsor Framework answered the Irish border conundrum and the UK has rejoined the EU’s flagship Horizon science scheme. In an attempt to rebuild voter and market confidence, Sunak has resisted the immediate tax cuts demanded by the free-market right.
But he has failed to preside over the political recovery that his supporters promised. The boast that Sunak is far more popular than his party no longer holds true: his net approval rating stands at a record low of -45 (around the same as Jeremy Corbyn at the 2019 general election). The threat of a challenge from Boris Johnson has receded, yet few Tory MPs show enthusiasm for Sunak.
Instead, an unofficial leadership election has begun as cabinet ministers such as Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch prepare for opposition. What of Sunak himself? If, as polls suggest, he loses office next year, will he return to California, perhaps to work among the tech libertarians he so admires?
[See also: The sovereign individual in Downing Street]
3 Jeremy Hunt
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Such was Jeremy Hunt’s power when he became chancellor last year, amid the collapsing scenery of Liz Truss’s doomed premiership, that he was often described as the “real prime minister”. Since then, Britain’s own IMF technocrat has sought to maintain market confidence by resisting Tory demands for tax cuts and spending increases. But Hunt, 56, who has a measured, diplomatic style, has nevertheless made his mark: in his first Budget he abolished the £1m lifetime allowance on pensions and announced 30 hours a week of free childcare for one- and two-year-olds.
4 King Charles
Head of state
Britain’s new monarch made a revealing political statement in the first year of his reign. “Back again,” Charles, 74, muttered as he greeted an embattled Liz Truss at Buckingham Palace last October. “Dear, oh dear.” It was a cutting comment. Truss, a former Liberal Democrat who backed Remain, bangs on about economic growth and dresses like Margaret Thatcher, was meeting a sovereign whose esoteric politics revolve around the soil, husbandry, crofting, organic farming and dining on mutton. Truss is a freewheeling whig; Charles is a romantic traditionalist, and might be the very last reactionary in public life.
Traditionalism, a philosophy that has fascinated the King for decades, does not fit neatly on any political axis. It replaces the idea of “progress” with a sense of decline: the dynamic of history is not pushing humanity forwards, but dragging it down. “The great experiment,” Charles wrote in his widely ignored 2010 book Harmony, “to stand apart from the rest of creation has failed.” Traditionalists believe the spirit is more important than the mind, and that equality between human beings is a mirage.
Charles aside, the two most high-profile traditionalists alive today are the former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and the Kremlin’s court philosopher Alexander Dugin. Thankfully for the British state, Charles puts his philosophy into practice in more limited ways. He supports traditionalist think tanks and small-circulation journals, and his pastoral, romantic world-view is evident in many of the charities and NGOs he champions. He does not seem likely to reject legislation – a power he theoretically has. Charles ought to be an icon of the cultural right. His reign is made safer by the fact that he is not.
5 Suella Braverman
As perhaps the highest-profile member of Rishi Sunak’s cabinet, Braverman, 43, has a power in both the government and the Conservative Party that is undeniable. A Brexiteer who rose to prominence as chair of the European Research Group and then as Boris Johnson’s attorney general, she reached the second round of the Tory leadership contest in 2022, winning the backing of the party’s right wing. She was made home secretary by Liz Truss, then quit after 43 days, ostensibly for sharing official documents from her personal email. The pair had clashed over immigration policy and Braverman’s departure hastened the end of Truss’s premiership. Her reappointment to the same role by Sunak six days later confirmed her power.
Braverman’s mission is “stopping the boats” (or unauthorised Channel crossings); the Home Secretary has stunned even some in her own party with her stance on immigration and on UK withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights. She is the driving force behind the plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda and has said it is her “dream” to see deportation flights take off. But with 80 per cent of 2019 Conservative voters lacking confidence that the government can keep its “stop the boats” pledge, Braverman is struggling to convince doubters. Some Tory MPs complain that she has become a political liability. Yet Sunak appears too weak to sack her and she is looking ahead. Her speech at the National Conservatism conference in May was a notably unsubtle pitch for the leadership. If Sunak loses the general election, right-wing Tories will need a champion. Will it be Braverman?
[See also: The rise, fall and rise of Suella Braverman]
6 Michael Gove
The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is widely seen as the most effective minister in government. Michael Gove is a great survivor, an endurer of blows that would fell most other politicians. After 13 years at the ministerial coalface, Gove, 56, maintains an influence on the flow of Conservative politics that has outlasted David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May and Boris Johnson. His interventions at last year’s Conservative Party conference were instrumental in bringing down Liz Truss. His mischievous appearance at this year’s National Conservatism conference in May hinted at the role Gove might take in preventing Suella Braverman from becoming Tory leader. By that point, though, he may have had enough of Westminster. Gove has long hinted at the opportunities quasi-retirement might bring, not least the opportunity it will give him finally to write a biography of the grand old Tory philosopher Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke. Or a confessional memoir.
7 Kemi Badenoch
Business and Trade Secretary
Badenoch, 43, is the kind of straight-talking Brexit crusader many Tories believe they need if they are to reinvent themselves after their anticipated election defeat. Terms such as “rising star” and “future leader” have been whispered around Badenoch ever since Boris Johnson made her minister for equalities in 2020, with “Kemi fever” reaching its height during the 2022 party leadership contest, in which she was mentored by Michael Gove and performed well in debates. Badenoch was one of the few on the anti-woke right of the party considered capable of appealing to the wider electorate. Since then, enthusiasm has cooled despite (or perhaps because of) her promotion to first trade secretary then Business Secretary. Brexit hardliners were furious with her over the government’s U-turn on the revocation of 4,000 retained EU laws, while she has acquired a reputation in Whitehall for skipping meetings and not being fully on top of her brief. Nevertheless, Badenoch is still the darling of many party members.
8 James Forsyth
No 10 political secretary
When he entered Downing Street, Rishi Sunak turned to those he trusted most. Few have a deeper relationship with the Prime Minister than his close friend and best man, James Forsyth. The pair were at Winchester College together and remained close as Sunak ascended the political world to become chancellor while Forsyth worked as the Spectator’s political editor. Sunak appointed Forsyth, 42, as his political secretary on Christmas Eve last year. Their history gives Forsyth significant influence over key decisions. He travelled to Belfast with the Prime Minister to sell the Windsor Framework to the Northern Irish parties. He is also responsible for managing No 10’s relationship with the unruly Conservative parliamentary party. Sunak has yet to outline his vision for the country. When he does, there is little doubt that Forsyth will have helped shape it.
9 Liam Booth-Smith
No 10 chief of staff
Booth-Smith’s first experience of Downing Street was under Boris Johnson when he served as head of the Joint Economic Unit between No 10 and the Treasury. But it was Rishi Sunak who Booth-Smith grew fiercely loyal to, and he ran both of Sunak’s leadership campaigns. As chief of staff, Booth-Smith is officially the most senior aide in No 10 and competes with Sunak’s political secretary and school-friend, James Forsyth, for supremacy. In a display of a more pugnacious style, he told special advisers at a recent weekly meeting that they should resign if they “don’t believe we can win”.
10 Oliver Dowden
Deputy Prime Minister
Political power is often about proximity. Dowden, 45, has long been near the centre. He has prepared every Conservative leader for Prime Minister’s Questions since Michael Howard. But today he is closer than ever. A regular presence at No 10, Dowden is an ally to the PM and is often in the room when key decisions are taken. He chaired Sunak’s leadership campaign and has been rewarded with a cabinet role as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which places him at the heart of the government machine. He has been entrusted with the vital economic security agenda and Sunak turns to the emollient Dowden to resolve disagreements between Whitehall departments. Behind the scenes, there are few with as much influence on how the government operates.
[See also: Who is the real Oliver Dowden?]
11 Tim Davie
Davie, 56, leads an institution that is often accused of having a left-wing bias. But we believe the BBC more often than not displays a conservative establishment bias – witness its fawning coverage of the monarchy – and for this reason Davie makes our list. A former marketing executive at PepsiCo, Davie stood as a Conservative council candidate in Hammersmith and Fulham in 1993 and 1994 and also served as deputy chairman of the party’s local association. As head of the BBC, perhaps mindful of political threats to the licence fee, he has urged the broadcaster to “find a better balance of satirical targets rather than constantly aiming jokes at the Tories”.
12 Eleanor Shawcross
No 10 head of policy
The head of the No 10 policy unit is one of Sunak’s most experienced aides. She was previously deputy chief of staff to George Osborne during his time as chancellor and chief of staff at the Department for Work and Pensions. She later served as a Treasury adviser to Sunak and helped run his leadership campaign last summer (donating £20,000). Shawcross is impeccably connected as the daughter of William Shawcross, the right-wing establishment grandee and writer, and the wife of Simon Wolfson, a Conservative peer and CEO of Next. Shawcross is tasked with assembling Sunak’s first King’s Speech, in which the government will outline its legislative agenda for the crucial pre-election period.
13 Boris Johnson
Daily Mail columnist
Only the most eccentric observer would see the past 12 months as a golden period for Boris Johnson. The former prime minister attempted a comeback during last October’s Conservative leadership contest, only to withdraw the day before nominations closed, infuriating his supporters. A Johnson-stoked Tory revolt over the Windsor Framework ended in failure. The Conservative Democratic Organisation conference in May – a gathering of Johnson fanatics in Bournemouth – was a flop. He resigned as an MP in June after the Commons Privileges Committee recommended a 90-day suspension for deliberately misleading the House over “partygate”. Finally, from his new perch at the Daily Mail, Johnson writes widely ignored, oddly apolitical columns about chorizo and Hollywood movies. Bathos is the major theme. Still, Johnson’s 2019 election victory will always make him a hero to some Conservative Party members. Speculation about a return to parliament – however detached from reality – will continue.
14 James Cleverly
Cleverly, 54, is one of the survivors of the Liz Truss era – the Foreign Secretary was retained in the role by Rishi Sunak, although he is a long-time Boris Johnson ally. Direct in style, Cleverly is popular among Tory members (he ranks third in ConservativeHome’s cabinet league table) and an adept media performer.
In August, Cleverly became the first British foreign secretary to visit China in five years and, following a Whitehall restructure, he also controls the UK’s £8bn international development budget. His chummy, jovial videos from around the world have been noticed in Westminster and beyond. Sunak’s two predecessors as party leader made the leap from the Foreign Office to No 10. Could James Cleverly do the same?
15 Isaac Levido
Conservative election strategist
The Australian election strategist guided the Conservatives to their biggest majority since 1987 at the last general election. He is now trying to stop that victory being eradicated. Levido takes No 10 aides and Conservative MPs through the latest polling in preparation for the election next year. He has a simple conception of politics: talk about what voters want and nothing else.
Levido is emerging as the heir to Lynton Crosby, the veteran strategist and fellow Australian who has worked on Conservative campaigns since 2005. During the pandemic, Levido was given an office in No 10 and reportedly created the slogan “Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives”. Whether the Tories stay in No 10 is partly in his hands.
16 Grant Shapps
Appointed Defence Secretary in August, Shapps, 55, has now held more cabinet roles than almost any politician in recent British history, including a six-day stint as home secretary. He is one of the great survivors of the Tory party: a Remain-voting Cameroon able to reinvent himself to win the trust of Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak – and numerous others. For all his cabinet experience, Shapps’s real value to Tory leaders lies in his famed spreadsheet, which he uses to track the views of Conservative MPs and take the temperature in the party.
17 Paul Marshall
Investor and media proprietor
The hedge fund manager is turning into a conservative press baron. Look at what Marshall, 64, already owns, or has a significant stake in. The opinion website (and restaurant) UnHerd; GB News; and soon, perhaps, the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator. Reports suggest that Marshall, 64, has enlisted merchant bankers to advise him on bids for those crucial Tory titles, as they slip from the control of the Barclay brothers. Owning them, alongside a significant stake in GB News, will make Marshall a key player in any future Conservative leadership contest. Marshall went into the City in the 1980s and amassed a huge fortune from Marshall Wace, the hedge fund he founded in 1997 with Ian Wace. Today the fund manages over $60bn of assets. Marshall was a Liberal Democrat until, having backed Brexit in 2016, he became increasingly involved in conservative politics. He likes Michael Gove, free schools, Jordan Peterson, and evangelical Christianity. He would likely call himself a liberal. Observers would see a man who likes to back some of the harder-edged elements in Tory politics.
18 Ted Verity
Daily Mail editor
When Geordie Greig was ousted as the editor of the Daily Mail in November 2021, it was widely seen as a sign that its owner, Lord Rothermere, was unhappy with how the strident tabloid was covering Boris Johnson’s floundering government. Was it too critical? The new man at the Mail’s helm, Ted Verity, previously the editor of the Mail on Sunday, was supposed to cover Johnson, and then the Mail’s chosen successor, Liz Truss, more sympathetically. But Johnson and Truss were expelled from office, leaving Verity with Rishi Sunak to puff up, a job that even the Mail struggles with. The paper retains a powerful influence on Conservative politics, however, and loathes the left and the Labour Party. Verity is attempting to make Mail+, the paper’s digital offering, a success. Or at least more of a success than its expensive new star columnist, one Boris Johnson.
19 Lee Anderson
Conservative Party deputy chairman
When the pugnacious Anderson, 56, was promoted to deputy chairman of the Conservative Party in February, it was clear that No 10 wanted someone who would say things it couldn’t. Anderson was soon declaring that food banks were being “abused” by people who go to McDonald’s “two or three times a week”, and telling asylum seekers to “f**k off back to France” if they didn’t like being kept on a barge. No 10 did not disavow his comments about asylum seekers, with Alex Chalk, the Justice Secretary, saying his “indignation is well-placed”. As a consequence, Anderson’s status has surged. The Ashfield MP, a former coal miner who defected to the Conservatives from Labour in 2018, now hosts a programme on GB News. Anderson exemplifies the more socially conservative group of “Red Wall” Tory MPs who entered parliament in 2019. As such, he is set to play a central role in the forthcoming election campaign. But whether he will be returned to parliament – his majority is 5,733 – is an open question.
20 Rory Stewart
Author and podcaster
Just before losing the Conservative Party whip in 2019, Rory Stewart was asked to define his politics by the journalist Gary Gibbon. “For me, the Conservative Party is above all the party of moderation, of pragmatism, of common sense,” said Stewart, later adding: “I’m a Conservative because I believe in… respect for tradition, and love of my country, and prudence at home and restraint abroad.” This was precisely the softly patriotic, light-blue Toryism that was swallowed by a harder-edged populism in the 2010s. Stewart, 50, is no longer an MP or a member of the party, and his solo run for the London mayoralty was quashed by the Covid-19 pandemic – but he remains one of the highest-profile conservatives in the country.
Interviewed by the New Statesman in September, Stewart said: “I’m a believer in the monarchy, the aristocracy and the Church of England.” No other Tory could, as Stewart has recently, sell out two nights speaking at the Barbican in London – with the possible exception of Boris Johnson, a fellow Etonian whom Stewart loathes. Nor is any other likely to find themselves hosting the most popular political podcast in Britain. The sensational success of The Rest Is Politics, which Stewart presents with Alastair Campbell, gives him a unique platform among politicians on the right. That he mainly uses it to have his shins kicked by the former New Labour propagandist should not distract from Stewart’s potential for a return to front-line politics. Whether he has that in mind is an open question. His bleak new memoir, Politics on the Edge, is not the work of a writer who seems enticed by the prospect of going back to Westminster.
[See also: Rory Stewart still doesn’t know who he is]
21 Jamie Njoku-Goodwin
No 10 political director
As Rishi Sunak prepares for a general election, he has appointed Njoku-Goodwin as his director of strategy. The former UK Music chief executive first acquired political prominence as a special adviser to Matt Hancock during his period as culture secretary and health secretary. Njoku-Goodwin broke the news of the UK’s first Covid-19 case to Hancock on 31 January 2020. The former aide and approved Tory parliamentary candidate was recruited to Downing Street by Liam Booth-Smith, his former flatmate and Sunak’s chief of staff. As a chess aficionado, Njoku-Goodwin’s task as director of strategy will be a familiar one: to stay one move ahead of his opponent, in this case Labour’s formidable Morgan McSweeney.
22 Andy Street
West Midlands mayor
After a decade as managing director of John Lewis, Street, 60, was elected as mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) in May 2017, and re-elected with an increased majority in 2021. The WMCA is the UK’s largest regional authority after London, making Street the Tories’ most powerful non-Westminster politician. His offer to voters in an electorally pivotal region could be bolstered by the financial collapse of the Labour-run Birmingham City Council. Street has criticised Rishi Sunak over housing and environment policies, but as a metro mayor his priority is fiscal devolution and an end to what he calls the “begging bowl culture” of applying for regional funding.
23 John Bew
No 10 foreign policy adviser
Bew is the great survivor of Downing Street. The historian and former New Statesman writer was recruited by Boris Johnson as No 10’s chief foreign policy adviser and has since served in the same role under Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. He led the government’s 2021 Integrated Review, which advocated an Indo-Pacific “tilt”, and an updated version responding to pro-European critics was published this year. As the author of an acclaimed biography of Clement Attlee, Citizen Clem, Bew, whose politics are those of an old-style social democrat, could yet make the transition to a future Labour administration.
24 Tony Gallagher
Profits at Times Media doubled in 2022, as the publisher added 70,000 digital-only subscribers. It was good news for Tony Gallagher, who became editorin September that year. The Fleet Street veteran has had senior roles at the Sun, Mail and Telegraph. He also briefly worked as a chef at Moro in Exmouth Market, north London. Labour-curious journalists at the Times suggest that Gallagher, who leans to the right but is open minded, is beginning to take the prospect of a Starmer government seriously.
25 Penny Mordaunt
Leader of the House of Commons
No one really believes that looking stately in a hat and cape and holding a ceremonial sword at the King’s coronation for several hours qualifies someone to be prime minister. All the same, the magnificent performance of Mordaunt, 50, saw her discussed once again as a serious contender to lead the Tory party. She is consistently at the upper end of ConservativeHome’s league table, which tracks cabinet ministers’ standings among party members, and she has a reputation for competence across a broader electoral demographic than many of her colleagues.
The problem with Mordaunt, who in 2019 became the first female defence secretary, is that no one is quite sure what she stands for. She campaigned for Leave in 2016 but is associated with the moderate, One Nation group. Supporters say she’s one of the few people who could unite the fractured party; critics accuse her of embracing the “woke” agenda. She reached the top three in the July 2022 leadership contest, but missed the last round and struggled in the debates. Could she do better next time?
26 Greg Hands
Conservative Party chairman
Hands, 57, a veteran of the Cameron era, became Conservative Party chairman in February after Nadhim Zahawi was sacked. The Chelsea and Fulham MP is tasked with ensuring the Tory campaign machine is election-ready. He has launched an internal review of the party’s operation in London and has sought – with mixed success – to dent Labour’s economic credibility by sharing Liam Byrne’s 2010 “I’m afraid there is no money” letter at every opportunity. With 48 Tory MPs standing down at the next election, Hands’ influence over candidate selection is crucial.
27 Fraser Nelson
As editor of the Spectator since 2009, Nelson, 50, has long been one of the most powerful players in right-wing media, navigating successive changes of Tory leader. He has used his position to champion Euroscepticism and small-state, free-market economics – causes that have shaped the Conservative Party over the past decade. An ally of Andrew Neil, Nelson also writes a weekly column for the Daily Telegraph. His next move will likely depend on how the contest for the ownership of the Telegraph and the Spectator is resolved.
28 Paul Goodman
For more than a decade, Goodman, 63, has edited one of the most influential sites in Tory politics: ConservativeHome. The blog, which was founded by Tim Montgomerie in 2005, offers unrivalled insights into activist opinion. Its monthly cabinet league table is watched particularly closely in Westminster (Liz Truss first topped the members’ survey in December 2020). Goodman, the former Tory MP for Wycombe and comment editor of the Daily Telegraph, has maintained ConHome’s pluralist approach, ensuring the site remains above factional warfare. As an authoritative commentator on Tory politics, he is also a Times contributor.
29 Angelos Frangopoulos
GB News CEO
Two years since its chaotic launch, GB News has established itself as a powerful player in UK news broadcasting. On 19 September it attracted more daily viewers than BBC News, Sky News and TalkTV for the first time and it has more than 200 staff. Frangopoulos, who previously ran Sky News Australia, has been the channel’s CEO from the start, adopting a mantra of “disruption”. He has endured a boycott by advertisers and has set a target of GB News becoming the biggest news broadcaster in Britain by 2028. Its punchy, “anti-woke” world-view and audience demographics mean it will wield significant influence in a future Conservative leadership contest.
30 Will Tanner
No 10 deputy chief of staff
Rishi Sunak’s deputy chief of staff is one of the few senior aides in No 10 without a prior connection to the Prime Minister. It was under Theresa May that Tanner, a close ally of Nick Timothy, first entered Downing Street, later co-founding the think tank Onward. Tanner cites US president Theodore Roosevelt and Conservative prime minister Robert Peel as his political heroes (“both stood up to vested interests”, he told the New Statesman in 2018). But whether he can persuade the free-marketeer Sunak to embrace a more “Red Tory” agenda is doubtful.
31 Danny Kruger
Conservative MP and author
“We know that things are awry at heart,” writes the Wiltshire MP Danny Kruger in his new book Covenant, “even our experiences of joy or beauty have the quality of loss or yearning.” This gloomy, astral pessimism has placed Kruger at the heart of an influential strain of Tory thinking: post-liberalism. These Tories, who dominated the National Conservatism conference in May, yearn for a return to faith (both in God and Britain), stable families, household economics and local attachments. If Britain is to thrive again, Westminster must support the institution of marriage, the formation of families, and combat evils such as hardcore pornography. Kruger stresses the importance of the culture wars, writing that they are “a religious conflict about the right gods to worship”.
These are not typical Tory views, and Kruger might be their most high-profile spokesperson among Conservative MPs. He is a member of the New Conservatives group, which is aligned with the apparent interests of “Red Wall” voters, and the Social Covenant Unit, which he founded with Miriam Cates. An evangelical Christian, in the past 20 years Kruger has been a speech writer for David Cameron and Boris Johnson’s political secretary. In other words, he has been at the heart of Tory politics, and backed strong horses. Who he supports when Rishi Sunak exits the stage will be worth noting. The work of making the Conservative Party electable again will be tough. As Kruger put it in a recent interview with the New Statesman: “We have left the country less united, less happy and less conservative.”
32 Isabel Oakeshott
Author and commentator
Oakeshott, 49, is not afraid to make enemies. Earlier this year she passed more than 100,000 of Matt Hancock’s Covid-era WhatsApp messages to the Daily Telegraph. Many journalists had questioned why the anti-lockdown commentator had collaborated with the former health secretary on his Pandemic Diaries – it turned out Oakeshott was playing a long game. The former Sunday Times deputy political editor, now TalkTV’s international editor, has emerged as one of the most vehement right-wing critics of the Conservatives (her partner is Reform UK leader Richard Tice). “The speed and depth of national decline is breathtaking,” Oakeshott recently tweeted.
33 Lord Bamford
JCB chair and Conservative donor
Lord Bamford, the JCB chairman, collects cars and politicians. His store of vintage Ferraris generally gets more attention than him having corralled both David Cameron and Boris Johnson on visits to his huge factories in India. Between 2007 and 2017, JCB and related Bamford entities donated £8.1m in cash or kind to the Conservative Party (his net worth is £5.9bn).
Bamford, 77, was a Brexiteer, and withdrew JCB from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in 2016 over its pro-EU stance. It was good news for Johnson, whose party was given a £3.9m donation by Bamford in 2019. The depth of his support for Johnson was shown when the former prime minister held his wedding party at the Bamford estate in the Cotswolds in July last year. He is also the owner, alongside his wife, Carole Bamford, of the Daylesford Organic shops and brand.
34 Robert Colvile
Centre for Policy Studies director
Westminster think tanks fall in and out of fashion with the Conservative Party, but there is no question that the influence of the Centre for Policy Studies has grown since Colvile, 43, became director in 2017. Under his leadership, the CPS – which is grounded in the free-market, Thatcherite tradition – has become a central hub for Conservative thought. Colvile was co-author of the Tories’ 2019 manifesto, and CPS policies, on areas ranging from planning reform to “full expensing” of business investment, have been adopted by successive Conservative prime ministers. Liz Truss was close to the think tank, while Rishi Sunak wrote papers for it as a backbencher.
Formerly comment editor of the Telegraph, Colvile also writes a weekly Sunday Times column in which he offers a pro-market perspective on how to fix Britain’s problems.
35 James Dyson
The ardent Brexiteer, who owes his £23bn fortune to the invention of the bagless vacuum cleaner, has re-engaged with British politics since returning to the country from Singapore in 2021. Dyson, 76, whose world-view resembles that of Liz Truss, has warned that “growth has become a dirty word” during Rishi Sunak’s premiership, accusing the Prime Minister of imposing “tax upon tax on companies in the belief that penalising the private sector is a free win at the ballot box”. There is perhaps no British business figure whose opinions are more likely to make headline news during a general election.
36 Lord Frost
Conservative peer and Brexit negotiator
Conservative Party members adore Lord Frost. At the party’s annual conference, the queues for his events regularly outstretch those to see more famous politicians. A former civil servant and Remainer, Frost, 58, became a born-again Brexiteer, and the chief negotiator for exiting the EU in 2019-20. Many Conservatives hold Frost responsible – in a good way – for Britain’s eventual exit from the EU. When Frost left government in 2021, attacking the Johnson government’s stance on lockdowns, tax rises, net zero and Brexit failures, he endeared himself to the Tory base even more. If Frost ever did quit the Lords and attempt to become an MP, many constituency associations would welcome him.
37 Ben Houchen
Tees Valley mayor
Since their creation seven years ago, metro mayors have gained the authority to shape the national conversation – witness Andy Burnham’s revolt over Covid support or Andy Street’s condemnation of the levelling-up “begging-bowl culture”.
This national influence is amplified by their local power. Metro mayors have negotiated bigger budgets and acquired more power over transport and skills. Labour looks set to deepen regional devolution if elected.
A key player on the right is the mayor for Tees Valley, Ben Houchen. The 36-year-old was first elected in 2017, in a traditional Labour area, and won re-election in 2021 by a landslide with 73 per cent of the vote. As mayor he has championed a more statist form of conservatism, taking Teesside airport back into public ownership and redeveloping the area through the South Tees Development Corporation. The corporation, which Houchen chairs, was hailed as a symbol of the Conservatives’ commitment to levelling up.
But the policy might also prove to be Houchen’s undoing. Michael Gove, the Levelling-Up Secretary, has ordered an independent review into Teesworks, the former steel site, amid serious allegations of cronyism. Houchen – awarded a peerage in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours – said the review was “necessary to show investors, businesses and local people that there is no corruption, wrongdoing or illegality”. But, like his political patron’s, his power may be waning.
38 Peter Cruddas
Businessman and Tory donor
The former Conservative treasurer and long-standing party donor (he has donated more than £3m since 2010) has now entered politics in a more public manner, as president of the Conservative Democratic Organisation. Cruddas, 69, in common with other leading members of the “Tory Bennite” group, has been a champion of Boris Johnson and of democracy for grass-roots party members. He is a critic of Rishi Sunak’s coronation last October. Cruddas has an estimated net worth of £882m – few Tories have greater financial capacity to shape the party’s future.
39 Paul Staines
Guido Fawkes editor
For nearly two decades, Paul Staines has built a formidable reputation as the ringmaster and owner of the Westminster news and gossip blog Guido Fawkes. Founded in 2004, the site regularly breaks stories that are followed up by major newspapers, and has launched the careers of right-wing commentators and reporters, including the Sun’s political editor Harry Cole, Times columnist Juliet Samuel and GB News deputy political editor Tom Harwood. The libertarian website is hosted overseas and it is able to ignore court orders and injunctions and pursue stories that others avoid. Staines will no doubt have his sights on a future Labour government.
40 Charles Moore
Telegraph and Spectator columnist
Margaret Thatcher’s authorised biographer writes a twice-weekly column for the Daily Telegraph and a weekly diary-style notebook for the Spectator (having previously edited both titles). Long before such causes were fashionable within the Conservative Party, Moore, 66, championed opposition to the EU, the BBC and green politics. In 2020, he was awarded a peerage by Boris Johnson, the end of whose premiership he is sometimes said to have inadvertently accelerated.
At a dinner at the Garrick Club in London in November 2021, Moore reportedly urged Johnson to exempt his old friend, the former Tory cabinet minister Owen Paterson, from disciplinary action by the Commons Select Committee on Standards. It did not work out as planned. Moore is from a family of prominent Liberals but, as a young man, remade himself as a high Tory. He is a convert to Catholicism.
41 Harry Cole
Sun political editor
“How come you get to stay?” That was the question the Sun’s political editor asked Liz Truss last October when she was prime minister, shortly after she’d sacked her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng. Cole, 37, has made his name by simultaneously embarrassing leading Tories and being close to them. Days before his brutal question for Truss, he had broken the story that the government was abandoning its pledge to abolish the 45p tax rate. That scoop began the painful unravelling of Truss and Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-Budget. Cole, along with Rob Pattinson, also broke the news of Matt Hancock’s affair with his aide Gina Coladangelo in June 2021. The Westminster rumour mill regularly links Cole’s name to the editorship of the Spectator.
42 Miriam Cates
The National Conservative wing of the Tory party is growing in confidence. It is building support among MPs, and its London conference in May was well attended by cabinet ministers. Cates, 41, who was first elected to parliament in 2019, has become a leading player in the movement. As an evangelical Christian, like her close ally Danny Kruger MP, she is trying to remoralise Conservative politics. In 2021, she and Kruger established the New Social Covenant Unit – one of several new right-wing groups – that campaigns to “strengthen families, communities and the nation”.
Cates focuses on the influence of LGBT charities such as Mermaids and Stonewall in schools. In March the Yorkshire MP warned at Prime Minister’s Questions that children were being given “graphic lessons on oral sex, how to choke your partner safely, and 72 genders”. Her intervention prompted Rishi Sunak to announce a government review into sex education, with updated guidance due to be published in the autumn. The former Cambridge genetics student is also one of the most prominent opponents of self-ID for trans people – a position now dominant within the Conservative Party and sections of the Labour Party. In her speech to the National Conservative conference, Cates described the UK’s low birth rate as “the one overarching threat to British conservatism, and to the whole of Western society”.
But while her views disturb many on the left, there are also points of convergence. In an interview with the Telegraph earlier this year, Cates remarked: “Thatcherite economics are not really Conservative because in my part of the world in South Yorkshire, in Stocksbridge, in a steel town, Thatcherism destroyed our local economy.”
43 Matthew Goodwin
Pollster and author
The pollster and Kent University academic made his name through his studies of the rise of Ukip and the nationalist populist right. A disaffected former social democrat, he has become a prominent anti-woke commentator and critic of ultra-liberalism and mass migration. His recent polemical book Values, Voice and Virtue was a Sunday Times bestseller, but his many critics accuse Goodwin, 41, of swapping academic objectivity for ideological fervour. Yet there is no doubting his influence on the right: Rishi Sunak’s recent interventions on “small boats” and net zero politics suggest Downing Street shares the pollster’s analysis of how the Tories can win the next election.
44 Toby Young
Commentator and campaigner
In January 2018, Toby Young was forced to stand down from an appointment to the board of the public body the Office for Students. As a journalist and broadcaster, Young was a well-known mischief-maker, but the row over his suitability for a government role looked like the last act in an unpredictable career. Since then, Young, 59, has reinvented himself as the founder and director of the Free Speech Union (FSU), an anti-cancel-culture campaign group that aspires to take on the “enforcers of intellectual conformity” in Britain. Or, in other words, the people who gave him so much trouble in 2018. The FSU has eight full-time staff and a paying membership of 11,000, and has taken on over 2,000 cases since 2020. Young’s campaigning has contributed to shifting concerns over freedom of speech from the left to the right of British politics.
45 Katharine Birbalsingh
Head teacher and campaigner
Known as “Britain’s strictest head teacher”, Birbalsingh, 50, has become one of the UK’s most prominent voices on education since addressing the Conservative Party conference in 2010. Progressives may question her hard-line methods or accuse her of bringing the culture wars into schools (she has said pupils should not be allowed to play the “race card” and advocates a “no excuses” approach to discipline), but the exceptional exam results achieved by the free school she set up in 2014, the Michaela Community School in London, show a tough, traditional approach can work.
Birbalsingh’s success with some of the UK’s most deprived children saw her appointed chair of the Social Mobility Commission in October 2021. She resigned in January 2023 after several controversies, citing her desire to “speak publicly about what I think is right”. “I can’t bear the idea of ever being a politician,” she said after standing down. Nonetheless, her influence on social media and within the teaching community is undeniable.
46 Konstantin Kisin
Konstantin Kisin is a phenomenon of the cultural right. After years on the stand-up and comedian circuit, Kisin, 40, became an anti-woke podcaster, pundit and self-described satirist. Along with another comedian, Francis Forster, Kisin, who was born in Moscow and moved to England in 1995, founded the podcast Triggernometry in 2018. The channel has more than 600,000 subscribers on YouTube. Kisin has made appearances on the BBC’s Question Time, on which he is packaged as a “social commentator”. In January a speech Kisin made about wokeness went viral. Interviewed that month by the New Statesman, he said: “I think we are all tired of talking about woke.” It will be interesting to see if Kisin ever does.
47 Jonathan Sumption
Former Supreme Court justice
When the National Trust AGM takes place this November in Swindon, Sumption, 74, will discover whether he has been elected to the charity’s council. The candidacy, which comes amid internal division over whether the trust has become too “woke”, is a typically quixotic move by the retired Supreme Court justice and historian. He does not fit neatly into any political category, though leans, in his own way, to the right. He was critical of the removal of statues during 2020’s cultural upheavals; he has attacked the European Convention on Human Rights; he was the most outstandingly qualified lockdown sceptic during the Covid-19 pandemic. Few public figures have Sumption’s range of interests, or his abilities as a thinker, writer and polemicist.
48 Nick Timothy
Conservative candidate and Telegraph columnist
After Timothy resigned as joint chief of staff to Theresa May after the 2017 general election, accepting responsibility for the Tories’ lost majority, many believed his time in politics had passed. But May’s “Rasputin” has been selected as the Tory candidate in West Suffolk (current Conservative majority: 23,194). Cerebral and interested in ideas, he will likely lead the post-election debate over the future of conservatism. Timothy, 43, is a champion of an active state and a critic of free-market dogmatism. He writes a weekly column for the Daily Telegraph and co-edits the newsletter the Conservative Reader.
49 Camilla Tominey
Journalist and broadcaster
In recent years, Camilla Tominey, 45, has become one of Britain’s most ubiquitous right-wing pundits. The Daily Telegraph associate editor started her career as a royal reporter, breaking stories including the news of Prince Harry’s relationship with Meghan Markle. She has since become a prolific, hard-edged pro-Brexit, anti-woke commentator. Having previously hosted a programme on LBC, Tominey also now presents a Sunday-morning show on GB News.
50 Liz Truss
Former prime minister
Perhaps no prime minister did more damage in a shorter space of time than Truss to the economy, to the Conservatives and to their own reputation. But rather than seeking obscurity, as some might have done, Truss, 48, has fought back. She defiantly insists that her economic plan would have worked and will publish a book next year: Ten Years to Save the West. For all the ridicule heaped on Truss, her free-market ideas could yet shape the party’s future.
[See also: The New Statesman’s left power list]
This article appears in the 27 Sep 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Right Power List