With a range of options, which type of Tori will take over from Prime Minister Boris Johnson


When the Conservative Party changes leaders, it often opts for a drastic change. As the luster of Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Iron Lady’ faded, Tories turned to John Major, nicknamed ‘The Gray Man’ for his uninspiring leadership style. After self-proclaimed “silent man” Iain Duncan Smith, shrewd PR pro David Cameron got the green light.

In 2019, the curate’s straight-legged daughter, Theresa May – mocked for admitting that in her youth she sinned by running through a farmer’s wheat field – was replaced by the chaotic but charming Boris Johnson.

Tory MPs are now likely to have a range of options: Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is seen as unwavering; former Health Secretary Sajid Javid talks about his principles; former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has weathered the Covid-19 pandemic – and recent fiscal tussles with the outgoing Prime Minister.

Arch-Johnson loyalist Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is a good communicator, while Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, a Brexiter and Thatcher’s free-market sidekick, polls Conservative members well – the electorate who will crown the final winner.

Outside the firm, Penny Mordaunt, Tom Tugendhat and Jeremy Hunt all have ambitions. Mordaunt is a Navy reservist whose barracks humor appeals to a certain type of conservative — though her support for trans rights, seen as a cultural dividing line, may negate some of that. Tugendhat – who launched his candidacy on Friday – has been a financial war chest and strong backer, according to one of his backers, although a lack of ministerial experience may work against him.

The contest won’t officially begin until party bigwigs announce a timetable on Monday, but Attorney General Suella Braverman also showed her hand, as a committed Brexiter who pledged on Thursday to stick to Johnson’s 2019 Conservative manifesto. Serial rebel Tory MP Steve Baker, another key Brexit supporter, is “seriously considering whether I should do this”.

Neither are likely to win and likely improve their profiles. The real interest will be to know which of the big beasts of the cabinet will choose to show its teeth.

Wallace made his loyalty a virtue and kept a low public profile. He was physically alongside Johnson when the Tories voted for his leadership last month. On Wednesday, Wallace was a far cry from the cabinet’s so-called “destiny delegation” that filed to tell Johnson his time was up.

His strong handling of UK Ukrainian politics won him admirers at home and in the United States. That should help with an increasingly right-wing parliamentary caucus.

Brexit fever may have died down, but Truss’s decision to unilaterally cancel the Northern Ireland Protocol will have done him no harm. Party members like Brussels bait a bit. Truss isn’t subtle – channeling the classic Thatcher and calling for more defense spending is conservative red meat. Yet she got tough with Russian oligarchs over Ukraine and secured the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, held hostage in Iran. Critics say she is vain, travels with an official photographer and posts frequently on Instagram.

Rishi Sunak’s expensive costumes and flash props may position him as out of touch in an era of double-digit inflation. He shone during Covid, when his largesse kept families and businesses afloat, but recent tax hikes may work against him in a party that hates them. Long considered a favorite to replace Johnson, Sunak’s profile was hit by ‘Partygate’, when he was fined for breaking the law. Questions persist about his wife’s tax affairs and residency status.

So if Sunak isn’t the safest pair of hands, how about Sajid Javid, a former banker and son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver? Javid was disappointed by a poorly run campaign in his last bid for party leadership. (He also had to run Johnson again.) Nonetheless, he jokes that people should keep the old “Saj For Leader” badges.

His supporters say Javid is still the lead curator with the highest public approval ratings. Recognition of his name predates Sunak’s ascension. Even so, he played a key role in Johnson’s downfall, and in conservative circles there’s a truism: Whoever wields the knife never wears the crown. However, that might not hold Javid back as he managed to judge the party mood by stepping down at the right time. His resignation letter put integrity at the heart of his action and his statement in the House of Commons was quietly devastating, even as he inflated some of the strongest lines. His distance from Johnson could work in his favor.

New Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi must fight to prove himself to be trustworthy. He briefly kept Johnson afloat by taking the Treasury post, before joining a delegation of ministers calling on his new boss to quit.

The immaculately groomed former businessman shone as vaccine minister and has an interesting history. He was born in Iraq, moved to the UK as a refugee in the 1970s and founded the polling firm YouGov. It is a conservative achievement. But he is reportedly obsessed with questions about whether he can deliver the tax cuts nearly all Tories are calling for.

The first phase of the competition is in Parliament, where Tory MPs will narrow the field to the final two by July 21. They will then move on to the second phase: a head-to-head race for votes among party members.

In 2019, then-party chairman Brandon Lewis put the membership at 180,000. A lot has happened since then. In six to eight weeks, those who have remained loyal to the Tories during Johnson’s tumultuous tenure will have the chance to choose the UK’s next leader again.


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