The Speaker
Saturday, 18 May 2024 – 11:09
Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street under licence (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Who will be the next Prime Minister?

Sir Graham Brady has wielded to sword and cut the head off Liz Truss’ premiership. But the UK’s Parliamentary democracy means that instead of a general election, a new head will rear itself – like the Hydra from Greek mythology – to become the new face of the Conservative Party, and the new prime minister of the nation. So who might that person be?

Rishi Sunak

The runner-up just seven weeks ago, Rishi Sunak can be said to have predicted all of this – that makes him a strong contender. Throughout the leadership campaign he repeatedly criticised Liz Truss’ economic plans for potentially destroying the economy, and it has largely come to pass in the weeks since.

His chances will largely depend on whether there is a membership vote. Recent polling suggests that should the contest occur again now, he would be selected ahead of Truss, but that owes more to her unpopularity than a renewed popularity for him. If it is just a ballot amongst MPs, there is a strong chance he wins; if there is a membership vote, he may not even stand.

Penny Mordaunt

Adored by the membership, Penny Mordaunt may now be amongst the favourites to replace the woman who pipped her to the final two in the MP’s ballot. She consistently came second until the final ballot where Truss snuck in ahead, before ploughing on to win the membership ballot against Sunak.

She remains incredibly popular with the membership, and after standing in for the Prime Minister earlier this week – seen by many as a dress rehearsal – the membership would almost certainly pick her this time. With Truss now out of the mix, her chances look strong – but with only a few months as a senior Cabinet minister when Defence Secretary in Theresa May’s final months, is she too great a risk at this time.

Suella Braverman

Whether she resigned because the writing was on the wall for Truss and she wanted to position as a leadership candidate nobody except her knows. What is clear, however, is that Braverman, despite never excelling as a minister and spending mere weeks in a senior post, has big ambitions.

She accused her successor in the Home Office, Grant Shapps, of instigating a coup against Liz Truss during the Conservative Party conference, and was said to have had a blazing row with the PM over her immigration plans the night before her resignation. She is unlikely to make headwind within the Parliamentary party but will likely be the favoured candidate of the right.

Boris Johnson

Unless Boris Johnson enters the race. There are fewer big beasts than Boris on the Tory benches and polling suggests that if put to the members, he would be given a second shot at being Prime Minister. Liz Truss barely had time to take down the curtains and wallpaper that Johnson installed in the Downing Street flat – and that might keep down the costs of redecorating for a third prime minister in a year. He is likely to have significant support still within the Parliamentary party, and there is clearly buyers (or sellers) remorse amongst the membership that he was removed – his chances of a comeback are relatively strong.

However, he was forced out of office for repeated failings of leadership which saw the most unprecedented collapse of a government through resignations ever seen in Westminster. There is also the Privileges Committee which kicks off next month, potentially mining the road ahead of him in a second stint as prime minister. Whether he could command the confidence of his MPs is unclear, and for this reason, he may not even stand.

Kemi Badenoch

For many, Kemi was the fresh-faced, BAME future of the Tory party; for others she was lacking in substance and interested in little beyond culture wars. This makes her an interesting prospect in a race, as another candidate who would most likely be supported heavily by the membership, but not be allowed anywhere close to them by the Parliamentary party for her lack of experience and of a substantive agenda.

If the Tory party were taking a risk with a prime minister who had spent 12 years in Cabinet and served as Foreign Secretary, they are unlikely to take a risk on an MP who has barely held a senior position in government. She will likely feature in future leadership races, just not this one.

Ben Wallace

Unlikely to stand. Give him a decent defence budget and let him get on with it. Ben Wallace is likely to end up being the only Cabinet minister to serve in the same position in all three premierships.

He turned down standing when Boris Johnson was ousted, and unless something major has changed, it is unlikely that he would stand this time.

Jeremy Hunt

Also not standing. The de facto prime minister for the past week, Jeremy Hunt seems to have already decided against running due, perhaps in part, because of how desperate the situation is.

Instead, he is likely to remain Chancellor of the Exchequer and work with Truss’ successor on steadying the ship.

Rehman Chishti

He stood last time, maybe he fancies his chances again. Perhaps he is that elusive unity candidate the Tories are searching for.

He has never held any senior positions, so it is unlikely he will even stand, nevermind be selected by the party. Perhaps he is in for a bigger job under the next prime minister.

Theresa May

Another ex-PM and another potential unity candidate, there are fewer pairs of hands safer than Theresa May. She has done the job, and despite some obvious flaws, did a decent job until Brexit consumed her.

She would likely lead them to defeat in the next election – but anyone would. A safe pair of hands might be what is needed, and it may be what the party looks for.

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