Conservative Leadership Contest: Runners and Riders

While Theresa May’s career hangs by a blue and yellow star-spangled thread, the sounds of plotting and scheming hums around Westminster’s gothic corridors. The inevitable question over who will ultimately replace Theresa May as Leader of the Conservative Party remains ever uncertain, but it’s clear that behind closed doors, leadership bids are already being devised and agreements are being made between prospective candidates.

While speculation of who will come out on top buzzes amongst the sharp-eyed Tory membership, it is entirely possible that we may see an unknown candidate, free from current Cabinet mud-slinging and the shadow of Brexit, emerge from the chaos and ultimately secure the keys to No. 10.

The Whitehouse Consultancy looks at the potential runners and riders:

Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to bounce higher


It’s the world’s worst kept secret that Brexit-enthusiast and former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, is vying for the top job after cementing himself as a leading voice of opposition to Mrs May’s Brexit deal and Brexit hero for the party faithful.

With a fresh haircut and public outings with his latest partner, Carrie Simmonds, the Old Etonian appears to have no issue in ‘getting the barnacles off the boat’ as of late – a phrase coined by his friend and surreptitious campaign strategist, Lynton Crosby, who was said to have given Boris an interest-free loan of £23,000 a short while ago. With recent reports of secret pro-Brexit Facebook ads coming from Crosby’s firm under the guise of grassroots campaigns, it is unclear, however, why exactly the loan was needed.

An extremely divisive figure within the Conservative Parliamentary party, Mr Johnson has a difficult task in getting the numbers needed to reach the final two. Consistently the popular choice amongst Tory members, if that hurdle is indeed achieved, then we could very well be seeing his infamous mop of blonde hair disappearing into No. 10 sooner than we thought.


Dominic Raab


From saying he doesn’t support the Human Rights Act and claiming people who go to food banks aren’t in poverty, to his confusion over the Dover-Calais border and admitting he’d not read the Good Friday Agreement, Dominic Raab is tipped as one of the favourites to be the next Conservative Party Leader.

The Tory MP played a prominent role in the Leave campaign in 2016 and, despite being the Secretary of State while it was devised, has been extremely vocal in his disapproval of the deal May eventually struck with the EU. A staunch libertarian and champion of free markets, the former Brexit Secretary has done well to distance himself from the role he quit in 2018, making him a popular contender amongst the right-wing grassroots.


Michael Gove


After a barnstorming speech in the Commons in which he attacked Jeremy Corbyn’s poor record on antisemitism and cosying up to terrorist organisations, Gove’s statesmanlike persona has gone from strength-to-strength. While still a key figure in Theresa May’s Government he has, remarkably, managed to disassociate himself from the whirlwind of chaos that has enveloped Mrs May’s premiership and instead rechristened himself as the champion of environmental concerns – most notably an attack on plastics.

A popular choice amongst Conservative Parliamentarians, Gove will undoubtedly reach the membership vote. He came third in the first round of voting in 2016, trailing behind ultimate winner Ms May and Mrs Leadsom. The question is, however, whether the members will go for Gove or choose an underdog relatively unknown to the general population.


Sajid Javid


Are you #Avid4Javid? The Home Secretary has recently made moves to position himself as tough on crime in the Tory leadership race. From stripping ISIS bride, Shamima Begum, of her British citizenship to claiming he could easily have ended up living a life of crime after living on one of Britain’s “most dangerous streets”, Javid has set out his views in speeches, saying the “mindset of Government needs to shift” to tackle violence among young people.

While his compelling backstory as the Rochdale-born son of Pakistani immigrants, who rose to become Home Secretary, is strong, his critics accuse him of having little more to offer in the way of policy and vision for the future. Moderate rivals, Hancock, Rudd and Cleverly, have seen their approval ratings soar amongst Tory members in recent weeks; his however, have dwindled somewhat. Hardly the momentum needed to be built if you have any shot of walking into Downing Street.


James Cleverly


Since being elected in 2015, James Cleverly’s career has made leaps and bounds, recently earning himself the notable, albeit toxic, job of Brexit Minister. Born in Lewisham, his mother was from Sierra Leone and worked as an NHS nurse after emigrating to Britain, so could prove a useful backstory to tackle the criticisms on health and immigration.

Over the past two years James has travelled the length and breadth of the country speaking at more than 150 events to a wide range of audiences and has built strong grassroots support. A passionate advocate of free speech, a staunch Brexiteer and champion of innovative ideas, it could very well be this relatively unknown MP who rises through the ranks.


Amber Rudd


The Work and Pensions Secretary says she is keeping her options open when it comes to a possible attempt to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister. While saying she doesn’t currently have a plan to stand, Amber Rudd is still gaging the situation and biding her time before leaping into the ring. The Hastings MP is well-respected across the party, but after resigning over the Windrush scandal and generally perceived to have done little to patch the deep flaws in Universal Credit, she has somewhat of a task on her hands if she wishes to move forward and plough her own furrow as the UK’s next leader. Ms Rudd’s greatest challenge may be not in winning No. 10, but overcoming the staggeringly small majority of 346 she has in her own constituency at the next election.


Andrea Leadsom


Defeat after defeat for Theresa May and the mood on the Conservative benches grows stronger. ‘Why couldn’t it have been Leadsom instead of May?’. Andrea Leadsom’s rise from Junior Energy Minister to insurgent Prime Ministerial candidate lasted just 12 days before it ended abruptly in 2016. Today, however, she is seen as the candidate most Tory backbenchers would rather have had, in hindsight, by the despatch box as PM.

Whether socking it to The Speaker or standing up for Brexit, the straight-from-the-shoulder Leader of The House has bolstered her popularity over the last three years. When asked about a future bid to replace Theresa May as party leader she curtly responded, ‘anything can happen’. But while rumours of a new bid drift through the corridors of power, there’s little to suggest ‘Leadsom for Leader 2.0’ may come into fruition. All eyes on Andrea herewith in…


Penny Mordaunt


She’s a risqué but not repellent potential Tory leadership contender who made a splash when she appeared on the critically-panned celebrity diving show on ITV. Mordaunt has the get-up-and-go attitude one needs to do the job, which has been demonstrated throughout her career. Mordaunt has a gift for publicity and has flourished in her role at the Department for International Development. From learning sign language to deliver an inclusive speech in The Commons, and being a proud Royal Naval Reservist, if the Tories ever wish to recruit an effervescent fighter as their next Leader, they could do worse than turn to Mordaunt.


Esther McVey


If a no-nonsense, driven, ardent Brexiteer is the benchmark that the Tory membership set when looking for a new leader, Esther McVey could very well be the dark horse in this race. Before entering politics, McVey was a businesswoman and television presenter, and co-presented GMTV with Eamonn Holmes, so is no stranger to the odd media appearance.

After stating that poor families only use food banks because they prioritise new mobile phones over food, tweeting fake news and misleading Parliament over Universal Credit, it could be argued that Esther McVey may be the candidate that rocks the boat just a little too much.


Jeremy Hunt


It’s full speed ahead for Jeremy Hunt’s leadership bid. Politicians love to look tough when there is an election on the horizon and Jeremy Hunt has done more than leap to the occasion. Posing with machine guns on his foreign trips and taking to the wheel of a speedboat, the Foreign Secretary is doing his best to establish himself as the fun and yet firm man for the top job.

Asked directly if he would run to replace Theresa May if she stands down, he replied “wait and see”. Hunt, who stepped into the role when Boris Johnson resigned over Brexit, said the next PM must be someone who “believes in Brexit”, despite being a remain voter and activist just three years ago. Whether he can convince the party membership that his EU-loving days are behind him, remains to be seen.


Johnny Mercer


Johnny Mercer hit the headlines last year after describing the Government as a “s***show” and brazenly admitting he would not vote Conservative were he not a Tory MP. Hardly the words of someone is tipped as a contender to be the party’s next leader, or the radical change the party needs.

With flash videos on social media and increased media appearances, Mercer has still refused to say whether he is planning to run to succeed Ms May, but fuelled speculation of a leadership bid by dismissing suggestions that the next Prime Minister should be an experienced Eurosceptic.

While the former British Army officer is popular amongst younger Tory members, he recently came under fire after it was discovered his high-paying second job is linked to a firm that owes a whopping £236 million to 11,500 savers. Not the best start for anyone who could be eyeing up the keys to No. 10.