Boris Johnson is on the outer, so who’s in for the Tory leadership?
19th January 2022

Boris Johnson is facing a mutiny with Conservative MPs seeking to gather the required number of letters to trigger a no-confidence party vote.

There is speculation the target of 54 letters could be reached imminently. If Johnson ultimately loses the vote, this would trigger a Conservative party leadership contest.

So who would be in the running? Below is a list of the most likely contenders and possible wildcards.

Rishi Sunak

In pole position to succeed him is Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak who has enjoyed a meteoric rise through Tory ranks, joining the junior ministry in 2018 only to be elevated into the Treasury, one of the four Great Offices of State, two years later.

Rishi oozes cool. Just ask him. He rides a Peloton, publishes images of himself in laid-back mode wearing hoodies, like many millennials of today, doesn’t drink alcohol, is a reformed Coca-Cola addict, (after seven fillings is limited to just one can per week) and drinks his hot beverages from a £180 “smart mug” given to him by his wife, the daughter of a billionaire.

UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak.Credit:AP

Rishi made his name in Britain crafting the generous furlough scheme that gave locked-down workers 80 per cent of their wages.

Like Boris, Rishi is on a first-name basis with the public thanks to the generous income support and the Eat Out to Help Out scheme that gave diners £10 off their bills at the end of lockdown.

If Rishi were to become Prime Minister, he would be the first British leader from an ethnic or minority background. He himself is born in Southampton, England to Indian Punjabi Hindu parents, with his doctor father originally from Kenya and pharmacist mother born in Tanzania.

This, combined with the tone struck during the pandemic, as he spoke of the government providing a support and safety net for the entire society as they locked down, is why many MPs, particularly those in previously Labour-held “red wall” seats believe he could win the Conservatives an unprecedented fifth term.

But expect his wealth to come into focus.

Before politics, Sunak was an investment banker, hedge funder and entrepreneur working in Silicon Valley.

In California, he met his wife, Akshata, the daughter of Indian billionaire Nagavara Ramarao Narayana Murthy, the founder of IT company Infosys.

While this is appealing to Conservatives and a story of a fortune built on enterprise, Sunak’s wealth would make him a ripe target for Labour who would seek to cast him as out of touch with everyday concerns and realities.

Added to this, the mission he would have to restore the nation’s finances after the pandemic could lead to a toxic combination whereby a billionaire prime minister would be asking everyday Britons to pay tax hikes, absorb sky-high inflation and possibly endure cuts to their services.

Australia-lover Liz Truss

The other candidate that most think will end up in the final two will be Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who memorably appointed Tony Abbott to the Board of Trade.

Truss has been in Parliament since 2010, when David Cameron ended Labour’s 13-year rule and served in the Cabinets of all three prime ministers, earning her the reputation as a stayer.

Truss campaigned for Remain, which is still important to Tory party members who have the final say in the members vote in the Conservative leadership contest.

As Trade Secretary she was able to successfully rebadge herself as a Brexiteer by talking up the opportunities Leavers said would result from leaving the EU, including new trade deals with countries like the US, China and Australia.

So far, Truss has negotiated two free trade deals – with Australia and New Zealand and replicated a bunch of others that carryover trading arrangements that existed before Britain quit the customs union.

Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Despite these thin achievements, Truss was promoted to Foreign Secretary and has fashioned herself as a patriot and freedom-lover. She is the closest to Boris in the sense that she appeals to the working-class, Brexit-voting and England-loving sort of Tory that Sunak’s mega-wealth could turn off.

But she is also widely viewed in the party as a lightweight and out of her depth, someone who flounders when not reading a prepared speech. Her history as a Remainer could also prove to be a stumbling block. These allegiances still matter to rank-and-file Tories.

To counter this, she has formed a strong team around her and the widely respected Defence Secretary Ben Wallace could form a pact to support a leadership bid that would give heft to her campaign.

Sajid Javid

Javid was a contestant last leadership contest but got kicked out. Like Sunak, he would also be vying to become Britain’s first prime minister from a minority background having becoming the first British Asian to occupy one of the Great Offices of State.

He was born in Britain to Pakistani parents. He began investing in shares at the age of fourteen and began his career in banking, becoming managing director of Deutsche Bank.

Like Truss, he entered the Commons in 2010 and six years later was set to launch a joint-leadership ticket with another MP who had to withdraw after a suggestive text emerged.

Javid then launched another unsuccessful bid in 2019 but was eliminated in the fourth round of MPs voting.

Sajid JavidCredit:EPA

Could he be third time lucky?

Some candidates who might also consider a run include:

Jeremy Hunt who was the finalist against Boris Johnson in 2019. However, Hunt, a former Foreign and Health Secretary, is widely perceived as yesterday’s man.

Jeremy Hunt.Credit:Chris Ratcliffe

Tom Tugendhat

Tugendhat has long been on the outer of Boris Johnson’s government and Tugendhat subsequently fashioned himself as an early critic of Johnson in his role as chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Always harbouring ambition, 2022 could be the year the critic attempts his own go at the ropes. He is not without his own internal critics though, and one describes him as a “poor man’s Jeremy Hunt.”

But don’t rule out Hunt and Tugendhat forming a ticket, although who would come first is harder to gauge.

Michael Gove.Credit:Simon Dawson\Bloomberg

Michael Gove is the intellectual powerhouse of the Conservative government and also headed Vote Leave. However, he is widely viewed as treacherous dating back to his sabotage of Johnson’s leadership bid in 2016 just after David Cameron resigned as the result of the EU referendum result. Gove is unlikely to receive support from Tory MPs or party members, even from those who respect his intellect.

A leadership campaign would also heighten scrutiny on his private life – he recently split with his former wife Sarah Vine, a high-profile columnist at The Daily Mail.


Penny Mordaunt is one to watch. She has been in Cabinet and there will be a desire from many to ensure that the leadership is not simply a fait accompli for the more assured Rishi Sunak. She is well liked by Conservatives and also respected.

Nadhim Zahawi is the other to keep an eye on. Zahawi has been quietly impressing colleagues in his various roles as a Secretary of States for Education and taking up a key role in the vaccine rollout.

Not only is Nadhim a strong media performer, he has a true rags-to-riches story, born in Baghdad to Kurdish parents. One of nine sons, the family fled Saddam Hussein’s early reign. In the UK he co-founded political research firm YouGov and joined parliament the same year as Truss and Javid.

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