Theresa May has granted herself a brief reprieve by saying ‘sorry’ to Conservative MPs. But while the Prime Minister’s apology won her some breathing space, in the long term little has changed: the PM’s Downing Street days are numbered. Who could be next in line to take over as the new Tory leader?
Boris remains the bookies’ favourite despite being badly bruised by last year’s bungled bid for the top job. The Foreign Secretary has thrown his weight behind May for now. It’s difficult though to ignore George Osborne’s assessment that Boris is in a ‘permanent leadership campaign’. Boris knows he has popular appeal on his side and his back-to-back wins in London prove he is a smart bet for a party hoping to gain ground in Labour-voting areas. For Tories eager to avoid another ‘glumbucket’ election campaign, Boris also remains the wise bet. But there’s no doubt that the Foreign Secretary would be a controversial choice: his leave credentials could prove problematic, not least Vote Leave’s £350m Brexit pledge to the NHS. Picking Boris would also be interpreted as a big act of provocation to the EU during Brexit talks.
An old hand of two Tory leadership campaigns, Davis – who was pipped to the post by David Cameron back in 2005 – clearly has aspirations for the top job. Davis has done his best to dampen speculation so far, saying that talk of who takes over from Theresa is ‘self indulgence’. It wouldn’t be entirely wise to take Davis at his word. The Brexit Secretary’s position at the forefront of negotiations gives him an advantage over his rivals. But if Davis won the Tory leadership race, it’s likely he would be a stop gap option: at 68, Davis would be the oldest politician to become Tory leader since Winston Churchill. Although this could mean he wins backing from ambitious younger MPs with an eye on taking the top job themselves in five years’ time.
Widely-tipped as a future Tory leader, Ruth Davidson’s success north of the border has only increased talk that she could one day be heading for Downing Street. Davidson has done her best to play down suggestions she wants to be PM, saying that she has no intention of taking on ‘the loneliest job in the world’. But for all the denials, it’s inevitable that Davidson will be linked with the top job. Her track record in reinventing the Scottish Tory party has been nothing short of remarkable – and the Scottish Tories’ success was the only obstacle to Jeremy Corbyn becoming PM. Davidson’s warmth and her ease on the campaign trail would also present a welcome contrast from the Maybot. However, the obvious con to a Davidson Premiership is that she first needs to get a seat. This would rely on a by-election or a Scottish MP standing aside for her, which in itself might trigger an ‘Anything but Tory’ protest vote. It would also give her opponents valuable time to move against her.
Rudd’s impressive showing during last year’s referendum debate catapulted her into the limelight. Standing in for Theresa May during the election debate this time around has demonstrated again that her performance wasn’t a one-off. As well as proving herself on the big stage, Rudd would also be a popular pick for Tory moderates but her high-profile support for the Remain campaign during the referendum could present a problem to the Home Secretary’s chances. Her tiny majority in her own seat might also make the Tories wary of opting for a leader in grave danger of losing her seat at the next election. As one party figure puts it, ‘The Conservative party can’t be held hostage by 300 voters in Hastings’.
Hammond has been largely sidelined by the PM and looked all but certain to be given the boot in the event of a Tory landslide. The election disaster changed all that and now the balance of power has swung back to the Chancellor. Hammond has proven himself to be a steady and capable pair of hands, but there’s no doubt that he was stung badly by the National Insurance row during the Tories’ budget. Hammond also has few allies on the backbenches and his perceived negativity about Brexit has gone down badly with the Tory MPs, not to mention the Conservative grassroots, whose support he would need if a leadership bid was to be a success. The Chancellor also lacks the charisma of other possible leadership rivals.
A year after he was sent packing to the backbenches, Michael Gove is back. His previous cabinet experience will count in his favour and the new environment secretary has proven himself to be a capable figure. Gove is easily one of the most intelligent people in the Cabinet. Yet the big question mark hanging over Gove is whether he can be forgiven for his brutal backstabbing of Boris during last year’s leadership battle. Gove admitted himself that he had made mistakes. And it’s doubtful he would risk running again, having only recently been welcomed back into the fold.
Javid wouldn’t be the first Muslim son of a bus driver to take high office but he remains an outside bet. His rise to the Cabinet was speedy: he became a Minister after just five years in office. Although his wavering in the referendum – in which Javid was expected to back Brexit but ended up calling for Britain to stay put in the EU – angered some and led to accusations that Javid was sitting on the fence – hardly the credentials of a future leader. Javid was also bruised over his handling of the row over business rate rises earlier this year. A fan of Ayn Rand, Javid would appeal to the Libertarian wing of the party.
Widely-liked, Green’s appointment as Theresa May’s deputy was aimed at placating an angry Conservative party in the wake of the election. While Green is popular and now wields considerable power in his new job, his proximity to the PM – who he was at Oxford with – could still dent his chances.
Another outside bet, Raab is something of a rising star in the Tory party and is among the pick of the bunch from the party’s 2010 intake of new MPs. Raab is a familiar face on TV and a frequent contributor to the newspapers. Raab’s big plus is his support for Brexit during the referendum – and his optimistic contributions of what Britain could achieve outside the EU since last years vote will have gone down well with the party’s grassroots. If Raab runs, it’s unlikely he has the star power to win – but any leadership bid could serve as a useful trial run.