This article first appeared HERE in the Sunday Telegraph.
I was asked to profile all the likely runners and riders in a Tory leadership contest. Obviously there is not as yet any vacancy, but if there were a contest in the next month or two, these are the likely participants.
Chancellors always assume they will inherit the crown - and often for good reason.
Rishi Sunak has had a good “Covid war” and is undoubtedly popular in the country – something which ought to be important for Tory MPs and members when they choose a leader.
His colleagues, though, remain wary. They ask: what kind of Conservative is he? They see a smooth sales and marketing director, but they question his ability to make tough decisions and stick to them. Does he have what it takes to be the chief executive? His challenge is to articulate what “Sunakism” actually means.
Most Likely to Say: “Where’s my Hoodie?”
Least Likely to Say: “No you can’t”
Liz Truss is incredibly adept at polishing her image on social media. Her Instagram photos are legendary, but beyond a desire to be seen as the reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher, what does she stand for?
She regularly tops the ConservativeHome monthly poll of who members would like to see as their next leader, but it is difficult to point to any government job where she has left a legacy of achievement - apart from at International Trade, where she successfully negotiated 70 trade agreements.
Most Likely to Say: “The Lady’s Not For Turning”
Least Likely to Say: “Put that camera away”
The Old Lags
Can he resist a third tilt at the leadership? Many think he would be wise to do so, and instead play the role of kingmaker.
Unceasingly polite, ultra-intelligent and uber-eloquent, he ought to have everything a Prime Minister needs. He is the one transformational minister in the cabinet but, five years on from his defenestration of Boris Johnson in June 2016, he is still not trusted by too many of his colleagues.
His authoritarian views on domestic issues, especially Covid laws, and his hawkish foreign policy stances also count against him.
Most Likely to Say: “Sorry, after you….”
Least Likely to Say: “I think all Covid restrictions should be lifted”
He may still be Deputy Prime Minister, but his demotion from foreign secretary to Justice Secretary severely clipped his wings. He performed well deputising for the Prime Minister when he was in hospital but has not quite risen to the challenge.
He can be much funnier and more likeable than his interviews sometimes suggest, but he may judge that standing this time will end up in defeat - so what’s the point?
Most Likely to Say: “Where’s that beach towel”
Least Likely to Say: “It’s the way I tell ‘em”
A big advantage for Jeremy Hunt is that he has not had to dip his hands in the blood of the Boris Johnson administration.
If he runs, his campaign is sure to centre around the concept of letting adults back into the room. Has retained a high profile as Health Select Committee chairman, but does he have the charisma or desire to win at the second attempt?
Most Likely to Say: “If I had won in 2019…”
Least Likely to Say: “I’ll appoint Dominic Cummings my chief of staff”
Had he not resigned as chancellor only a month before the pandemic hit, Sajid Javid would now be seen as the undisputed heir apparent - but it was not to be.
He has performed well as Health Secretary over the last six months and has acquired a robustness in debate - as Wes Streeting, his Labour opposite number, is finding out. He suffers from being seen as a bit cold but privately, he is not like that at all. He needs to press the flesh of Tory MPs a little more assiduously.
Most Likely to Say: “I warned you all along that Dominic Cummings is a —---
Least Likely to Say: “We’ve decided to totally ignore the science”
The Dark Horses
One of the few ministers the general public believe has done a good job. His superb work on the vaccine roll-out propelled him into the Cabinet, where he is starting to shine.
A consummate media performer, he is always prepared to go into bat as the Minister for Sticky Wickets. His family background and business record all make him an attractive candidate. Could benefit from being everyone’s second choice.
Most Likely to Say: “And as for the vaccine rollout…”
Least Likely to Say: “I’m never appearing on Newsnight again”
Intended to run last time, but by the time she was ready the field was already too crowded. A hugely attractive personality, bawdy sense of humour and robust debating style give her what few of the other candidates possess – transparent likeability.
Sacked as defence secretary by Boris Johnson, he brought her back as a Minister of State - but her ability to go off-piste has not gone down well in Number 10. Colleagues question her depth, but she has written a book called Greater which articulates her political vision. Could come through the middle.
Most Likely to Say: “Three nuns walk into a room…”
Least Likely to Say: “I’ll have a number one cut please”
She has had a torrid time of late in the Home Office, especially over the Channel migrant issue. It is difficult to see how she would have enough support to get to the final two but never underestimate the ‘Pritster’. She has remarkable bounce back-ability.
Most Likely to Say: “Bang ‘em up”
Least Likely to Say: “I do have a touchy feely side you know”
The conscience of the Tory right, Steve Baker may throw his hat into the ring. He will not expect to win but he will want to ensure the debate is held on his terms. He would certainly make the debates interesting.
A bright, breezy performer in the media, she knows how to speak “human”. An impressive performer in her job as apprentices minister, she now handles the social care and mental health portfolio. Too early this time, maybe, but if Boris Johnson hangs on she has the opportunity to be a contender next time.
Could Brandon Lewis be a classic compromise candidate, uniting all wings of the party? He knows the party membership from his time as party chairman and is a trusted media performer.
The only non Boris supporter to be retained in his first Cabinet, Mr Lewis has performed well in a difficult portfolio in Northern Ireland. Having supported Remain, he is now seen as more hardline than most over negotiations with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
His biggest drawback is a complete lack of ministerial experience, but he has made an impact as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
A powerful speaker, he has been warning of Chinese influence in our politics for a long time and his speech on the Afghan withdrawal was the parliamentary moment of 2021. But does he have enough support among fellow MPs?
Omnipresent on our television screens, Tobias Ellwood may want to put a marker down for whoever is next leader, in a bid to bag a Cabinet position. A staunch defender of the interests of the Armed Forces and critic of current foreign policy, he would certainly shake up a contest.