Party leadership contests often come down to being between a ‘change’ candidate and one who promises more of the same. This time, a key dividing line maybe between candidates without a huge amount of government experience and those who have been vocal adherents of the policies of the Johnson government. Their challenge will be to explain how, beyond style and presentation, they will offer something radically different. In addition, all candidates will need to demonstrate their breadth of policy knowledge and innovation, their ability to communicate, their ability to campaign and win elections and their administrative competence. Successful prime ministers like Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher had all four qualities. Poor prime ministers often offer only one.
Were I an MP or Tory Member, I’d be wanting to see those issues tested to destruction over the next few weeks. Here’s how I rate the prospects of the dozen most likely runners and riders.
Rishi Sunak 4-1
Strength: Transparently nice
Weakness: Seen as a high spender & taxer
It’s a myth that frontrunners in Tory leadership contests never win. Boris Johnson did, and Rishi Sunak finds himself with first mover advantage and already a string of high profile (and impressive) backers. Much more popular among the party grassroots than is often supposed, he is the one all the others know they’ll have to beat. But how low are they prepared to go to do so?
Liz Truss 13/2
Strength: Queen of social media
Weakness: Seen as a Johnson cheerleader
For some time now Liz Truss has pitched herself, somewhat successfully, as the natural successor to Margaret Thatcher. So shameless has she been that she’s even started to send herself up. After a tricky start as Foreign Secretary she has grown into the job and has impressed even some diehard sceptics. Throwing out the Russian Ambassador after an interview without coffee was a highlight. However, what is Trussism?
Nadhim Zahawi 8-1
Strength: Personal backstory
Weakness: Accepting a job from Boris Johnson, then ratting on him
The man Keir Starmer is said to dread having to face over the dispatch box, Nadhim Zahawi was given his dream job on Tuesday. Having told the PM to go only a few hours later, it’s a miracle he is still in it. However, as Machiavelli tells us, to get the top job in politics (and keep it) you need to display a degree of ruthlessness. Having attracted deserved plaudits for the vaccine rollout, and pitched himself as a free market tax cutter Zahawi is in a good position.
Sajid Javid 10-1
Strength: Experience across government
Weakness: Can appear slightly wooden
In his resignation statement some thought Sajid Javid protested a little too much about being a natural team player. He may well be, but resigning twice might indicate the opposite. As former chancellors, he and Rishi Sunak are fishing in the same pond for support, and Sunak has stolen a march on his friend. Javid has a compelling story and with the right policy offering could still come through the middle. But he needs to act fast.
Jeremy Hunt 12-1
Strength: A team builder
Weakness: Lack of a killer instinct
Jeremy Hunt will want to run a campaign based on the fact that “the adults “ would be back in charge and that there would be a complete break with the past. An attractive proposition for many, but he is still deeply distrusted by the Right on Brexit, even though he was the first leading Remainer (back in 2017) to declare he had changed his mind and would now vote Leave in a repeat referendum. Impressed as Health & Social Care Select Committee Chair but can he escape blame for lack of pandemic planning?
Penny Mordaunt 16-1
Strength: Flair & debating
Weakness: Very ‘progressive’ views on social issues
On paper, Penny Mordaunt has it all. She’s near the top of Tory member popularity polls popular with colleagues, has written a book setting out her stall, is a committed Brexiteer and has the ability to make Labour frontbenchers quake in their boots. And yet her colleagues doubt she has the killer instinct needed. She’s been mute throughout the shenanigans of the last week and her leadership intentions remain unclear. But if she runs, and runs a good campaign, she could be the dark horse candidate to make a real dent in the support of the favourites.
Tom Tugendhat 20-1
Strength: Not having been part of the Johnson government
Weakness: No executive experience
He may have been pipped to the post as the first officially declared candidate by Suella Braverman, but Tom Tugendhat’s launch on Thursday went smoothly and he immediately attracted some quality backers like Damian Green. A Remainer who now professes profound Brexit instincts Tugendhat must capitalize on his main asset – being the ultimate candidate of change. It’s unlikely he will win, but he could come a lot closer than most think.
Grant Shapps 25-1
Strength: Proven communicator and campaigner
Weakness: Never had a big cabinet job
During the pandemic, Grant Shapps was the best communicator the government had. Calm, collected, and able to explain things way beyond his area of expertise. He’s settled down his basket case of a department and provided the political leadership it has lacked for years if not decades. A competent administrator too, some question whether he has ‘it’ – that indefinable thing that some politicians have and some can never attain.
Kemi Badenoch 50-1
Strength: Ability to call a spade a shovel
If Liz Truss seeks to portray herself as Thatcher reincarnated, then Kemi Badenoch is the real thing on acid. Not for her the photo ops on tanks, she just relies on her words and deeds to prove her credentials. Inexplicably muzzled by the Johnson media operation, Badenoch is about to be a political star even if she doesn’t prevail in this contest.
Suella Braverman 50-1
Strength: Already established as the candidate of the Right
Weakness: Seen as far too political in her job as Attorney General
Spooked the political markets when she declared her candidacy even before there was a vacancy on Wednesday evening on the Peston Show. She then called for Boris Johnson to go, while refusing to resign herself. That takes a special talent, and it meant she got 24 hours on her rivals, which she has used to the full. At the time of writing, she is second only to Rishi Sunak in her number of declared followers. She has little appeal beyond the Brexity Right, though.
Nadine Dorries 50-1
Strength: The Johnson continuity candidate
Weakness: The Johnson continuity candidate
Nadine Dorries is pitching herself as the ‘Disruptor candidate’, who will burn the candle for Boris Johnson’s legacy. This may be just as well given not a single one of the others will, despite serving for years in his cabinet. Dorries will hold them to account, assuming she actually does put in her nomination papers in the end.