British Prime Minister Liz Truss's resignation on 20 October triggered a new Conservative Party leadership contest, all eyes have now shifted at her possible replacements.
While she is set to remain in office as a caretaker prime minister until a successor is named, a leadership contest is expected to take place over the next week with several candidates allegedly in the fray for the 10 Downing Street job.
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Truss’ main opponent in the leadership race earlier this year is now the top favorite to replace her.
Even though Sunak was the top choice among party MPs and is considered a safe pair of fiscal hands, he lost to Truss in the final voting round by Conservative party members .
During his campaign, he was berated by Truss as an orthodox finance minister, but he got his ‘I told you so’ moment when Liz Truss’ tax cutting plans shocked the markets and led to widespread chaos, just like he predicted.
However, during his term as finance minister, Sunak's failure to resolve the cost-of-living crisis, his decision to increase taxes, and the revelation of his wife Akshata Murthy's non-domicile status that allowed her to save millions on taxes in foreign earnings together dented his reputation of being the most-liked minister in the Boris Johnson cabinet.
This time, Sunak will have to weigh up against the hostility from resenting party members who remain aggrieved over his “betrayal” of Johnson and also for raising the UK’s tax rates to the highest decades during a cost-of-living crisis.
But due to his overall “likability,” some Conservative MPs have proposed that Sunak form a joint ticket with fellow leadership contender Penny Mordaunt, as a more politically sound option in an attempt to garner enough support together to secure the backing of Tory MPs.
Penny Mordaunt, former defence secretary raised to prominence when she finished third during the summer leadership race. She was second to Sunak until the final round and has maintained links with Conservative parliamentarians in her role as leader of the House of Commons.
Mordaunt (49) also escaped relatively unscathed from the Johnson-departure controversy and was extremely vocal about Truss’ leadership prowess during the first few weeks of her prime ministerial duties.
A reservist of the Royal Navy, Mordaunt served a short spell as Secretary of State for Defence.
Like Rishi Sunak, she belongs to a more moderate wing of the Tories and on Monday, spoke to the House of Commons regarding the exit of former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng but also distanced herself from Truss’ economic position. She further criticised the PM’s view on important policy decisions.
While Mordaunt is likely to be a popular option, several Tory MPs have long wondered if she is untested for the top job, like Liz Truss, making her a riskier choice too.
Several of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s allies have argued that he could be a “unity” candidate and bring balance to the UK, even though he resigned after being hit with the infamous party gate scandal among others, making his position untenable.
Former culture secretary and Johnson confidant Nadine Dorries on Thursday, said that he was the only Tory MP with “a mandate from party members and the British public,” since he won the general election in 2019.
Previously a popular leader, Boris Johnson enjoyed high levels of popularity until he lost credibility towards the end of his premiership amid political scandal around breaking procedure during COVID and his close links with disgraced MP Chris Pincher.
However, he is still seen my many as a proven election winner, and was the most popular candidate during a survey of Conservative Party members by pollster YouGov on 17 October. Johnson has a habit of bouncing back from scandals, but the fact that he contemplated a return so quickly has surprised many.
His last words during his final Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament were “Hasta la vista. Baby.”
Some suspect that the newly implemented 100-vote threshold as an attempt by the Tories to render another Johnson term impossible. While experts expect him to perform well during the leadership contest, the high vote threshold requirement from Tory parliamentarians may pose a hurdle too hard for Johnson to climb.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has maintained a low profile amid the chaos within the Conservative Party, but won massive respect for his hand in leading the UK’s support to Ukraine from the helm,
Wallace is popular among MPs and was seen as a favourite during the summer leadership race but was ruled out after he discussed with “colleagues and friends,” CNN reported.
While it is unclear if he would contest the vote, after he told The Times on Tuesday that he wanted to continue in his current position, he also signalled that he would likely resign if the government did not match its defence spending targets.
Other Names in the Fray
After Suella Braverman resigned as Home Secretary on Wednesday, it was seen as a precursor to a possible leadership bid. A former attorney-general, Braverman has not run for the top post before, her hard-line stance on several issues, especially immigration, may set the course of the Conservative Party further to the right.
Tom Tugendhaft also emerged as a surprising favorite for the leadership contest among the public and Tory members alike, even though he came fifth in the last leadership election.
He distanced himself from the mess of Johnson’s government, coming in fifth in the previous leadership election, he promised a “clean start” for Britain. Truss made Tugendhaft, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, security minister.
Former PM Theresa May was also floated as a possible “unity” candidate and tried to being the different wings of the Tories over Brexit, which eventually saw her concede 10 Downing Street to Boris Johnson.
(With inputs from CNN)