Runners And Riders: Who Could Replace Rishi Sunak As Tory Leader?

Could Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman or Robert Jenrick replace Rishi Sunak?
Could Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman or Robert Jenrick replace Rishi Sunak? Getty

Rishi Sunak confirmed he would be stepping down as the Conservative leader after his party’s abysmal performance in the general election last night.

But it remains unclear who will step in to unite the struggling party amid its deep divisions and the worst set of results the Tories have ever faced at the polls.

And with two major contenders, Penny Mordaunt and Steve Baker, losing their seats in the overnight chaos, it’s all to play for.

There has been some speculation the Tories could look to bring back former leaders and PMs David Cameron or Boris Johnson, but neither have a seat in the Commons right now.

Nigel Farage is also on the bookies’ list for becoming a Conservative leader.

Though now an MP, he is currently the Reform Party leader and would have to defect to lead the Tories – which is unlikely to happen after Reform took five MPs overall in the election.

The party leader must be a sitting MP and have to be nominated by other Tories.

So will a figure on the right of the party step into the abyss – or could the Conservative Party look to move to the centre over the next five years?

1. Kemi Badenoch

Seen as the current favourite – according to the bookies, with an 11/5 odds – Badenoch served as the business secretary, and the women and equalities minister under Sunak.

She came fourth in the race to replace Boris Johnson two years ago, and secured the highest net satisfaction rating of any cabinet minister among readers of Conservative Home in May.

2. Suella Braverman

The former home secretary, Braverman resigned under a cloud after being accused of breaking the ministerial code during Liz Truss’s brief time in No.10.

She was reappointed by Sunak but dismissed in his reshuffle in November 2023.

Days before the election, she penned an op-ed claiming it was already “over” for the Conservatives.

She is known for declaring that getting deportation flights off to Rwanda was her “dream” and for her divisive rhetoric on illegal migration.

She ran in the 2022 leadership race but left early, although she remains popular with the party’s base – her victory speech was seen as many to be a pitch to lead.

3. James Cleverly

The outgoing home secretary has held multiple offices in government over the years, including education secretary and foreign secretary.

He is very experienced within government but has made headlines for very public gaffes – such as supposedly calling the Rwanda plan “batshit”.

Still, he is seen as a less divisive figure than some of his potential contenders which could appeal to the party members.

4. Priti Patel

A favourite among grassroots, Patel has reportedly been encouraged to stand for the party’s leadership.

She was the home secretary under Boris Johnson but moved onto the backbenches when Liz Truss took charge and has stayed there ever since.

The famous eurosceptic was the first home secretary to champion the Rwanda deportation scheme.

Priti Patel could try to go for the top job.
Priti Patel could try to go for the top job. via Associated Press

5. Jeremy Hunt

The health secretary under Theresa May and the chancellor under Sunak, Hunt only just managed to hold onto his seat last night with fewer than 1,000 votes.

He is credited with helping stabilise the economy after the chaos of Liz Truss’s mini-budget.

However, he failed on two separate occasions to be elected as the party’s leader, and came second to Boris Johnson in 2019.

He said last night that the election results would be “a bitter pill to swallow for the Conservative Party”.

6. Tom Tugendhat

The outgoing security minister is on the left of the party and the second-favourite among those looking to place political bets.

He stood to replace Boris Johnson two years ago, but was knocked out in the third round of parliamentary voting and chose to back Liz Truss’s bid instead.

He was then appointed as the security minister and stayed in that role under Sunak.

7. Robert Jenrick

Sunak’s former immigration minister resigned from the cabinet last December, claiming the Rwanda asylum plan did not go far enough.

Seen as being on the right of the party, he was the housing secretary under Johnson.

He has recently claimed the Conservative party is “the natural home for Reform voters”, so party members may look to him to pull back voters from the Nigel Farage’s populist party.

After it was revealed he had held onto his Newark seat with a 3,572 majority, he said: “It is clearly an extremely difficult night for the Conservative Party and a deeply disappointing result, but in that context to have won here, against the odds, against almost every poll, is a huge compliment to my team and work that they do.”