Here’s what the Tory leadership contenders have done – and what they’ve promised as PM
A handy guide to what the frontrunners want to do as Prime Minister
by: Greg Barradale and Alastair Reid
11 Jul 2022
The |Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Number 10 for prime Minister’s Questions. 10 Downing Street. Picture by Tim Hammond / No 10 Downing Street
As Boris Johnson stood outside the door of 10 Downing Street and told an expectant nation “them’s the breaks”, the starting gun was fired on a Conservative leadership election. Hotel rooms have been booked, Twitter pages started, and spreadsheets compiled.
Tory MPs will whittle the candidates down to a final two, who will then be voted on by party members. Or, as in 2019 when Theresa May became leader, all other candidates may simply drop out before that stage. What matters is not how popular the candidates are with the country at large – but how well-liked they are by paid-up Conservative members.
From the best of frenemies to recently departed allies and long-serving Conservatives who have been waiting in the wings like a worse-dressed phantom of the opera, these are the front runners according to the bookies.
Despite being the bookies favourite, at least at the time of writing, Mordaunt has kept a low profile throughout the death throes of the Johnson administration.
Once a secretary of state for international development under Theresa May, she left government when Johnson assumed office, only to return later in 2020 in more junior roles. As such she’s seen as an outsider to the legacy of lying and partying which has dogged Johnson and co, and would be a fresh start candidate for the Conservative leadership.
The daughter of a former paratrooper, Mordaunt once proudly told the Commons she is named after the battleship HMS Penelope, “the first cruiser able to do a complete about-turn within her own length”. We’ll leave any comparisons with the current political situation up to our readers.
Mordaunt’s campaign launch video features no video footage of the actual candidate.
In fact, it takes nearly three minutes to get to a picture of Mordaunt, who says “our leadership needs to become a little less about the leader”.
There’s very little policy, just a “focus on what we are”, delivered in the manner of someone riffing on “why Britain is bloody amazing” on Just a Minute.
Mordaunt took to the Telegraph to reveal she will halve VAT on fuel – gaining an endorsement from fuel protest organisers FairFuel UK – and raise thresholds on inheritance tax.
She was also at pains to emphasise how she has “challenged the trans orthodoxy” and decried those who “depict me as ‘woke’.”
Are you #Ready4Rishi? That’s the question Sunak asked as he launched his leadership bid. In his resignation letter, on Tuesday, he claimed that the Treasury may well be his last job in government. Scarcely three days later, he mysteriously had a slickly-edited video ready to go.
Sunak was widely seen as prime minister-in-waiting throughout the pandemic, spending lavishly in an attempt to keep business afloat and going on a media charm offensive. “Dishy Rishi” was regularly papped poring over his budget in a hoodie and sliders or delivering plates of chicken as part of his “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme to revive the bar and restaurant trade in 2020.
Oh how the tables turned. By early 2022, Sunak was rumoured to be ready to throw in the towel entirely, frustrated at being tarred with the same brush as Johnson throughout the Partygate scandal, burned by the backlash over his wife’s non-dom tax status and seemingly unable to dig the UK out of a cost of living crisis. The mockery which followed photos of the multi-millionaire Sunak at a petrol station, seemingly clueless as how to buy a bottle of Coke, sent his man-of-the-people schtick up in flames.
Still, he features high up in the bookies’ reckoning of the next PM.
And if he doesn’t get that, he has his choice of Yorkshire mansion or LA beach house and a place secured in history as the first chancellor to feature on the Sunday Times’ rich list.
Three days after resigning as chancellor, Rishi came out with an improbably slick video setting out his stall.
It’s all about Britain giving people opportunity, and putting a proper grown up in charge. “Do we confront this moment with honesty, seriousness and determination, or do we tell ourselves comforting fairytales that make us feel better in the moment but will leave our children worse off tomorrow?”
He adds: “Someone has to grip this moment and make the right decisions.”
In the spirit of fairness, Sunak has also starred in a campaign video for every other candidate. A resurfaced video shows a young Sunak quickly clarifying that, while he has aristocratic friends, working class friends would be a step too far.
Sunak has promised more to come on policy details – but suggests that tax cuts may not be wise.
He has also signalled he’ll keep the Rwanda deportation policy, with a spokesperson telling The Times: “Rishi signed off and funded the Asylum Partnership Agreement with Rwanda, and now he just wants to make sure that it works. Rishi is proud to be from a family of immigrants but believes that the UK must have control of its borders.”
The Saj, to give him his preferred nomenclature, might have been the first to throw himself out of the window of the sinking Johnson government but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t got eyes on the top job.
Javid was beaten to the post by Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest after May resigned and has been in the cabinet in one form or another since 2014.
Before becoming a politician, the 52-year-old had a long career as a banker and, while at Deutsche Bank, was involved in selling the debt bundles which, when spread out across the sector, led directly to the worldwide economic crash of 2009.
He’s promised tax cuts totalling £39bn a year, as a way to increase growth. Javid will cancel corporation tax rise from 19 to 25 per cent and then reduce it gradually to 15 per cent, as well as cutting income tax by 1p this year rather than next year as scheduled.
The current foreign secretary and (apparently) minister for women and equalities, Liz Truss had her eyes on the chancellor’s job after Rishi Sunak quit, having spent her early career as an accountant.
Truss has worn a number of hats across government, serving in the departments of international trade, justice, education, environment and the treasury, but not quite as many as she has worn in the more than 700 tax payer-funded photos uploaded to the government Flickr account since she took office.
Bizarrely, Truss was the president of the Oxford University Liberal Democrats as a student, a fact which would no doubt feature prominently among her opponents should a leadership race get dirty.
Her ability to find patriotism in the mundane won’t hurt her chances with Tory members, either. “We’re producing more varieties of cheese than the French”, she said in a now-infamous speech.
Unleashing a video for people who think Bond movies aren’t patriotic enough, Truss has lots of footage of her doing important official business.
Truss is committed to core conservative principles: low spending, and low tax. She wants to make sure Putin loses in Ukraine, and promises “more money in your pocket”, including with “day one” tax cuts.
The foreign secretary also cites the environment as one of the main challenges facing the country.
He’s got a fully sprung ballroom in his house. That should tell you all you need to know about Jeremy Hunt. During his six years as health secretary from 2012 to 2018 he clashed with junior doctors, and as culture secretary he can claim responsibility for the London 2012 Olympics – possibly the last good thing to happen to the country.
Posing as a sensible candidate in the current field perhaps does not require much exertion, but Hunt will be able to draw on the fact he’s served as foreign secretary, one of the great offices of state, and on the fact he’s been throwing grenades from the back benches for some time now.
But after losing to Johnson in 2019, Hunt may face a challenge to win backers in a crowded field.
He’s laid out a tax-cutting policy slate, including reduceing corporation tax to 15 per cent in the Autumn and freezing business rates in the poorest areas for five years.
But further than that, he’ll cut “all taxes”. All of them. Every single one.
Hunt also told Sky News he would keep the Rwanda policy, but added: “We’ve got to make it work and I’m not convinced it is working at the moment.”
Did the week of Johnson’s resignation help or damage Zahawi? First, he threatened to resign as education secretary if he wasn’t made chancellor. Job done.
Except Johnson’s government started to implode, and that’s when Zahawi got cracking. Filling the poison chalice with some Jaegermeister, taking a hearty swig and forgetting the concept of “cabinet collective responsibility”, Zahawi used treasury stationary to tell Johnson to go, without resigning himself.
Again, Johnson buckled. Zahawi is still chancellor – Johnson is going. But Zahawi now appears either insanely Machiavellian or disturbingly fickle.
With an estimated £100m net worth, Zahawi’s wealth is not quite on the scale of his predecessor Rishi Sunak, but it’s not to be sniffed at.
As the minister in charge of vaccines, he gained political clout following the country’s successful roll-out.
A successful businessman, who founded polling firm YouGov after arriving in the country as a refugee speaking no English, Zahawi has weathered controversies over his finances, but may be able to play on his track record with Tory MPs.
Policy-wise, Zahawi will keep the Rwanda asylum seeker programme and publish his own tax returns.
The chancellor is also promising tax cuts as a way to grow the economy – specifically on corporation tax, income tax, and business rates – and is proposing 20 per cent cuts to public services to fund these.
Tugendhat has been floated as an option not just because he looks like he’d be cast to play the prime minister in a 9pm ITV drama, but because he’s thrown his own hat into the ring.
The former soldier is the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and voted for remain in the EU referendum.
Tugehdhat became the first of the contenders to throw his hat into the ring, announcing a leadership bid with the words: “It’s time for a clean start.”
He’s never served in government, but speaks of a vision of a Conservative party that is “a broad church that anyone can find their home in, whether young or old, northern or southern, renter or owner.”
Unsurprisingly, he believes taxes are too high and wants to beef up the armed forces in response to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.
An avowed internationalist, Tugendhat has confirmed he would keep the Rwanda policy.
He’s condemned the rise in National Insurance as a “tax on jobs constraining British growth”, and has promised a “10-year economic plan” balancing tax with a stronger economy.
In his campaign video, Shapps directly appeals to Tory MPs worried about losing their seats: “I can help you win your seat”, while other campaign material highlights how he won his seat from Labour.
There’s even a disco-soundtracked TikTok version.
In fact, his platform – including a “campaign strike force” and “access to the latest campaign resources” – focuses so squarely on helping MPs win their seats, that it might be seen best as a pitch for that.
He separately says the “war on woke” is a distraction, and not something he’ll focus on, adding: “I just don’t think we need to get caught up in some US-style debate and almost aggressive war on these issues.”
And in keeping with other candidates, he has said he would cut taxes and keep the Rwanda scheme. Shapps would scrap a planned increase in corporation tax next year, and bring forward next year’s 1p cut to income tax.
The person who seems to have benefitted most from Braverman’s nascent leadership bid is her shadow, Labour’s Emily Thornberry.
As Braverman, currently the attorney general, began her bid, Thornberry sarcastically said in the House of Commons: “Can I say what an honour it is to be at this Dispatch Box facing the next Prime Minister, as she awaits the call from the Palace.”
Not content, Thornberry followed up by calling Braverman “deluded” on TV, adding: “It is absolutely extraordinary that she is supposed to be the person who is responsible for the law, and yet she has presided over a time when the Conservative party have themselves broken the law, and there has been an epidemic of increased law-breaking.”
So, yes, it’s going great.
Braverman’s policies so far lay around getting rid of the net zero 2050 target and leaving the European Court of Human Rights.
On the ECHR, she said: “Obstructing lawful deportations by going to the ECHR destroys trust in politics.”
And on net zero, she said: “In order to deal with the energy crisis we need to suspend the all-consuming desire to achieve net zero by 2050.”
With the backing of heavyweight Michael Gove, Kemi Badenoch’s status as an outsider candidate have increased. The former equalities minister has laid out a platform based on culture wars and tax cuts.
Badenoch has promised lower taxes accompanied by tight spending, and wants to get rid of the Online Safety Bill and the 2050 net zero target.
Writing in The Times, she promised to: “Reinvigorate the case for free speech, free markets, and the institutions that defend a free people.”
Before her leadership bid, Badenoch drew criticism from the National Union of Journalists after accusing a journalist of “creepy and bizarre behaviour” for asking her questions.
Recorded in one take straight to his mobile phone, and posted to Facebook, Rehman Chishti’s launch video had the hint of somebody doing an ill-advised dare.
He promises “lower taxes, small state, big society”.
MP for Gillingham and Rainham, Chishti has been in parliament since 2010. He was dubbed as a rising star, but only became a minister in last week’s chaos.
Still, you’ve heard of him now.
Out of the race
Yes, he got tricked into having a phone call with a pair of pranksters posing as the Ukrainian prime minister, but as defence secretary Ben Wallace has been able to ramp up the rhetoric with Putin and take credit for the government’s response to the crisis.
He was one of the favourites until he announced he wouldn’t be running on July 9.
Regarded as a “fixer” in a political culture where competency is a distinction, Gove has held a wide range of ministerial posts since becoming an MP in 2005: education, justice, environment and housing. He told The Big Issue last week he had no intention of running for leader again.
And, in the wake of Johnson’s demise, he further ruled out running in the leadership contest.
Gove famously knifed Johnson in the wake of the Brexit referendum, standing as a Tory leadership candidate after “reluctantly” concluding that “Boris cannot provide the leadership” for the task ahead. He didn’t win that election, and appeared to bury his ambitions – only for Johnson to eventually take the top job.
Currently the deputy prime minister, Raab hasn’t been visibly circling the wagons since his boss packed it in. He’s mostly being floated as a caretaker PM.
The country could do worse than to get behind a man with such a fixed Pret order. The “Dom Raab Special” – chicken and bacon baguette, superfruit pot, and volcano smoothie – captured hearts and minds when it was revealed in 2018, although not always positively.
That’s the deputy prime minister all over, a marmite figure who has served as foreign secretary, justice secretary, and Brexit secretary. As a student at Oxford he captained the university karate team.
During his time as a lawyer, he worked at the Hague bringing war criminals to justice.
Since then, however, his most famous moment was arguing that “the sea was closed” when being grilled on why he was holidaying while Kabul fell.
And if that’s not your favourite Dominic Raab moment, what about his comments as Brexit secretary admitting he “hadn’t quite understood” how important Dover was to the UK’s trade?