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The Next Tory Leader: The Race to Replace Rishi

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Rishi Sunak is the third Tory leader in little more than a year. The public are still getting used to this PM – as well as the unexpected return of his predecessor as Foreign Secretary. But increasingly people within the Conservative Party are openly discussing who will be their next leader in 2024, if the party tumbles to an election defeat. 

Because of Labour’s stubbornly high opinion poll lead – which has them 15-20 points ahead of the Conservatives – and the internal turmoil and division besieging the Tory Party, some senior Conservatives are already laying down a marker ahead of race to find the next Tory leader.  

“You’re joking – not another one!”

In the recent reshuffle, the PM shifted towards the centre ground – not least with the surprise return of David Cameron as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and the belated sacking of Suella Braverman. It will be interesting to observe whether the PM sticks to this latest pivot. And make no mistake, deep divisions persist amongst the backbenches with different factions congregating around their preferred possible frontrunner.

So who are those frontrunners? Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman are again gearing up to run for the right of the party. The latter’s provocative comments and rhetoric are a staging post towards that ambition.  

Other names perennially in the running for the more moderate wing of the party are Penny Mordaunt and Tom Tugendhat. Sunak may also have provided James Cleverly, often a genial and conciliatory figure – despite his recent outburst in the Commons – with a leadership boost by moving him to the Home Office. 

a leader - and a sense of purpose

But over the next year – and they lose the General Election, then over the next five years – the Conservatives must settle on who they are, as well as who leads them. A party renowned as the most successful shapeshifters in the democratic world is devoid of a unifying idea and is perennially at war with itself.  

This is a party that needs to rediscover its sense of purpose, work out what it believes in and who it wants to appeal to. A rebuild is unlikely to happen before the next General Election – highlighted by Sunak’s appointment of a former Prime Minister and now weakened image as a ‘change’ candidate. The next Tory leader will of course be key to that rebuild – but there have already been too many changes at the top to indicate that new leadership will, in and of itself, bring about the change the party requires.  

There’s an increasing number of prominent Conservatives who muse that a period in opposition will do them good. But those people are wrong. One of the remarkable successes of the Conservative Party over the decades has been there ability to regenerate whilst in power. But neither time nor the polls are on their side. 

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