While it feels premature to be speculating about who the new Conservative Party leader will be, Theresa May has promised to resign once she gets her Brexit deal through Parliament – a situation which looks increasingly likely now she has new EU deadline of 31 October. If she doesn’t manage that, those unhappy with her within the party have already suggested finding a way to launch a new leadership contest to bring in someone different to negotiate with Donald Tusk – or even fight a general election. Whichever scenario comes to pass, let’s face it: there’ll probably be a new Tory leader at some point soon.
There are a few frontrunners already. Former Mayor of London Boris Johnson and current foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt are respectively favoured by hard and soft Brexiteers. Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd and Liz Truss are favourites for the left-leaning members of the party, while Matt Hancock is looking to court a younger Conservative voter.
At this stage, it’s all speculation as to who will succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister – but what’s certain is that someone will at some point soon. Here we break down the attributes of each potential candidate, and – should they get into office – how their voting record so far might give us a clue as to how Britain could look under their tenureship.
Domestic policy: Boris is likely to reward the Conservative right with key positions, as they’re the people who would back his leadership bid should the time come. Critics speculate that this means human rights at home and in the workplace may be put in jeopardy considering that the party – and especially the more right-leaning members – haven’t committed to keeping the UK within the Human Rights Act after Brexit.
International policy: During what was widely seen to be a disastrous term as foreign secretary, arguably Johnson’s biggest failing was an inability to convince the countries he visited that Brexit wouldn’t harm Britain’s international trade relations – despite being vehemently pro-Leave. A series of shocking and/or inappropriate comments made about Libya, Myanmar, Turkey, China and Russia (to name only a few) didn’t help to endear him to other nations either.
Brexit: Johnson is the most divisive figure in the leadership race, mostly due to his toing and froing on Brexit. Most recently, he agreed to vote for Theresa May’s Brexit deal after heavily criticising it and calling it ‘dead’ months earlier. Brexit has become a microcosm for Boris’s general inability to send consistent messages on topics.
Risk analysis: High. The public gaffs alone suggest Johnson would be a risky candidate, especially when liaising with important figures from around the world with a variety of different backgrounds and beliefs.
Domestic policy: Jeremy is the longest-serving health secretary in history, but was criticised during his tenure for drastic funding cuts in 2016. His most controversial move was to enforce junior doctor contracts which reclassified evenings and weekends as ‘core hours’ for junior doctors, rather than antisocial hours. The move was viewed as unfair for forcing employees to work longer hours for less pay. The dispute led to mass strikes by NHS staff, who said patient care and safety was at stake.
International policy: Hunt succeeded Johnson as foreign secretary last year, and he has made bold moves early on, such as ignoring a request from Number 10 not to appoint Amal Clooney as special envoy on media freedom. Jeremy has also declared Saudi Arabia an important ally for Britain, supported a military intervention in Yemen, and has supported the production of arms in the UK to create more jobs.
Brexit: Jeremy supported Remain in the referendum, but became a Leave supporter in 2017. He has said that Britain should absolutely avoid a No Deal scenario, but has also been critical of May’s deal – while still supporting it.
Risk analysis: Medium. Hunt recently made a gaffe when he visited Slovenia, when he congratulated locals on re-aligning themselves with European democracy following their Soviet history – although Slovenia was never part of the Soviet Union. Otherwise, Hunt is well media-trained and comes across confidently in the public eye.
Domestic policy: Truss, who is chief secretary to the treasury, has spoken about wanting a Tory revolution with a renewed concentration on liberal, free market conservatism. She has voted against raising welfare benefits (she voted to set the rate of increase for benefits to stay at 1 per cent in 2013, rather than be elevated to over double that) and voted for a reduction in spend on welfare benefits in 2015 and 2016.
International policy: Truss’s belief in the free market – and a ‘hard’ Brexit – means she would look to establish trade deals outside of the EU and look to global partners to strengthen the economy.
Brexit: Truss has campaigned for a No Deal Brexit, and has asked for a risk analysis of the benefits of remaining in the EU. She is also concerned about the economic repercussions of a longer delay. She has also criticised the idea of the UK remaining in the customs union.
Risk analysis: Low. Truss has remained gaffe-free throughout the Brexit process and not flip-flopped in her beliefs on leaving the EU. She is widely liked within the party and regularly updates her social media feeds without controversy.
Domestic policy: The current health secretary is another party innovator who has been outspoken about the need for change from the top down. He would be proactive in appealing to youth votes – an important base for any potential leader to tap as currently only 19 per cent of 18- and 19-year-olds currently support the Conservatives. He’s passionate about making medicinal cannabis legal for those who need it, and has insisted he wouldn’t privatise more of the NHS – but he has been criticised by some for privatising NHS clinics within the first year of his tenure.
International policy: Hancock’s past job as culture, media and sport secretary will have touched on international relations, but wouldn’t have had much of a focus on international policy, and neither does his current position – so the jury’s out.
Brexit: Hancock supported May’s deal and publicly encouraged fellow MPs to rally around it in order to secure an orderly Brexit. Hancock believes a long delay, like the one we have, won’t help solve the problems Brexit presents.
Risk analysis: Medium. Previously a businessman, Hancock was criticised for endorsing a mobile phone health app called Babylon last year, a commercial role not traditionally suited to a minister. He also u-turned on NHS privatisation, putting a reported £127 million of NHS contracts into private hands.
Domestic policy: As education secretary, Gove made changes to teaching standards that were seen as widely unpopular. Gove’s standards were generally discredited by the industry because they were seen to be putting ideas before practical sense, and drove many teachers out of the profession (among other things, he suggested primary children should be able to recite a classic poem, and attend a school with a Bible in every bookcase). He was eventually sacked, and now as environment secretary Gove has improved his public image by lengthening the maximum term for animal cruelty sentences. He has also been praised for his pro-active approach to tackling climate change (he’s asked businesses to plan ways in which they can help with flood management plans).
International policy: Gove is a strong neoconservative. He praised the liberation of Iraq as a British foreign policy success, as he claimed the country’s economy was set to enjoy a 10 per cent GDP growth as a result of allied intervention.
Brexit: Gove and Johnson were the figureheads of the Leave campaign in 2016, and in the years since, Gove has supported May’s deal, which lost him the support of the far right of the party. However, his strong vocal criticism of Corbyn in Parliament has been seen by his supporters as demonstrating his leadership potential.
Risk analysis: Low. Gove has had a couple of poor taste moments over the years (his tone-deaf joke about Harvey Weinstein and sexual assault on the Today programme in 2017 being the most notable), but in comparison to many of the other candidates, he is relatively gaffe-free. Ultimately, Gove’s an unlikely leader due to his unpopularity both inside and outside of the party.
Domestic policy: Before her parliamentary career, Leadsom worked in finance, so committing to up-keeping a healthy financial sector has been key for her supporters. She has traditional views on family life, which have made her unpopular with modernisers (in 2013, Leadsom abstained from the Same Sex Couples Bill on the grounds the reform wouldn’t sit well with faith-based religious people in opposite-sex unions). Leadsom is currently minister of state for energy, despite having previously voted against basic sustainable initiatives like wind farms.
International policy: Leadsom has campaigned for EU reform since 2011, and has campaigned against the UK remaining in the single market. She believes in a strong military presence, and in particular, in the UK deploying a strong military presence internationally. Leadsom has voted in favour of airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria in 2015, for UK air strikes in Iraq in 2014 and for the continuation of armed forces in Afghanistan in 2010.
Brexit: Leadsom was a leading figure within Vote Leave during the EU Referendum campaign. Her argument is that most of the world’s economy is not within the free market, so therefore we shouldn’t be either.
Risk analysis: High. Leadsom is defined by non-progressive policies that she has expressed on topics like family care and the return of fox hunting. She has also been in this position before – Leadsom was a candidate in the Conservative party leadership content when Cameron stepped down over Brexit in 2016, but removed herself from the race.
Domestic policy: Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd held the position of home secretary for two years, but resigned in 2018 over suspicion that she’d known about plans to remove Windrush immigrants from the UK. Despite this, her own political views around topics like immigration are seen as more modern and left-leaning than most in her party.
International policy: Rudd has defined her parliamentary career with her domestic policy. As home secretary, and then in her current role.
Brexit: Rudd is pro-EU and was a leading Remainer during the referendum – her brother helped plan and orchestrate the pro-EU campaign.
Risk analysis: Low. Despite the Windrush scandal and her forced resignation, Rudd’s popularity remains high and she is admired by Remainers within the party.
Domestic policy: The former housing minister has outlined drastic reforms within the sector to overhaul the Help to Buy scheme to assist ‘Generation Rent’. Elsewhere, his policies have been more contentious. He criticised people using food banks, saying they merely had cash flow problems and in 2017, he spoke out about removing the working time directive, which offers people a set amount of maximum working hours.
International policy: Raab was originally a lawyer for the Foreign Office, where he worked on the trials of war criminals at The Hague. In politics, Raab has been consistently pro-arms when voting in Parliament. He voted to support UK air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State in 2015, and for the continued deployment of forces in Afghanistan in 2010.
Brexit: Teresa May appointed Raab as Brexit secretary in July 2018, but he resigned in November over May’s deal, which he voted down. He’s popular among Tory activists unhappy with May’s deal, as has been one of the most critical figureheads in the party. Raab has spoken about his confidence in a No Deal scenario.
Risk analysis: Medium. Raab has been known to use inconsistent arguments for his Euroscepticism. He got his facts mixed up when it came to the importance of the Dover to Calais crossing in 2018, when he admitted he hadn’t realised how crucial the trade route was for Britain. An outsider in the race, Raab’s former career as a lawyer has meant he is seen as a confident public speaker, with a sense of humour. A recent tweet illustrated his confidence running for leader. He provocatively wrote: ‘It’s never the favourite’.