Tory leadership race: names in the frame to succeed Theresa May

Long viewed as too divisive, Boris Johnson now seen as Tories’ best chance of survival

Boris Johnson

Party lore says that the early frontrunner in a Conservative leadership contest never takes the crown but Boris Johnson is so far ahead that his rivals will struggle to catch up. After his resignation from Theresa May's cabinet last summer in protest against her Chequers proposals, Johnson's star fell.

His performance as foreign secretary had been notable for his blunders, most seriously when he suggested that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian jailed in Tehran, had been working rather than on holiday when she was arrested in 2016. His comments hampered attempts to secure her release and she remains in prison today.

Long viewed as too divisive to be chosen by MPs as one of the two leadership candidates to go before the broader Conservative membership, Johnson is now seen by many as their best chance of survival. What has changed is the plunge in the party's poll ratings since March 29th, when Britain was due to leave the European Union and the surge in support for Nigel Farage's Brexit Party.

The worse things get for the Conservatives, the better they look for Johnson as MPs conclude that only a populist can defeat the populism of Farage and the radical appeal of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. His supporters point out that Johnson was twice elected mayor of London, a city that votes Labour, arguing that he can bring Conservatives home from the Brexit Party and win over moderate Labour supporters alarmed by Corbyn.


Slimmed down in recent months with a neat new haircut, Johnson is running a disciplined campaign, meeting backbenchers one by one in his corner office in Westminster’s Portcullis House. He may have little to fear from his rivals for now but this highly unpredictable figure remains a potential danger to himself in a campaign lasting almost two months.

Dominic Raab

The former Brexit secretary is Johnson’s main rival for the hard Brexiteer vote among Conservative MPs and is viewed as more hardline and ideological. Moderates see him as culturally right-wing and too divisive to lead the party.

Jeremy Hunt

The foreign secretary and former health secretary is the leading candidate from the current cabinet but he lacks charisma and the former Remainer turned hardline Brexiteer has shifted policy positions too easily and too often for some MPs.

Michael Gove

As a former chair of the Vote Leave campaign, the environment secretary is a true believer in Brexit but he supports the withdrawal agreement and draws support from across the party.

Sajid Javid

The son of Pakistani immigrants who grew up in poverty before making a fortune in banking, the home secretary has a model Thatcherite back story but is hampered by his Remain vote in 2016.

Andrea Leadsom

The former Commons leader’s resignation on Wednesday night helped to seal Theresa May’s fate and as runner-up in 2016 she never abandoned her leadership ambitions, but remains an outsider this time.

Rory Stewart

The international development secretary has been the most eloquent advocate of the withdrawal agreement and this old Etonian former soldier and diplomat is the dream candidate for the traditional Conservative establishment.

Penny Mordaunt

The defence secretary’s appointment following the sacking of Gavin Williamson was hugely popular at Westminster but Mordaunt faces heavy competition for the Brexiteer vote that is her obvious constituency.

Matt Hancock

At 40, the health secretary is self-consciously the candidate of the next generation of Conservatives, popular among MPs and journalists but perhaps too inexperienced to compete with other moderates from the cabinet.

Steve Baker

The deputy chair of the Eurosceptic European Research Group is considering a run as the hardest Brexiteer of them all, pointing out that Johnson and Raab voted for the withdrawal agreement in March when he voted against it.

Graham Brady

Brady resigned as chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers immediately after May’s statement to consider putting himself forward as a unity candidate who knows the backbenches better than anyone.