Contest could see leader emerge that most Conservative MPs don’t want

Analysis: Poll shows party membership may go their own way in upcoming ballot

The 1922 Committee’s decision to require candidates for the Conservative leadership to have the backing of 20 MPs before they can enter the contest will probably narrow the field from its current sprawl of 11, but not by much. Former chancellor Rishi Sunak, who is far ahead of the others in endorsements, has twice the required number; trade minister Penny Mordaunt has also cleared the hurdle, and foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat is almost there.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss, attorney general Suella Braverman and former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch should also reach the threshold by Wednesday. These three are engaged in the keenest part of the contest so far as they compete to be the right-wing candidate in a two-person run-off before the entire party membership.

Braverman, one of the 28 self-styled Spartans who voted against Theresa May’s Brexit deal every time it came to the Commons, is campaigning as a champion of the hardest of Brexits. While all the other candidates back the treaty-breaking Northern Ireland protocol Bill, she thinks it needs to be amended because it does not go far enough.

“The Bill is a necessary corrective to the damaging Northern Ireland protocol but it needs to go further to bring back social and political stability to Northern Ireland and to preserve the Union,” she said on Monday.


Badenoch is in the vanguard of Britain’s culture war against trans rights, believes that racial disparities are overplayed and rejects the concept of white privilege. Viewed as a marginal figure at Westminster, she emerged in second place in a Conservative Home poll of party members on Monday night.

In first place was Penny Mordaunt, a Brexiteer and naval reservist from a working-class background who is liberal on social issues including trans rights and was never part of Boris Johnson’s circle. The poll points towards the possibility that the party membership will choose a leader who is not the choice of the MPs, as it did when Iain Duncan Smith defeated Ken Clarke in 2001.

Conservative MPs are not as sophisticated an electorate as fable contends and although they are devious and duplicitous they can also be vain, bitter and blinded by factional spite. They could select the two best candidates for the party members to choose between, but the plots and schemes at Westminster are just as likely to give them a leader most MPs do not want.