Conservative leadership contest: Who will be the next prime minister?

Josh Warner
By :  ,  Market Analyst

Boris Johnson resigns as prime minister

Boris Johnson has resigned as prime minister after succumbing to huge pressure from his own cabinet and backbenchers, with a wave of government resignations forcing him to step down.

His resignation has sparked a leadership contest to decide not only who becomes the next boss of the Conservative party, but also the next prime minister. Although there are calls for Johnson to stand down and leave 10 Downing Street immediately, he has said he plans to remain prime minister until his successor is chosen.

The resignation does not remove Johnson from his seat in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, meaning he will remain a sitting MP in the House of Commons unless he stands down and sparks a by-election, or is voted out in the next general election.

We can expect a major shake-up to the cabinet whoever wins, as they are likely to refresh the government’s leadership to distance itself from Johnson’s team. The new leader could still pull on the expertise of some existing members, but we can certainly expect some less-familiar faces to emerge.

 

Who will be the next prime minister?

A total of 11 Conservatives have thrown their hat into the ring to become the next leader, while defence secretary Ben Wallace – who was tipped to be among the favourites - has said he will not be running in the contest. Notably, some of those that have confirmed they are running, such as Rehman Chishti, are ranked as outsiders while others that have (at least for now) not joined the race are still in the top 10 favourites, such as Priti Patel. Below is a list the current favourites and the latest odds on each of them, as per data from Oddschecker:

Candidate

Implied Probability

Rishi Sunak

34.5%

Penny Mordaunt

20.4%

Liz Truss

16.9%

Tom Tugendhat

7.1%

Jeremy Hunt

6.7%

Kemi Badenoch

5.0%

Suella Braverman

2.9%

Sajid Javid

2.5%

Priti Patel

2.2%

Nadhim Zahawi

2.1%

The race looks wide open at this early stage, especially compared to previous leadership contests where there have been some clear frontrunners. Former chancellor Rishi Sunak, former defence secretary Penny Mordaunt and current foreign secretary Liz Truss have emerged as the three most-fancied contenders at this very early stage.

The contenders are a mix of those that served in Johnson’s cabinet and those that have remained on the backbenches for the last couple of years. Those that worked with Johnson could face a tough time convincing both the party and the public that they are the right person for the job as they could be tarnished by the prime minister’s debacle in office, whereas those that have stayed clear of Johnson are likely to push this as their main reason why they should be chosen to provide a fresh start for the party following a highly tumultuous period.

How will the Conservative leadership contest work?

Leadership contests are broadly the same for the major UK political parties. The Conservatives will hold a two-phase competition for the role. This will be run the 1922 Committee, also known as ‘the 22’, which is the parliamentary committee of Conservative backbenchers. They set the timeframe for the contest and it is likely to last at least a couple of months. Right now, the expectation is that a new leader will be in place before the annual Conservative Party Conference that is due to be held in early October.

The first is a series of votes among Conservative MPs, with the nominee with the least support being ousted each round until the two most popular candidates emerge.

The second phase then brings in the 180,000 Conservative party members, who vote for their favourite between the top two contenders from the first round. The winner is then whisked-off to Buckingham Palace to visit the Queen, who will invite them to form a government and become the next prime minister.

 

When is the next UK general election?

There is speculation that a general election could happen this year, although bookmakers suggest one in 2023 is more likely.

Technically, the next general election is not pencilled in until May 2024 and this is unlikely to be brought forward despite Johnson’s departure. However, there are some circumstances that could trigger an early election.

The most likely reason that the vote would be called early is that the winner of the leadership contest tries to cement their authority and secure an early mandate but, given the current state of play, the Conservatives are likely to use the time they have left to rebuild their reputation to ensure they are fighting fit for 2024. Still, an opportunity might arise that prompts the new leader to gamble early, like Theresa May unsuccessfully did in 2017 and Johnson when he took over in 2019. 

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