Who could be next Tory leader? Nine possible candidates – from centrist to rightwing

The votes have been counted, the dust has largely settled, and the Conservatives are left with 121 MPs. From this rump – about a third of the pre-election total – who will compete to take over as party leader from the soon to depart Rishi Sunak? Here are the likely main contenders, broadly listed from centre to right.

Jeremy Hunt

The former chancellor, who clung on to his Surrey seat by a mere 900 votes against the Liberal Democrats thanks to a mixture of local voter loyalty and shoe-leather campaigning, has previously said he would not try again, having lost twice before against Boris Johnson and then Liz Truss.

But could he be tempted to change his mind? Some Tory centrists would most probably want this. Hunt is vastly experienced, politically canny and – a talent that could come in useful in a party that has just lost whole swathes of its English heartlands – can still appeal to Lib Dem-minded moderate Tory voters.

Tom Tugendhat

The former security minister is the other surviving MP likely to become the vessel for hopes of Tory centrists, something he tried in the 2022 leadership campaign to replace Johnson, coming fifth.

Tugendhat is affable and not short on self-confidence. He also has that currently rare thing among Conservative MPs of a seemingly safe seat, winning his revamped Kent constituency by well over 10,000 votes. His chances hinge primarily on whether a rump parliamentary party sees a bad defeat as a reason to tack towards the centre or move further to the right.

Victoria Atkins

Many voters, and even some Tory members, might ask: “Who?” Though an MP since 2015, Atkins spent little more than six months in the cabinet, being made health secretary in the final Sunak reshuffle.

She is nonetheless seen within the party as a good communicator and has a relatively safe Lincolnshire seat, even if her majority did plummet from nearly 29,000 in 2019 to about 5,500. Probably an outside bet.

James Cleverly

The former home secretary clung on to his Essex seat by about 3,500 votes, having been a regular presence for the Conservatives on the airwaves and in the spin room during the campaign.

Well known, affable and a good communicator, while Cleverly is officially a centrist he is not averse to a bit of culture warring. His most likely downside, aside from a tendency to occasionally say silly things, is his centrality to the now sunk Sunak project.

Robert Jenrick

The former immigration minister would probably prefer to feature lower on this centre-to-right list after his recent reinvention as a migration and culture war hardliner, but he has formerly been more of a pragmatist.

A previously little-known figure whose rise up the ministerial ranks under Johnson led to him being labelled “Robert Generic”, his ideological shift has left him viewed by some in the party as a B-list Suella Braverman. He is nonetheless believed to be keen to run and organised, and could surprise people.

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Priti Patel

Patel has not been in government since the end of the Johnson era, under whom she was home secretary. This stint was not without incident: she only just kept her job after an investigation found she had bullied civil servants. Since that period Patel has quietly worked away as a backbencher, making some new allies in the process.

There had been speculation she might struggle in her Essex seat but she held it by nearly 5,000 votes. Perhaps one to watch.

Kemi Badenoch

Another near-certain contender from the right, her majority in a revamped Essex seat was slashed from more than 28,000 to just 2,600.

A Badenoch run would probably be characterised by her habitually punchy language, often over identity politics, which she despises, and her apparent ability to turn the most innocuous exchange into an argument. She has significant support but some Tories worry about her combativeness.

Suella Braverman

The twice former home secretary has been running a de facto leadership campaign ever since Sunak sacked her in November.

A Braverman pitch would be very firmly from the right, with a likely emphasis on cutting immigration and withdrawing from the European convention on human rights. She has her fans, but some Tory MPs worry about her judgment and taste for controversy. If she were to reach the final two and a vote among party members, Braverman may be hard to beat.

Nigel Farage

He is, very obviously, not a Conservative member and now leads his four Reform UK MPs in the Commons. Could the remaining Tories welcome him as a leader? Would Farage want the job? The answer to both is most probably no. But stranger things have happened.

The Guardian