Runners and riders: Who could succeed Boris Johnson?

The battle to replace Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and UK prime minister is in the early stages, and with a large pool of contenders and a double-layered election, the field is wide open.

However, by assessing pledges from MPs and each candidate’s support from grassroots Conservative members, a general impression of the state of play can be formed.

How is a leader chosen?

The contenders for the leadership, currently 11, are reduced to a final two by the 358 Conservative MPs and then the final decision is made by members of the Conservative Party (a "selectorate" of between 150,000 and 200,000), who will vote for the new party leader and therefore the new prime minister.

The process ordinarily takes at least eight weeks, though it may be expedited – the precise rules are expected to be announced later today, and could be impacted by a Labour threat to call a vote of no confidence in the government. The existing system currently contains a loophole allowing for the "selectorate" element of the contest to be avoided: if one of the final two withdraws, the remaining contender will become Conservative leader and prime minister.

Formal nominations will open on Tuesday and the first round of voting is set to take place on Wednesday, with a final two selected before the parliamentary recess begins on July 21.

Who are the candidates?

Eleven candidates have officially declared and at least one other serious contender is expected to launch a bid. The favored candidate among the Conservative members, per surveys by the ConHome grassroots website, is Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, but he has decided not to run.

The following list of candidates is ordered by their current tally of pledged supporters among Conservative MPs (a sign of their chances of progressing through phase one) and also includes their ranking among Conservative members (from ConHome surveys, an indication of how well they may fare in phase two).

Rishi Sunak: Restore trust, rebuild economy, reunite country

34 supporting MPs, ranks 9th favorite among Conservative members

Sunak is the early frontrunner. He quit as chancellor last Tuesday, helping trigger the wave of resignations that led to the departure of Johnson.

The 42-year-old has a high public profile, backed Brexit, and portrays himself as a fiscal conservative. He has the support of Oliver Dowden, a powerful background fixer, as well as two former chief whips, or party enforcers, in Mark Harper and Mark Spencer, and holds a substantial early lead in the tally of supporting MPs.

However, after riding high in the early days of the pandemic thanks to his use of stimulus tools and positive PR, he has been damaged by a series of minor scandals and is regarded with suspicion by the right of the party after the recent tax rises he put in place as chancellor, which he describes as responsible and necessary.

Sunak has strong early momentum, despite briefings against him, and is in a good position to reach the final two in the MPs’ ballot. However, surveys from YouGov and ConHome suggest the membership is still to be convinced.

Penny Mordaunt: Our leadership has to change

21 supporting MPs, ranks 2nd favorite among Conservative members

Mordaunt has long been talked about as a talent likely to go far in the party.

The 49-year-old was a prominent Brexit supporter, has cabinet experience as the UK’s first female defense secretary, before being fired by Boris Johnson, held government positions under both David Cameron and Theresa May, and also served in the Royal Navy Reserves – all appealing factors to the Conservative membership. She has also quietly laid the groundwork for her leadership bid, as shown by the early momentum provided by several MPs publicly backing her.

Mordaunt’s popularity among Conservative members gives her a genuine chance of victory, if she makes it to the final two. Either way, she is likely to be in a strong position for a high-ranking job in the next government.

Tom Tugendhat: A clean start

15 supporting MPs, ranks 4th favorite among Conservative members

Tugendhat is unusual in that he has never served in government, but he has nevertheless established himself as a senior figure in the party thanks to his foreign policy expertise.

The 49-year-old is campaigning as a unity candidate, attempting to appeal across the party, but the former soldier’s lack of domestic policy experience is seen as a handicap. Nevertheless, he has already signed up some prominent supporters, including former deputy prime minister Damien Green, who is a leading figure among One Nation Conservatives, a powerful group within the party.

Tugendhat has made a name for himself as chair of the foreign affairs select committee, and there is media speculation that he will strike a deal with a more likely winner to be the foreign secretary in their government.

Liz Truss: Tax cuts from day one

15 supporting MPs, ranks 3rd favorite among Conservative members

Truss officially declared her bid for the leadership later than most others, but has nevertheless already secured a number of public pledges of support.

The 46-year-old currently serves as foreign secretary and has also taken responsibility for Brexit. She is set to make a serious challenge in the contest as a "Thatcherite heir" committed to conservative values. Her initial pitch has been heavily focused on tax cuts, in common with most of her rivals other than Sunak.

She voted against Brexit, a negative among Conservative members, but has burnished her credentials with a controversial move to override the Northern Ireland protocol.

Nadhim Zahawi: Boundless opportunities

14 supporting MPs, ranks 5th favorite among Conservative members

Zahawi has had a rapid ascent in recent years. The Iraq-born businessman and co-founder of polling company YouGov is known as a smooth operator, with a long held goal of leading the party.

The 55-year-old was brought into government as vaccines minister by Johnson, then promoted to education secretary. His decision to accept the chancellorship on Tuesday and then call on Johnson to go on Wednesday have raised questions about his judgement, and newspaper reports suggest other candidates are briefing against him based on his financial affairs.

However, his low-tax pitch will be appealing to many in the party and while some commentators say he lacks some substance, his charisma and operating skills give him a chance of success.

Jeremy Hunt: Win back trust

12 supporting MPs, ranks 6th favorite among Conservative members

Hunt, a former foreign secretary, is seen as a competent and experienced pair of hands.

The 55-year-old has held numerous cabinet positions, but refused to serve under Johnson, who he lost the leadership election to in 2019. His status has since been enhanced as a serious and respected figure, both as a statesman and as the chair of the influential health select committee.

Hunt opposed Brexit but has lined up Esther McVey, a former TV presenter and ardent Brexiteer, as his deputy, in a bid to broaden his support base in the party. He has some backing from the older generations of Conservative MPs, and is looking for support in a similar pool to Tugendhat.

Kemi Badenoch: Set people free by telling the truth

12 supporting MPs, ranks 8th favorite among Conservative members

Badenoch represents the next generation of Conservative MPs, and has support from several other up and coming new faces as well as senior Conservative Michael Gove, her former boss.

The former equalities minister faces an uphill battle to reach the final two, but a good showing would give her a strong chance of moving up the ladder to a senior role in the next government.

Priti Patel (not declared)

11 supporting MPs, ranks 13th favorite among Conservative members

Patel has not made herself popular with the general public during her spell as home secretary with polices including sending migrants to Rwanda, but she remains an influential figure on the right of the party.

She is yet to declare herself as a candidate, but could decide to stand as a more viable right-wing candidate than Suella Braverman – who she already has more pledged supporters than. She would face an uphill battle if she did join the contest, but could pick up enough votes to cast significant influence.

Suella Braverman: Get the country back on track

10 supporting MPs, ranking among Conservative members NA

Braverman caused a storm when she declared she would be running for the leadership live on TV, before Johnson resigned and without quitting her government job as attorney general.

She’s a hardline Brexiteer who has received support from fellow members of the European Research Group, a bloc within the Conservative Party which helped to bring down Theresa May.

Sajid Javid: It's time to go for growth

10 supporting MPs, ranks 12th favorite among Conservative members

Javid quit as health secretary shortly before Sunak resigned as chancellor, and made a powerful resignation statement in the House of Commons. But while he is seen as a likable and intelligent figure, his campaign is struggling to take off.

His last leadership campaign ended in tears, and to-date there’s little to suggest his low-tax pitch this time will help him stand out from the crowd.

Grant Shapps: A problem solver, with a record of delivery

7 supporting MPs, ranking among Conservative members NA

Shapps has been a minister in several departments, but his candidacy is struggling for momentum – as with others, he is likely trying to leverage a job in the next government.

Rehman Chishti: Move forward with fresh start

0 supporting MPs, ranking among Conservative members NA

Chishti is a surprise late entry into the race, and a serious outsider.

(Graphics by Yu Peng, Xing Cheng)

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