No sooner has Liz Truss slammed the door than potential successors jostle outside 10 Downing Street. The resignation of the British Prime Minister triggers a new internal vote in the Conservative Party so that his successor is appointed by next Friday at the latest, an extremely short deadline which imposes an accelerated procedure and a lightning campaign.
Behind the scenes, the various aspirants are counting their supporters to reach the threshold of 100 sponsorships required by Monday at the start of the afternoon. According to the British press, three favorites stand out, including former head of government Boris Johnson.
- Boris Johnson, the temptation to return
The former head of government is ready to enter the arena, just over three months after being forced to resign following an accumulation of scandals. This information circulates in the British media, like the Telegram which reports that the ex-Prime Minister is said to have “privately urged Tory MPs to back him for a dramatic return to Downing Street, promising that he alone can win the Tories in the next election”. For its part, the tabloid The Sun title: “Bojo: I’ll be back”.
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Those close to Boris Johnson are working to restore his image, highlighting the legitimacy he derives from his electoral triumph at the end of 2019. Secretary of State for Business Jacob Rees-Mogg has become the first cabinet minister to offer his support for Boris Johnson in the leadership race. Former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries was also among those who voiced support for Boris Johnson on Thursday, on TV and on Twitter, where she said: “A person was elected by the British people with a program and a mandate until January 25.”
His opponents recall the succession of lies and embarrassing cases of the three years of his mandate, which have left deep traces. Some Tory MPs are even warning they will quit if Boris Johnson returns.
- Rishi Sunak, his time has finally come?
Rishi Sunak was initially the preferred candidate of the Conservative MPs, before finally being rejected in favor of Liz Truss by the members. The wealthy 42-year-old ex-banker has for him the fact of embodying the reassuring figure of budgetary orthodoxy. The Financial Times raises the former Minister of Finance to the rank of favorite in a context of economic and political crises. During the campaign, he had repeatedly repeated that unfunded tax cuts risked worsening inflation to a 40-year high, and undermining market confidence.
The ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer has already reached the halfway mark, with 50 Tory MPs saying he should be the next prime minister. MP Simon Hart said now was “no time for experiments, no time for frivolity…that means choosing someone serious, tested, competent and kind.” Despite some audible support, Rishi Sunak has a major handicap: Boris Johnson’s faithful see him as a traitor whose resignation precipitated the fall of their champion this summer, and do not want to hear about it. The 40-year-old could find it difficult to bring together such a divided party.
- Penny Mordaunt, the darling of activists
The current Minister for Relations with Parliament, Penny Mordaunt, darling of Tory activists, who came third in the last primary, is also a very serious candidate. If the tabloid The Sun capitalizes on a “Bojo-Sunak” duel, this 49-year-old former Minister of Defense has many assets. Charismatic, she shone in Parliament on Monday when she represented Liz Truss to respond to the opposition. She defended the change of economic course, handling firmness and humor, explaining that the Prime Minister “is not hiding under a desk”.
She said Thursday that she would “keep calm and continue” to encourage others to do the same after Liz Truss resigns. Regarding her participation in the ballot, Penny Mordaunt “takes the pulse of the situation with her colleagues”, declares one of her allies at the Guardian. Among her strengths, this politician is popular with conservative grassroots members. Penny Mordaunt “will not only unite the party, but more importantly the country beyond the Westminster bubble,” Conservative MP John Lamont told BBC Radio 5 Live on Friday. The next step: convince the party that it is credible on the economy.
- Jeremy Hunt does not start racing
The new Minister of Finance, appointed on October 14, and whose declarations have stabilized the markets, would be a good candidate on paper. In recent days, he has shown that he holds the reins of the Conservative Party by announcing on Monday the spectacular reversal consisting in reversing almost all of the tax measures of the Truss government which created panic on the markets.
He had twice been an unsuccessful candidate for Downing Street, was also Minister of Foreign Affairs and Health, but said he would not be a third time. “The desire to be a leader has been clinically suppressed in me,” he told the BBC last Sunday, referring to his two failures. Will he keep his word?
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