Tory leadership contest: Timeline and likely challengers

Four senior Conservatives are considering a tilt to become party’s fifth leader in six years

Would-be candidates include cabinet member Penny Mordaunt; former prime minister Boris Johnson; former chancellor Rishi Sunak and recently resigned former home secretary Suella Braverman

The race to succeed Liz Truss as UK prime minister is already under way, with four senior Conservatives considering bids to become the party’s fifth leader in six years.

Three candidates who ran in the last contest may stand again. Former chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak is the bookmakers’ favourite and has by far the most organised campaign team at Westminster.

The decision by chairman of the 1022 committee of backbench MPs Graham Brady, in conjunction with the Conservative party’s board, to set a threshold of 100 votes to make it on to the ballot paper will whittle down candidates rapidly. Even if the vote by the 357 Tory MPs is evenly split, no more than three candidates will be able to get through.

If two remain after the initial ballot on Monday, MPs will hold an indicative vote to signal to the grassroots who commands the most support in the parliamentary party. The 170,000 members would then choose the next leader by Friday, October 28th.


One senior Tory thinks it is possible that only Sunak will reach the 100-vote threshold in the first round if a number of other candidates enter the race and split the vote, making him the immediate winner. He could therefore become prime minister by Monday evening.

How the leadership contest will work:

• Nominations close on Monday, October 24th, at 2pm. Candidates need the support of at least 100 MPs to make it on to the ballot;

• If two or three candidates make it on to the ballot paper, Conservative MPs will hold a shortlisting round on Monday between 3:30pm and 5:30pm, with the result declared at 6pm;

• If two candidates remain in the contest, an indicative vote will be held to inform the grassroots party members who is the favourite among MPs. The result will be announced at 9pm;

• An online ballot of approximately 170,000 Tory party members will choose between the final two candidates and will close at 11am on Friday, October 28th, with the result announced later that day.

Penny Mordaunt, leader of the House of Commons, is widely seen by Tory MPs as Sunak’s strongest challenger, while ex-home secretary Suella Braverman is also expected to enter the contest.

Following Truss’s abrupt resignation as party leader on Thursday afternoon, two other prominent Tories — chancellor of the exchequer Jeremy Hunt and former levelling up secretary Michael Gove — immediately ruled themselves out. But the wild-card contender is former prime minister Boris Johnson, who is being urged by supportive Tory MPs to stand again. Close allies of Johnson, who is on holiday, said he had “genuinely not decided” whether he would run.

Johnson remains deeply unpopular among many Conservative MPs because of the partygate scandal over lockdown-breaking parties. “Surely he won’t get the support,” said one ally.

He is also facing an inquiry by the House of Commons privileges committee into allegations he misled MPs over the partygate affair. If found guilty, he could be suspended from parliament. “Anyone but Boris, anyone please,” said one MP.

Senior Conservative MPs said there was an “overwhelming mood” for a show of unity after the chaos of Truss’s 44 days in office. One MP said: “Everyone has the desire to get on with life quietly now. Most people can live with Rishi or Penny. Anyone else is going to be very divisive.”

Supporters of Sunak said it was “almost certain” he would stand in the contest, noting that he had predicted that the Truss economic plan would lead to ruin. One pro-Sunak MP said, “this is his time, and I think he has it in the bag”.

The former chancellor is likely to run on a platform of returning to fiscal prudence and fixing the £40 billion (€45.6 billion) hole in the public finances, although supportive MPs said no decisions had been taken.

A recent survey of Conservative members found that were the Truss-Sunak contest to be run again, the former chancellor would win by 60 per cent. His supporters among Tory MPs were actively canvassing prior to Truss’s resignation.

Sunak took an early joint lead with Johnson on Thursday, with 13 Tory MPs publicly declaring they would support both candidates. The former chancellor’s backers include former city minister John Glen and chairman of the Northern Ireland select committee Simon Hoare.

Liz Truss resigns. Now what?

Listen | 22:55

Half a dozen prominent Tories announced they would back Mordaunt, including former business secretary Andrea Leadsom and ex-culture secretary Maria Miller.

Supporters of Mordaunt said party grandees were trying to “weld Penny and Rishi together”, encouraging them to come to an agreement to ensure an orderly transfer of power. Under this putative deal, the two would agree to serve in each other’s administration helping to unite the party.

In Mordaunt’s last leadership bid she said the government “needs to become a little less about the leader and a lot more about the ship” and her allies say she might back a deal with Sunak — partly because she believes she might inherit the Tory crown if the party loses the next general election.

Although Mordaunt had not formally declared on Thursday afternoon, a grassroots social media campaign was already under way to promote her as a unity candidate. One ex-minister, who supported her in the last contest, said “there are too many people who dislike Rishi, whereas Penny is acceptable to everyone”.

Meanwhile, Braverman has not decided whether she will stand in the contest according to MPs close to the former home secretary. If she does, she is likely secure support from the right flank of the Conservative party.

— Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022