28 July 2022

A Showdown for the Tory Leadership Follows Boris Johnson’s Resignation

After months of political turbulence that finally culminated in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s downfall, Britain’s governing Conservative Party have geared up for a battle to choose his successor. 

Johnson’s demise was ultimately brought about by a string of scandals, most significantly over several parties held at Downing Street while the rest of the country endured harsh lockdown measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. Controversy had been a regular feature of Johnson’s political career, however, the parties finally seemed to cut through with polls showing that Conservative voters were turning against him. 

Although he survived a confidence vote in June, 41 per cent of the parliamentary Conservative Party (or 148 MPs) voted against him, a sizable rebellion which indicated that Johnson was running on borrowing time. This was followed by two damaging by-election results, firstly in Wakefield and secondly in Tiverton and Honiton, which were respectively won by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. 

The straw that finally broke the camel’s back was the news that the prime minister had appointed Chris Pincher to the job of Deputy Chief Whip, despite knowing of allegations that Pincher had sexually harassed a number of men.  The polls clearly showed that a majority of Conservative voters had turned against Johnson, and MPs began to worry that the prime minister’s nosedive in personal popularity could cost them the next election. 

The scandal prompted the resignations of Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid, which triggered a cascade of junior ministerial resignations. As the 1922 committee prepared to rewrite its rules in order to hold a second confidence vote in Johnson’s leadership, the prime minister finally buckled under the pressure and announced his resignation on 7 July. Johnson is remaining as prime minister until the Conservative Party elects a new leader, and the past month’s newspaper headlines have been dominated by the race to choose his successor. 

Two live television debates and five ballots, in which Conservative Party MPs voted for their preference for leader, have seen an initial list of 11 candidates whittled down to a final two. Sunak and foreign secretary Liz Truss ultimately secured the most votes from their Tory colleagues, making it to the final ballot of party members. Trade minister Penny Mordaunt, former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee Tom Tugendhat and attorney general Suella Braverman are some of the candidates who failed to make the final round.

The party’s next leader, and therefore the country’s new prime minister is to be decided by 180,000 Conservative Party members. Ballot papers will arrive next week and members have until 2 September to vote, with the result set to be announced three days later, on 5 September. The party membership remains broadly supportive of Boris Johnson, and Sunak’s role in bringing about his resignation has put him at a disadvantage, along with his record of increasing taxes. Truss now finds herself as the favourite, despite earlier concerns that she would not win the necessary support from Tory MPs to make it to the final two. 

With supporters including culture secretary Nadine Dorries, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and Jacob-Rees Mogg, Truss is representing the right of the party and has styled herself as a continuity Johnson candidate. Sunak, on the other hand, is representing the more moderate, fiscally responsible wing of the party. However, since the 2016 Brexit vote and the David Cameron era, even the centre ground in the Conservative Party has shifted to the right.

With Sunak on the back foot, he came out with a point to prove in the first one-to-one debate, televised on the BBC on Monday night. Sunak referred to Truss’ economic plans to finance reduced tax cuts and greater spending via increased public borrowing, as “immoral”, while Truss hit back that his warnings were “scaremongering” and “Project Fear”. The debate on TalkTV the following day was markedly less fiery, although it was cut short after the debate’s presenter fainted halfway through. 

With ballot papers arriving next week, the two candidates are embarking on twelve hustings where they will set out their stall to Tory members. The divisions in the party are clear to see, as MPs allied to both candidates have traded barbs. With Sunak still lagging in the polls, the pressure is on to close the gap. Despite his opposition to tax cuts in the debates, Sunak’s team announced a plan to “temporarily” cut VAT on domestic fuel bills for a year this autumn. Meanwhile, he has been accused of prioritising trade deals with China during his time as Chancellor and sought to reinvent his stance on China as he faces scrutiny from hawkish party members. 

Recent polling by Ipsos UK has shown that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is more popular than either candidate. Given this, whoever ends up being the UK’s next prime minister faces an uphill battle to heal the party’s internal divisions, provide support to communities during the cost-of-living crisis and mend the government’s public image ahead of the next general election. 

By Jack Seal

How we collect personal information

We may collect personal information about you from these sources:
When you subscribe to our mailing list When you give us your business card When you contact us about our services

How will we use the information about you?

We will use your personal information to keep you updated with the latest news from Aequitas. You have a right at any time to stop us from contacting you for marketing purposes. If you have consented to receiving marketing, you may opt out at a later date. You can opt out by emailing us at: info@aeqglobal.com Any personal information that we hold will be stored securely.
We use a third-party provider, MailChimp, to deliver our communications. We gather statistics around email opening and clicks using industry standard technologies to help us monitor and improve our communications. For more information, please see MailChimp’s privacy notice.

Access to your information

You have the right to request a copy of the information that we hold about you. If you would like a copy of your personal information, please email us at: info@aeqglobal.com
We want to make sure that your personal information is accurate and up to date. You may ask us to correct or remove information that you think is inaccurate.