As the outgoing British Prime Minister, Liz Truss, made her surprising resignation speech last week, the big question then became: who will become the next UK Prime Minister?
The ruling Conservative Party is set to hold a leadership contest on Friday, October 28, in which a new party leader, and therefore PM, will be chosen roughly six weeks after the last one.
In order to get on the ballot, candidates need the support of 100 members of parliament, meaning there can only be three in the running as the Tory Party have 357 MPs.
Currently, there are just two candidates who could conceivably become PM as of writing. Boris Johnson, the dark horse of the contest, was strongly rumoured to be making a return, however, he has recently ruled himself out of the running.
Publically backed by 52 members, Johnson claimed that he had the private support of 102 people when declaring that it would be “simply not the right thing to do” for him to run.
“There is a very good chance that I would be successful in the election with Conservative Party members – and that I could indeed be back in Downing Street on Friday,” Johnson said in a statement.
“But in the course of the last days, I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do. You can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament”.
Johnson however did not rule himself out entirely from a future return to the top job, saying he still believes he has much to offer. However, it’s likely that, with the controversies and scandal that plagued his government, his leadership is still far too fresh in the minds of the members who called for his resignation. He still holds strong support with Conservative voters, something that the new leader will have to contend with.
So, if it ain’t gonna be Johnson, who exactly could lead one of Australia’s closest national allies in just a few days’ time? Here’s what you need to know.
The smart money in the contest is on Rishi Sunak. The British-born, privately educated former-investment banker has been a Conservative MP since 2015 for the seat of Richmond in Britain’s northern county of Yorkshire.
He supported Britain’s departure from the European Union, something that remains an important political badge in UK politics today, and served as chancellor under Boris Johnson. As the former PM’s right-hand man, he steered the UK through the COVID pandemic and is credited for ‘saving the economy’ by introducing various schemes to sustain people unable to work.
However, he’s not without his critics. Sunak was reportedly at several parties held at Downing Street during the lockdown era, which caused massive outrage in the UK as people were denied access to dying relatives because of the health measures in place at the time.
He’s also been attacked for his wealth and the tax status of his family. Akshata Murthy, Sunak’s wife, is a multi-millionaire fashion designer who held non-domiciled tax status making her not liable for tax payments on millions of pounds she’d received.
This became a point of contention earlier in the year after it was revealed that her family’s company, Infosys, had ongoing dealings in Russia at the outbreak of the war in Ukraine that she was possibly benefiting from. This was revealed after Sunak cautioned the UK public to “think very carefully about their investments in Russia and how they may aid the Putin regime.”
Sunak is a strong favourite to win the leadership election, with the current support of at least 155 MPs, according to the BBC. But will the Johnson loyalist, who is richer than King Charles, be able to distance himself from the controversies of his former boss?
The alternative candidate for leader, and the only one to have publically thrown her hat into the ring, is the current leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt.
She’s a candidate with far less name recognition who, nevertheless, has been described as a rising star of the Tory Party. She made it to the final three in the previous leadership contest, losing out to Sunak and Liz Truss.
Mordaunt has billed herself as the “unity” candidate, saying that the party is in need of a fresh start. A Conservative MP since 2010, Mordaunt has served in the cabinets of Theresa May, Johnson and Truss. She even stood in for Truss during PM’s questions in Parliament and presided over the ascension of Charles III.
However, she’s been critiqued for her views on trans people, her support of homeopathy as medicine that the National Health Service should fund, and a former boss once said that “sometimes I didn’t even know where she was” on her work ethic.
Still, she has said that she is “very confident” about her campaign due to the fact that she’s not quite as tarnished by association as Sunak. However, with the support of just 25 MPs at the time of writing, it’s going to be an uphill battle for the Navy reservist.