LONDON: Boris Johnson’s Finance Minister Rishi Sunak, whose shocking exit sparked a spate of resignations from the scandal-hit government, was among the early frontrunners in the Tory leadership race.
Sunak, 42, was long seen as an heir apparent to Johnson at 10 Downing Street due to his hugely popular grants and job-saving schemes over the course of the COVID pandemic lockdowns. But that popularity began taking a hit within a staunchly low-tax Tory party in recent months, as the cost-of-living crisis set in and he was unapologetic about the need to raise certain taxes to cope with the tough economic times.
Nonetheless, bookmakers are putting their bets on Sunak. He and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab are joint favourites at 4/1.
Also eyeing the “best job in the world” is Goan-origin Suella Braverman, currently the Attorney General in the UK Cabinet; she is among the early birds to formally declare her leadership bid. The 42-year-old barrister and the government's senior-most legal official commands some support within the pro-Brexit wing of her party. Home Secretary Priti Patel is also seen as a possible contender but it is unclear whether she will throw her hat in the ring.
A survey indicates that Defence Minister Ben Wallace may be in pole position if he chooses to contest and then makes it to the final two candidates. He and a junior minister Penny Mordaunt are both at 5/1, as per bookmakers. Others on the list include Sajid Javid - the most experienced candidate having served as Home Secretary and Chancellor - and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss at 7/1. Also in the running is Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi at 8/1 and Jeremy Hunt at 10/1, a report said.
To take part in the race, a Tory MP has to be nominated by eight colleagues. If more than two MPs put themselves forward and secure enough nominations to run for leader, a series of secret ballots are held to whittle them down.
Zahawi, former Health and Education Secretary and most recently Chancellor in the Boris Johnson Cabinet, is believed to be already working with Australian political strategist Sir Lynton Crosby – the man behind Johnson's thumping general electoral win in December 2019. The 55-year-old Iraqi refugee, who arrived in the UK as an 11-year-old boy, is yet to formally declare his intention to vie for the top job but is seen as a serious contender.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is another key contender, who is also believed to have been lining up her leadership bid over the last few months. She's currently at 8 per cent in the YouGov survey.
Former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, the Pakistani-origin minister who was the first to resign from Cabinet this week along with Sunak, is also seen as someone who might be a dark horse.
The final shortlist of candidates is expected to go head-to-head in a debate until a vote between the final two decides on the winner, who will be the new Conservative Party leader and formally succeed Johnson as the new British prime minister.