Rishi Sunak became the Conservative party’s third leader inside a year, but already there is already chatter about who might come next.
The government is legally bound to hold the next general election no later than January 2025, and after difficult local elections in May 2023 and with Labour’s poll lead stubbornly high, the prime minister has little time to reverse his fortunes.
Should he fail to win the next election, and either chose or be forced to fall on his sword, the Conservative Party will embark on yet another leadership contest.
In the summer of 2023, here is who the betting markets rate as the most likely successor to Mr Sunak:
Kemi Badenoch – 7/2
According to the comparison site Oddschecker, as of June 2023, Kemi Badenoch is favourite to become the next Conservative leader with leading betting companies Bet365, Skybet, Paddypower and WilliamHill all placing the business and trade secretary on 7/2.
Ms Badenoch is a prominent culture warrior and is popular on the right of the party. However, her tussle with the European Research Group (ERG) of eurosceptic Conservative MPs over EU retained law may have damaged her standing among Brexiteers. As business and trade secretary in May 2023, she personally announced that the government would be removing the so-called “sunset” clause from the retained EU law bill and would not be scrapping 4000 EU laws from the statue book, as Rishi Sunak previously promised, but 600.
When she first ran for leader in 2022, while still only a junior minister, Badenoch won the support oflong-surviving cabinet minister Michael Gove. She outperformed expectations and won the international trade post under Liz Truss. She hadsupported Truss in the later stages of the 2022 Conservative leadership contest.
Ms Badenoch has a safe seat in Saffron and Walden and so can be confident of being returned to Westminster after the next election.
Badenoch was appointed Secretary of State for Business and Trade in February 2023 as part of a departmental reorganisation, having previously been President of the Board of Trade in September 2022. She is also the government’s Minister for Women and Equalities.
Boris Johnson – 5/1
In second place is former prime minister Boris Johnson which Bet365 has on 5/1, with Paddypower opting for even shorter odds on 4/1.
In July 2022, then-PM Johnson faced an unprecedented wave of ministerial resignations over a 48 hour period, following the initial resignation of health secretary Sajid Javid and Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Mr Johnson, after much huffing and puffing, eventually agreed to stand down.
However, plenty of Conservatives still support the scandal-plagued former PM, and activists beckoned for his return at the Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO) conference held in May 2023. The CDO’s stated aim is to “restore party democracy” after Rishi Sunak became leader of the party and therefore prime minister in a coronation, but — given that it was founded by prominent Boris backers Lord Cruddas and former MEP David Campbell Bannerman — it is widely seen as a pro-Johnson campaign vehicle.
Mr Johnson’s own parliamentary constituency in Uxbridge is no longer a ‘banker’ for the Conservative Party. Those considering a flutter for Mr Johnson therefore need to be confident that he would retain his seat.
Penny Mordaunt – 5/1
In joint second is Penny Mordaunt which, like Johnson, is on 5/1 with Bet365 and 4/1 with Paddypower.
Ms Mordaunt’s odds improved drastically after she took centre stage for the government in the coronation of King Charles III. Her sword-wielding exploits won the hearts of MPs, who swooned over the commons leader at the subsequent business statement, which Mordaunt delivers weekly. Mordaunt’s opposite number, shadow leader of the House Thangam Debbonaire praised “her royal meme-ness” as a “symbol of solemnity”.
Mordaunt has also attended Cabinet in previous posts as Secretary of State for International Development (2017-19) and then as Secretary of State for Defence (2019).
In July, she came third in the vote of Conservative MPs, narrowly missing out in going through to the final ballot of Conservative party members. In October, she failed to secure the 100 MP nominations that she needed in order to reach an online vote of conservative party members.
She then ran in the shortened October 2022 leadership contest but failed to reach the 100 MP threshold in order to challenge Rishi Sunak in a vote of the membership.
Ms Mordaunt’s seat in North Portsmouth was won by Labour under the Tony Blair government, and so like Mr Johnson, backers of Ms Mordaunt may be wise to consult the local electoral geography.
Suella Braverman – 15/2
The home secretary is at 20/1 with Bet365, but is doing considerably better with Paddypower on 15/2.
As home secretary, Suella Braverman has emerged as a leading voice for of the party’s right-wingelements. In May, she addressed the National Conservative Conference gathering of socially conservative figures, where she called for cuts to immigration in a speech widely seen as a leadership pitch.
In July 2022, Braverman became the first person to announce she would stand for the Conservative party leadership when Boris Johnson resigned. In doing so she attempted to steal a march on her potential rivals. Braverman exceeded expectations and came fifth in the contest, in terms of votes from fellow Conservative MPs.
Braverman was appointed Home Secretary by Liz Truss in September 2021, but resigned in October 2022 in the final days of the Truss premiership after what was described as a minor breach of the ministerial code relating to her personal email account. But she was reappointed to the role some six days later by the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak.
Braverman previously served as Attorney General under Boris Johnson between 2020, and 2022. Braverman was Under Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union in 2018, but soon resigned in protest at Theresa May’s then Brexit deal.
She supported Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum and was previously Chair of the European Research Group of eurosceptic Conservative MPs. She regularly voted against Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement when it came before Parliament.
Ms Braverman represents a safe seat in Fareham on Hampshire’s south coast and so can be confident of being returned to Westminster after the next election.
Ben Wallace – 11/1
Defence secretary Ben Wallace has been frequently touted as a potential prime minister having risen to prominence by leading the UK’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Despite being seen as an early favourite on both occassions, Wallace decided not to run in either of the Conservative leadership contests in 2022. He backed Liz Truss through the summer and said he “leaned” towards Boris Johnson in October.
Bet365 have Mr Wallace on 8/1, with Paddypower going for slightly longer odds with 11/1.
The defence secretary scores consistently above 80 point in ConservativeHome’s Cabinet league tables — and is therefore seen as a grassroots favourite.
Wallace previously served as Minister for Security and Economic Crime between 2016 and 2019, and Minister of State for Northern Ireland between 2015-2016, and a government whip between 2014-2015.
He supported Remain in the 2016 EU referendum, but is a long standing ally of Boris Johnson and supported him in the 2019 Conservative leadership election.
Wallace previously served as a Member of the Scottish Parliament for North East Scotland between 1999 and 2003. His old Preston North seat has been redrawn by the recent Boundary Commission such that at the time of writing it is not clear where Mr Wallace will stand at the next election.
James Cleverly – 8/1
James Cleverly may a potential dark horse in the race to be the next Conservative leader, he is well-liked among MPs and is thought to have been an effective foreign secretary, having served in the role since Liz Truss became prime minister. He has a slick PR operation and is social media savvy. The foreign office is also seen as a staging post for those who have higher ambitions — two of Britain’s last five foreign secretaries have risen to become Conservative leader.
Bet365 have Mr Cleverly on 8/1, tied with Ben Wallace, while Paddypower again go for slightly longer odds with 11/1.
Although he was briefly Secretary of State for Education between July and September 2022, Cleverly has a number of years of experience in the Foreign Office. He was Minister of Europe between February and July 2022, and Minister of State at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) responsible for the Middle East and North Africa between 2020 and 2022.
Cleverly was also Chairman of the Conservative Party between 2019 and 2020. In 2019, he served as Under Secretary of State for Existing the European Union in 2019.
Cleverly initially came into politics as a close ally of then-London Mayor Johnson, before becoming an MP in 2015.
Mr Cleverly’s parliamentary seat in Braintree was held by Labour at the height of the Blair government albeit it potentially remains a more outside bet for Labour than some on this list.
Jeremy Hunt – 10/1
The chancellor Jeremy Hunt is 10/1 to become the next Conservative leader with Bet365 and 17/2 with Paddypower.
Between 2018 and 2019, Jeremy Hunt served as Foreign Secretary under Theresa May, a position from which he launched a Conservative Leadership bid in 2019. After making it to the final round, Hunt faced a vote of Conservative Party members who overwhelmingly chose Boris Johnson.
Mr Hunt put his name forward for the Conservative leadership in July 2022 but failed to secure enough support from MPs to make it through to the later stages of the contest.
From 2012-2018, Hunt was Secretary of State for Health, becoming the longest serving Health Secretary in history.
Mr Hunt has switched to a new seat being created out of a smaller portion of his old Surrey seat. As such he is less vulnerable to an electoral challenge from the Liberal Democrats than he previously was.
Tom Tugendhat – 22/1
Tom Tugendhat, the cabinet-attending security minister, is a long shot for the next Conservative leader and is placed at 22/1 with Bet365 and 33/1 with Paddypower.
The remain-supporter and Iraq war veteran came closer than anyone in the one-nation faction of moderate Conservatives to replace Boris Johnson in the summer 2022 leadership contest, finishing fifth in a crowded field.
A Conservative moderate, he previously served as Chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee. He has been particularly critical of China in recent years, and in 2021 was banned by the Chinese government from visiting China.
Mr Tugendhat’s seat of Tonbridge in Kent is considered a safe bet for the Conservative party, such that he can be confident of