Who will lead the Conservatives into the next general election, scheduled for 2022? From the moment the BBC exit poll correctly predicted that the party would win this year’s election but lose seats, Theresa May’s time as leader and Prime Minister seemed severely limited. Though she has pledged to remain in post for the next election, it is hard to find a single person who believes this will actually happen. Inevitably, rumours are swirling around about who will succeed May when she resigns.
The usual candidates – those in great offices of state and the cabinet – topped everybody’s list in the immediate aftermath of the election debacle. The Conservative Party, however, have managed to calm down significantly and it now seems likely that May will stay in Downing Street until at least 2019, after Brexit Day.
Simultaneously, Tory backbenchers and party members are indicating that they are not entirely convinced by any of the leading candidates.
Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd, Philip Hammond, David Davis and Co all have their unique strengths, but at the same time, as long serving politicians, they have also said and done things that could be held against them were they to lead the party. Additionally, after seven years in power, most big beasts are implicated by the tough decisions, mistakes and compromises that government inevitably brings with itself.
The view that the Tories should look for a fresh face, someone not currently in cabinet, to be their next leader when a vacancy finally arrives is therefore gradually gaining traction. Who then are those next Gen Conservatives who might end up making up the leadership of the party come 2022?
The candidate with the biggest following right now is Jacob Rees-Mogg. The member for North East Somerset – or rather the member for the 19th century – has become somewhat of a cult figure for those Tory activists yearning for true conservatism, integrity and authenticity.
Those more concerned with building a party suited for the challenges of the 21st century and improving its electability disagree, citing his posh demeanour and unpalatable views on many issues, from same-sex marriage and abortion to climate change and Donald Trump.
Rees-Mogg has ruled himself out for the leadership, but he may still be in with a chance of landing a Cabinet job.
Two members currently in junior ministerial roles are also widely tipped for higher offices and possibly leadership ambitions: Dominic Raab, the Minister for Courts and Justice, and Jo Johnson, the Minister for Universities and Science.
Raab, while not without controversies, is a highly intelligent and capable minister and his conservative, but not reactionary, views on most subjects would find significant support among the Tory base.
Johnson, former Head of the No.10 Policy Unit under David Cameron, belongs to the more centrist wing of the party. He combines a lot of his brother’s strengths – intellect, wit, charm, moderate political views – with a lack of Boris’s weaknesses – laziness, unreliability, extreme ambition. Johnson was also named as a potential Prime Minister by non-other than Sir Anthony Seldon.
With Brexit and Trump, foreign policy has become ever more important. Two experts in the field – Tom Tugendhat and Johnny Mercer – are among the rising stars on the Tory backbenches.
Tugendhat won the election for the chairmanship of the influential Foreign Affairs Select Committee a couple of weeks ago, after only two years in the Commons. With a distinguished army career, very impressive performances in parliament and a powerful new role, he is destined for greater things.
Mercer, who shares the army background, is a very modern, compassionate “neo-Cameroon” - someone who also isn’t afraid to occasionally challenge his own party. If the Tories decide it is time for a clean slate, a break with the past, then Mercer could be the man.
It would be hugely surprising should Kwasi Kwarteng not play a significant role in the future Conservative Party. Had the Tories won an increased majority in June, he would probably already be more than Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Arguably the most high-profile Tory BAME MP, he has been called a “rising star of politics” and Theresa May would be making a huge mistake if she did not promote him further. Kwarteng certainly has the potential for Cabinet positions, potentially even more than that.
The Conservative party has a huge amount of talent in junior ministerial jobs and on the backbenches. If and when Theresa May finds the power and courage to reshuffle her cabinet some of those mentioned surely be promoted, further testing their capabilities in public office. We should not be surprised if the Tories decide to skip a generation and look to one of the many brilliant MPs of the next generation when electing their next leader.