No, wait we just did this.
I’m serious. I’ve been too busy to write anything since the last time we had this article and I’m beginning to be concerned this is a kind of Groundhog Day curse.
Back in the fog of July, when Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was unceremoniously told to scram, it seemed like the Conservative Party was finally preparing to get boring again. It had been boring under David Cameron except for that little Brexit thing and boring under his successor, Theresa May, except for when it was revealed that someone had been planning to assassinate her. But boy oh boy, Boris Johnson was a riot. He was a silly goose! He had goofy hair! He repeatedly violated his own COVID regulations while others including the late Queen Elizabeth II sacrificed for the good of the nation, sacrifices Johnson was never willing to make himself! He tried to restart the Troubles! What a scamp.
When Johnson left office, Conservatives tore their hair out deciding which boring person they wanted to replace him. Should it be Rishi Sunak, who basically pushed Johnson out of office? Suella Braverman, who said that the British empire was “a force for good” in the world? Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary who acknowledged that he was not a particularly popular health secretary? Penny Mordaunt, about whom many interesting things can be said but I am always stuck on the two facts that (1) she was a foreign policy advisor for both George W. Bush presidential bids and (2) she was a magician’s assistant for the president of the Magic Circle?
Or would it be, as it ultimately was, the first American-style libertarian to hold the job: Liz Truss, who thinks toddlers should get a grip on real life. Truss was ready to bring American conservativism to the British Isles. She quickly cut taxes and announced plans to roll back environmental regulations and oops now she’s the shortest-serving prime minister in U.K. history.
How did this happen?
In the U.K., the leader of the largest party becomes the prime minister. It’s a simple enough system, but what happens when the leader of the largest party, who also happens to be prime minister, resigns? There’s an election, of course.
The party leadership elections can be understood to be analogous to U.S. primary elections – or, at least, to the presidential primaries – with each party ultimately picking their prime minister-in-waiting. A ton of Conservatives lined up to replace Boris Johnson and the Conservative members of Parliament whittled the list down to just two: former Chancellor Rishi Sunak and foreign minister Liz Truss.
Then, the public got a vote. Well, not the whole public; just the registered members of the Conservative Party. Although Sunak slightly led among MPs with 137 to Truss’ 113, Truss took more members’ votes, winning 57.4% and taking the title of leader – as well as prime minister.
There’s no vote to confirm it?
Again, you can kind of think about this as what would happen if Joe Biden resigned. Kamala Harris would become the president. There’s no election to make sure we want Kamala Harris.
Sure, when voters last cast their ballots in the 2019 election, Boris Johnson was the leader of the Conservative Party. But Johnson is out and his replacement, Liz Truss, would be expected to have served until the next election, no later than January 2025. The Conservatives still had a majority, the Conservatives still pick the leader.
Of course, Truss quickly imploded. It turns out that what everyone wanted out of a new Conservative leader was stability and caution and what Truss wanted was to remake the nation’s economy to match her own vision.
Who are the likely candidates?
Surprise, it’s basically the same ones, plus one guy who wasn’t allowed to run in the last contest.
Rishi Sunak, who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from February 2020 – July 2022 and who was the runner-up in the election that saw Truss named PM, is widely considered a front-runner for the leadership. He was a close Johnson ally until he wasn’t and was a major opponent of Truss.
Penny Mordaunt came in third in the leadership election in the summer and was seen as a pro-Brexit candidate who might be a little calmer economically than Truss. She was the first woman to helm the Ministry of Defense and was never seen as particularly close to Johnson or Truss.
Suella Braverman ran to succeed Johnson and lost pretty early on. She then backed Liz Truss, who rewarded her with the job of Home Secretary. Braverman is the shortest-serving Home Secretary ever, having resigned one day before Truss. Braverman released a scathing letter criticizing Truss’ leadership.
Kami Badenoch is not expecting to win. An MP since 2017 and a frequent participant in the Johnson and Truss governments, she ran in the leadership race earlier this year. In the Truss government, she was in charge of international trade, which saw her do absolutely nothing because the Truss government lasted less than two months. But she’s been vocally opposed to the possibility that the next leader would be picked without debate and an election, and so has put herself forward to ensure a robust leadership election.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson
Boris Johnson warned that he would be back. Johnson envisioned a Churchill-style return to power – Winston Churchill was out of Downing Streetbriefly after World War II, although he never lost the leadership of the Conservative Party – and always believed this would be a short hiccup in his story. He might get his way, too, as right-wing MPs seem willing to bring back Johnson if it means not having to deal with the more moderate Sunak. At least one Conservative MP has said he would quit the party if it restores Johnson.