News

A natty haircut and secret WhatsApp groups. GLEN OWEN and ANNA MIKHAILOVA reveal how Kemi Badenoch, Grant Shapps, Penny Mordaunt and Robert Jenrick are all plotting to be the next party leader


The race to become the next Tory leader is the political equivalent of the proverbial duck: serene on the surface, but with increasingly frantic paddling beneath the water.

Last week’s by-election losses to Labour in Wellingborough and Kingswood have moved the plotting against Rishi Sunak up by another notch. The scale of the defeats means that when MPs return from their half-term break tomorrow the PM’s future will dominate conversation.

Tory strategists insist that there is still ‘all to play for’, but admit privately that a hung Parliament would represent a triumph in the circumstances. So the shadow leadership contest is being run in preparation for one of two eventualities – if Mr Sunak’s enemies in the party succeed in toppling him before polling day or, more likely, amid the smoking rubble of the post-election parliamentary party.

Early attention is settling around four contenders: Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt and former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick. Mr Shapps’s main asset is his savant-like grip of Commons arithmetic – he played a key role in Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign in 2019 by feeding him high-grade intelligence on his support from MPs.

Earlier this month, Kemi Badenoch gave a magazine interview headlined ‘Kemi Badenoch: The next Tory leader?’

Earlier this month, Kemi Badenoch gave a magazine interview headlined ‘Kemi Badenoch: The next Tory leader?’

Penny Mordaunt faces losing her Portsmouth North seat  – meaning that becoming Prime Minister in a pre-Election contest could be the only way to keep her job

Penny Mordaunt faces losing her Portsmouth North seat  – meaning that becoming Prime Minister in a pre-Election contest could be the only way to keep her job

One source in another camp claimed to The Mail on Sunday that a WhatsApp group used by Mr Shapps for his abortive 2022 leadership bid has been revived to plan his next one.

Called SLAP – the Shapps Leadership Action Plan – it is used to discuss policies and levels of Commons support.

The source said: ‘Grant is barely in the MoD these days, by my calculation he does about six days a month. The rest of the time he is plotting to become leader. Tuesday afternoons are set aside by his inner circle to discuss strategy.’

This claim is denied by allies of Mr Shapps.

Ms Mordaunt is being less subtle. If some of the more apocalyptic opinion polls are accurate, Ms Mordaunt faces losing her Portsmouth North seat, despite holding a majority of more than 15,000 – meaning that becoming Prime Minister in a pre-Election contest could be the only way to keep her job.

‘Every PM gets a local bounce, and she is likely to need it,’ says a source. ‘She has been doing the grunt work of touring Conservative local associations, pressing the flesh with the party members who will vote for the next leader.’

Ms Mordaunt is the standard-bearer for the centrist One Nation group. One member says: ‘She is the only person who, if asked to do events, always says yes.

‘She goes down very well with members. She is very willing and very entertaining.’ 

This is often contrasted with Ms Badenoch, who has been topping popularity polls of Tory members and is seen by many as the candidate to revitalise the party after Mr Sunak. But she is not known for Mordaunt-style charm offensives on the ground.

Multiple sources described her as ‘less than forthcoming’ when it comes to attending local associations, party fundraising events or canvassing in by-elections.

‘Kemi is not as free with her time as some other Ministers are in chatting to party members – I think she’d rather not,’ an insider said.

Another source, who has organised events with Cabinet Ministers, said of the Business Secretary: ‘She’s got an inflated opinion of herself, rather than be nice to people and oil the wheels, like you have to in politics, she doesn’t. She sort of goes in there, all la-di-da, and says, I’m here, I’m the greatest, my views are what count.’

However, an association chairman who organised an event with Ms Badenoch said she was ‘fairly willing and cordial’. Her allies also rejected claims of her arrogance, saying they are made by ‘people who don’t like her’. 

Tory MP Andrew Lewer, who backed Ms Badenoch’s 2022 leadership campaign, told the MoS last night that she was ‘very supportive’ and was ‘very well received’ by his local association.

Earlier this month, Ms Badenoch gave a magazine interview headlined ‘Kemi Badenoch: The next Tory leader?’, which described her as ‘constantly abroad making trade deals’. However, Government sources questioned the claim about the extent of Ms Badenoch’s travelling for the job.

Grant Shapps allegedly has a WhatsApp group called SLAP – the Shapps Leadership Action Plan – used to discuss policies and levels of Commons support

Grant Shapps allegedly has a WhatsApp group called SLAP – the Shapps Leadership Action Plan – used to discuss policies and levels of Commons support

Robert Jenrick has become a standard bearer for the Right. Westminster watchers have noticed his image makeover – a ‘Caesar’ haircut and a trimmer waist

Robert Jenrick has become a standard bearer for the Right. Westminster watchers have noticed his image makeover – a ‘Caesar’ haircut and a trimmer waist 

Ms Badenoch has insisted she fully supports Rishi Sunak and said Tory rebels plotting to install her in Downing Street ‘are not my friends’.

Meanwhile, Mr Jenrick, who quit as Immigration Minister over the Rwanda Bill and who has become a standard bearer for the Right, has been raising his profile, with speeches in Washington DC as well as interventions in British politics.

Westminster watchers have noticed his image makeover – a ‘Caesar’ haircut and a trimmer waist, which has been credited to a ‘leadership diet’. Sources close to him deny this had anything to do with getting into Downing Street.

Whichever leadership approach will finally be successful in part depends on what sort of successor to Mr Sunak the party decides to have. As an MP said: ‘Are we after a Michael Howard-style caretaker – before either Boris comes back or we elect the next David Cameron – or someone who can be the next Prime Minister?’

Key to their success will be neutralising the threat posed by Nigel Farage’s Reform, the successor to Ukip and the Brexit Party, which came third in both of the by-elections with 13 per cent of the vote in Wellingborough and 10 per cent in Kingswood. After the result, Mr Farage said that he and the likes of Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg ‘have to be on the same team’ in the future to avoid splitting the anti-Labour vote.

Their standing has been boosted by publicity the party has received from GB News, where Mr Farage and party leader Richard Tice are presenters. A Reform source said: ‘Our people’s profile on GB News is having a real impact. It’s not just Nigel. In Wellingborough we had people crossing the street to shake Richard’s hand. We’ve not seen that before. It’s having a real impact.’

Last night, an ally of Mr Shapps said: ‘Grant is completely loyal to Rishi. He supported him in the last leadership election and he believes the Conservatives can still win the Election. He is not a plotter like others who risk undermining the authority of the Government.

‘It is untrue that he is only in the MoD six days a week. He’s in the office more, but significantly he is involved in two international conflicts, which means effectively he is working 24 hours a day. He knows how important the position of Defence Secretary is and is working tirelessly in that role.

‘In less than six months we think he has engaged directly with over 50 international partners while on more than 20 international visits.

‘He’s visited troops and veterans across the country and on operations more than a dozen times and visited UK industry sites building the equipment we need at least six times.’

The ally added: ‘SLAP comes from a previous leadership election when he was preparing to stand.’



Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button