Race to Downing Street heats up as Grant Shapps announces Tory leadership bid

With many of the favourites still to declare, this race is still wide open - Callum Watkinson reports

Another name has been added to the Tory leadership bid as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps launched his campaign, saying he will end “tactical government by an often distracted centre”.

In the race to become the new prime minister, Tories are rushing to take sides with five names now confirmed in the running.

On Friday, Rishi Sunak declared he has set his sights on Downing Street.

Former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has now thrown her hat into the ring, with a plan for a smaller state and a government “focused on the essentials.”

Widely considered to be a frontrunner, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace ruled himself out of the running on Saturday afternoon to "focus on [his] current job" - making him one of the most valuable backers in the party for whoever gets his support.

Former minister Steve Baker, meanwhile, has backed Attorney General Suella Braverman’s campaign, who announced her intention on ITV's Peston show.

While Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, has already said he will be be putting his name forward.

Less than an hour after Mr Shapps announced his bid, newly-appointed chancellor Nadhim Zahawi announced he was joining the contest too.

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Making his bid public in The Times, Mr Shapps said his goal was to address the cost of living crisis and rebuild the economy.

Quizzed on the issue of loyalty, the Welwyn Hatfield MP told the paper: "I have not spent the last few turbulent years plotting or briefing against the prime minister. I have not been mobilising a leadership campaign behind his back. I tell you this: for all his flaws – and who is not flawed? – I like Boris Johnson. I have never, for a moment, doubted his love of this country.

Who has announced their bids?

Former chancellor Mr Sunak released a glossy launch video on Friday night in which he set out his family history, saying: “Our country faces huge challenges, the most serious for a generation.

“And the decisions we make today will decide whether the next generation of British people will also have the chance of a better future.”

Among those publicly backing Mr Sunak are Commons Leader Mark Spencer, former Tory Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden, former chief whip Mark Harper, ex-ministers Liam Fox and Andrew Murrison, and MPs Sir Bob Neill and Paul Maynard.

Those in support of Mr Sunak have been sharing a link to his campaign website, www.ready4rishi.com.

It appears that a site with a slightly different name, www.readyforrishi.com, which redirects to the official campaign page, was set up in December 2021.

Mr Sunak’s team said domains are bought all the time, adding that they had been transferred a number of them.

The Times reported that Ms Badenoch was launching her campaign with a pledge to radically reduce the size and influence of the state.

She would preside over a “limited government focused on the essentials”, the newspaper said.

Justin Tomlinson, MP for North Swindon, resigned as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party on Saturday in order to “be free to support Kemi Badenoch to be our next PM”.

In a series of posts on Twitter, he added: “Determined, honest, straight-talking – Kemi Badenoch presents a real opportunity for change with a new style of politics that focuses on people not big government.

“As a campaigner, focused on getting colleagues re-elected I know how the Westminster bubble is so detached from voters – Kemi Badenoch will smash through this disconnect and deliver on what ordinary people want. This is how we renew as Party and win the next General Election.”

Former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch Credit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA

The absence of a clear front-runner in the leadership race has tempted a number of less-fancied contenders to step forward, with backbencher John Baron saying he will be “taking soundings” over the weekend.

Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, has already said he will be be putting his name forward. On Saturday he tweeted: “The reason I’m standing is simple. Trust in our politics and our party is collapsing. We need a clean start.”

While Attorney General Suella Braverman’s campaign announced her intention to run on ITV's Peston show.

Who else may announce their leadership bids?

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is also widely expected to run for leader.

Tory MPs Chloe Smith and Julian Knight both expressed their support for the senior Cabinet minister on Friday, although she is yet to launch a bid.

His move came as allies of former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was runner-up to Boris Johnson in 2019, said he was “virtually certain” to stand again this time.

What happens next?

Following elections to the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee on Monday, the new body will draw up a timetable for the leadership election.

After his acrimonious resignation speech on Thursday, many MPs are anxious to see Mr Johnson out of No 10 as quickly as possible, fearing a summer of “chaos” if he remains.

Downing Street however insisted he would not stand aside to allow Mr Raab to take over as a caretaker prime minister.

Labour has confirmed that it will table a Commons vote of no confidence in the government if Mr Johnson refuses to go voluntarily.

However in order to succeed it would require Tory MPs to vote with them – or at least abstain in large numbers – which would appear unlikely given it could lead to a general election they are likely to lose.