Boris Johnson was one of the names buzzing around Westminster on Friday, as supporters of the former prime minister tipped him for a comeback to British frontline politics.
Only six weeks after leaving No 10 Downing Street, he is said to have cut short his Caribbean holiday to fly back to the UK to speak to MPs, as he considers a potential run in the race to replace Liz Truss.
Will Walden, who previously worked as Mr Johnson’s press secretary, told Sky News that the man who departed office in September was working on an October comeback.
“I've spoken to someone that's spoken to him and he's on the way back. And clearly he's taking soundings,” he said.
Mr Johnson's backers are arguing he is the only MP with a mandate from British voters to lead the country — having led the Tories to a landslide general election win in December 2019.
Mr Walden told LBC Radio that the calculation for Mr Johnson, who was prime minister from July 2019 to September 2022, “will not be what is in the national interest, it will be what’s in my interest”.
The Daily Telegraph reported that Mr Johnson was privately pressuring former chancellor Rishi Sunak to team up for a joint bid.
There are fears within Tory ranks that prolonged political upheaval could lead to an early general election, in which the party could be pummelled at the ballot box by Labour. The opposition party holds a 36-point lead in polls.
“If the Tories are serious about winning in 2024 and want to stop a general election before then, they need to revert to the guy with a mandate who is a seasoned campaigner,” an ally of Mr Johnson was quoted in The Daily Telegraph.
“They need someone to take the fight to Labour.”
However, another source told The Times that although Mr Johnson is preparing for a leadership bid, he believes it may be too soon to make a Downing Street comeback.
Mr Johnson has already been publicly supported by over 60 Tory MPs, according to the Guido Fawkes website.
Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg on Friday became the first Cabinet member to come out in support of Mr Johnson, tweeting that it was “Boris or bust”.
Brendan Clarke-Smith, Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office, told Channel 4 News that Mr Johnson was a “winner” and was “very successful” in Downing Street.
“Boris Johnson is the person who could win us that next general election,” he said, as he urged MPs who may not like him to “compromise”.
Mr Clarke-Smith said his constituents had been “very, very clear” with him that they want to see Mr Johnson back in No 10.
Conservative MP Paul Bristow told Sky News he also had heard from his constituents that Mr Johnson — who found popularity in Ukraine after taking a tough line against Russia over its invasion of its neighbour in February — was the best person for the job.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has ruled himself out of the race and said he is “leaning towards” supporting Mr Johnson.
Simon Clarke, the levelling up secretary, has also come out in support of Mr Johnson.
Mr Sunak has the most MPs publicly backing him to be prime minister, with more than 70. But his disloyalty to Mr Johnson while chancellor is a major turn-off for some Conservatives, particularly those on the right of the party.
He is expected to launch his second bid for No 10 on a platform of fiscal conservatism.
Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt was on Friday afternoon the first candidate to declare she was running in what looks set to be a three-horse race.
“I’ve been encouraged by support from colleagues who want a fresh start, a united party and leadership in the national interest,” Ms Mordaunt tweeted.
“I’m running to be the leader of the Conservative Party and your Prime Minister — to unite our country, deliver our pledges and win the next GE [general election].”
As Britons cry out for a new era of political and economic stability, Ms Mordaunt has reportedly held talks with Jeremy Hunt to assure him he can remain as chancellor if she wins.
With just over 20 Tory MPs backing her so far, Ms Mordaunt is behind Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak in the race. But if Mr Johnson decides not to run, she could scoop up a lot of support from his backers.
The influential 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, which oversees the Conservative leadership contest, has said that to stand, each candidate must be backed by at least 100 MPs by lunchtime on Monday.
The winner will be determined by next Friday.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson was pushed out of No 10 because members of his top team “had declared that he unfit for office” and therefore it would be inappropriate for him to make a return.
More than half of Britons would be unhappy to see Boris Johnson return as prime minister, according to a poll by YouGov. The sample of 3,429 adults on Friday suggested 27 per cent would be happy to see him return to office, compared with 52 per cent who did not like the idea.
Conservative voters were more favourable, with 25 per cent saying they would be happy and 31 per cent would be very happy. However, 13 percent of Tory voters said they would be very unhappy and 8 per cent fairly unhappy.