Women lead charge to be Rishi Sunak's successor

Home Secretary Suella Braverman among five Tory contenders to use party conference to push their credentials

UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman has warned of a 'hurricane' of 'millions' migrants as she positions herself as a contender to become the next Conservative leader. Bloomberg
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Several women are angling for the leadership of Britain's ruling Conservative Party in the event Rishi Sunak loses the next general election, using the annual Tory gathering as a springboard.

Most are from ethnic minority backgrounds and nearly all are on the right wing of the party.

As the Tories hold their annual conference this week, Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been foremost in terms of bombast, positioning herself as the uncompromising immigration challenger.

Firing more a starting cannon than pistol on her leadership pitch on Tuesday, she bashed migrants, praised the police, mocked the "woke" crowd and formulated a new hate group, of “luxury beliefs” with second homes in Dordogne or Tuscany, of which a number in her audience possibly owned.

In language swirling close to the hard right, Ms Braverman used her speech to warn of a “hurricane” of migration that was sweeping “millions” of people towards Britain.

Whipping up applause and cheers from the willing audience of party members, she promised to begin closing down asylum hotels, while stating “immigration is already too high”.

“The future could bring millions more migrants to these shores uncontrolled and unmanageable”.

There was barely a mention of her boss, Mr Sunak, although it seemed she was building up to a big praiseworthy name check promising the Conservatives had a “secret weapon” for the upcoming general election only to name Labour leader Keir Starmer.

A leadership race next autumn remains a high probability with the Conservatives lingering about 20 points behind Labour despite the steady hand the prime minister has placed on guiding government.

There seems a tacit acceptance that, barring a dramatic economic and political recovery, Britain will probably be governed by Labour by autumn 2024, with Mr Sunak likely to resign.

That will precipitate a rush of hopefuls to become the Conservatives' fifth leader in five years but with the prospect of forming the party in their image and the chance to attain the highest office in another five years.

At least five among their number will be women, said former Tory MP Charlotte Leslie, stating that the party has elevated females on merit.

“We are not a party that has gone on and on about women's empowerment in the abstract, we've just gone and done it and that's a very Conservative trait,” she said.

“One issue with identity politics is that it actually prevents you just from cracking on with the job. Our Conservatives don't want to be labelled as a woman or as a person from an ethnic minority they just want to get on with doing a good job.”

Another senior Conservative woman told The National that given the arduous candidate selection process it was the “most resilient and toughest” women who got past male contenders.

Kemi Badenoch is among their number and did no harm to her positioning telling members that there was “nowhere better to be black than in Britain”.

The business secretary, born to Nigerian parents, has also spent the last three days carefully cultivating party members – key in any leadership vote – attending drinks parties and fringe events. But she also praised Mr Sunak for “bravely … shattering a lazy consensus about the costs of net zero”.

Elsewhere former home secretary Priti Patel has waltzed around the conference with a fair degree of bonhomie that included a dance with Brexit-engineer Nigel Farage, who is not a Conservative member but has sparked speculation of forming a breakaway right-wing party.

In the very crowded right wing corner, former prime minister Liz Truss also pitched in with a well-attended fringe speech on growth and low taxes garnering speculation on a formerly unimaginable comeback.

In the centre ground, stands energy secretary Claire Coutinho who gave a confident and articulate speech and would be the standard-bearer for Mr Sunak’s legacy.

Joining her would be the much-admired Penny Mordaunt, who came third in the leadership race after Boris Johnson’s resignation.

Highlights of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester - in pictures

Strong Tory male contenders remain an emasculated sort with Security Minister Tom Tugendhat and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly the leading lights.

“Obviously, we don't want to be talking about the next leader of the Conservative Party,” remarked Ms Leslie. “But there's a very good chance that we'll have a bunch of very strong, feisty women who have made it very clear that they're not being held back by their gender. In many ways it is very refreshing."

Updated: October 04, 2023, 8:02 AM