What happens now to the Tory party? Another leadership race of course

A fight for the soul of the Conservative Party is erupting – and the fallout could be brutal.

Even before a single vote had been counted, senior Tories had turned their attention to what they consider the pressing question - what happens to their party now?

Many feel it is no exaggeration to say it is in a fight for its very survival.

And the decisions it makes in the next few weeks and months could decide whether it lives or dies.

The battle will focus on the choice of a new leader.

Under the current rules, the party’s remaining rump of MPs get to decide which of the eventual leadership candidates will make it to the final two.

Tory insiders say the party is now facing an existential crisis (Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)
Tory insiders say the party is now facing an existential crisis (Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)

At that stage more than 100,000 local party members then make their choice and crown the winner.

The first stage of the process will give enormous power to the MPs who have survived the cull. But who will they plump for?

The right of the party accuses Rishi Sunak’s No 10 of trying to rig the vote on his successor by parachuting candidates from the centrist wing into what should be safer seats.

On the other hand, their opponents fear the party is about to stage a lurch to the right, which they argue could condemn it to a long time outside government.

The elephant in the room are fears of a takeover by Reform-backing supporters of Farage, or even Mr Farage himself. Many Conservatives harbour barely conceled fury towards the man who cost many Tory MPs their jobs. But there are some in the party who still want to embrace the populist Reform UK leader.

His supporters say the decision to stand against Tories in every seat in the country was taken before he dramatically returned as leader during the election. And they point to the fact that he hinted at a possible deal to stand down in certain areas, suggesting that he and Mr Sunak should “have a conversation”.

When will the leadership election start?

In truth the contest to be the next Tory leader is well underway, behind the scenes.

Tory MPs have already been talking up the chances of the Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch and the former home secretaries Suella Braverman and Priti Patel.

Ms Patel in particular, is talked of as someone who could appeal to both wings of the party.

MPs also speak of her personal kindness, as an attribute that could secure her votes. One MP told the Independent Ms Patel asks after her son every year - on his birthday.

The battle will focus on who will replace Rishi Sunak (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Wire)
The battle will focus on who will replace Rishi Sunak (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Wire)

Names floating among the ‘One Nation’ wing of the party include the security minister Tom Tugendhat, who is considered to have grown in stature since he unsuccessfully stood for the leadership two years ago.

The other name mentioned is the health secretary Victoria Atkins, currently the most senior member, in terms of cabinet rank, in the group and former immigration minister Robert Jenrick.

How long will it last?

A furious row being waged within the party over the length of any election contest. Some want to give the party time to regroup and avoid it making a rash decision. Supporters of this view favour a long election contest. But opponents warn the party should learn from Labour in 2010. Its months long process to decide a new leader is widely seen as sowing the seeds of some of the choas that followed - helping to enure the party remained out of power for 14 years.

The battle was already ramping up on Wednesday - more than 24 hours before a single vote had been cast.

In a sign that the battle ahead will be fraught, Ms Braverman told her party it had to relocate its soul and shift to the right as it accepted the reality of opposition. But just hours later she accused the then cabinet minister Mel Stride of being defeatist.

And asked who she’d like to be the next Tory leader, former minister Andrea Jenkyns appeared almost nihilistic telling the BBC: “We’ll see who’s left.”