Steve Baker to launch Tory leadership bid if party loses and he keeps seat

Tory minister Steve Baker will mount a bid to replace Rishi Sunak as party leader should he lead the Conservatives to defeat on July 4 as expected, it is understood.

The Northern Ireland minister hinted at a leadership run if he retains his Wycombe seat – where he was re-elected with a slim 4,214 majority in 2019 – at the General Election.

He told the PA news agency: “One thing at a time. I want to represent the people of Wycombe the best that I can, as I always have done.

“Then let’s see what happens.”

It is understood that he will announce his intentions if the electoral hammering the polls are predicting occurs and Mr Sunak is forced to give up the party’s reins.

Mr Baker joins other hopefuls – including Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch and Home Secretary James Cleverly – in jostling for the position with a week to go until polling day.

Labour said the manoeuvring showed the Tories were putting “their self-interest and leadership ambitions first”.

The contest to pick Mr Sunak’s successor could shape the party for years to come as right-wingers and more centrist Tories battle it out.

Security minister Tom Tugendhat on Thursday twice refused to rule out taking a tilt at the top job, when asked in an ITV interview.

Seen as being on the moderate wing of the party, he previously ran for the leadership in 2022.

Mr Baker cited his experience leading Tory Brexit, Covid-19 lockdowns and net zero rebellions as reasons he would be a suitable candidate.

He told HuffPost UK: “It’s a fact my colleagues sent for me four times to provide leadership through crisis to success: before and after the referendum, in Covid and in relation to the cost of net zero.”

Earlier this week, he admitted the Tories’ election campaign has gone “badly” and that its double-digit poll deficit is “extremely worrying”.

He said “things have gone wrong” for the party and that he is standing for re-election to try to “sort this mess out”.

Mr Baker also complained that the Prime Minister “didn’t consult me” on calling a summer election.

After Mr Sunak surprised Westminster by announcing the July 4 poll in May, Mr Baker went ahead with a holiday in Greece rather than campaigning in his constituency.

The Tory campaign has in recent days been overshadowed by the row over the alleged use of inside information to bet on the timing of the July 4 poll, dampening Mr Sunak’s hopes of putting a dent in Labour’s 21-point average poll lead.

Mr Baker was the first serving minister to call for those who placed bets on the election date to be suspended by the party, with the Prime Minister later pulling support from candidates Craig Williams and Laura Saunders.

Asked whether he wanted to be part of the battle for the soul of the Conservative Party, Mr Baker told Times Radio on Tuesday: “That’s why I’m standing.

“I’ve said to numerous people on their doorstep that … I recognise things have gone wrong and that I would love to have the opportunity to rise to their expectations of giving them the Conservative Party and the Conservative government which they expect. Pragmatic, professional and yet principled…

“I would very much like to have the chance to sort this mess out.”

Tory MPs usually vote to select the top two candidates, who are then put forward to the party membership, although the rules and timeline of the race would be set out by the backbench 1922 Committee.

Mr Baker was first elected to represent Wycombe in 2010 but faces a tough contest to keep his seat next week.

Labour’s deputy national campaign co-ordinator Ellie Reeves said: “While the Tories put their self-interest and leadership ambitions first, it’s clearer than ever: if the Conservatives are given another five years, the chaos will just continue.

“This changed Labour Party is ready to serve the British people – country first, party second. The public has the chance for change with Labour if they vote for it on July 4.”