'We've got to take our time,' says Braverman on Tory leadership

Suella Braverman
[PA Media]

Conservatives leadership hopefuls are pondering how to react, after a crushing election defeat looks set to define the future direction of the party.

The party now has only 121 MPs, down 251, after its vote collapsed as Labour achieved a landslide election victory.

Rishi Sunak has vowed to stay on as leader until arrangements for selecting his successor are in place, and has made Daventry MP Stuart Andrew the party's interim chief whip.

None of the party's surviving MPs have yet confirmed they will run in the eventual contest to replace him, for which a timetable is not yet clear.

Party grandees are expected to meet next week to decide the process by which the party will choose the next leader.

But a debate is already simmering within its ranks over whether it should move to the right to win over the 4.1m voters who backed Reform UK.

'Take our time'

Among those tipped to run are Suella Braverman, who at the eve of polls compared Tory figures attacking Mr Farage to a "patient berating the doctor for the illness".

Speaking to reporters outside her home on Saturday morning, she said she had "no announcements" when asked whether she would run.

"We’ve just got to take our time, we’ve got to figure out what the situation is,” she said, adding the party had suffered a "really bad result".

Others mentioned as possible leadership contenders include former ministers Kemi Badenoch, James Cleverly, and Tom Tugendhat.

The pool of potential candidates has been reduced by the Tories' disastrous election performance, with mooted contenders Grant Shapps and Penny Mordaunt among dozens of ministers losing their seats.

Two-time previous candidate Jeremy Hunt, who served as Mr Sunak's chancellor, is reportedly not thinking of running again.

Banner reading "More on general election 2024"

Veteran MP Sir Edward Leigh, who was re-elected in Gainsborough, said the party should invite Reform UK leader Nigel Farage to join the party.

He told BBC Look North the Tories had been "completely trashed in this election because the right wing vote is divided".

He added that the party needed to court Reform voters "otherwise in five years' time, we’re going to have a similar debacle".

But former cabinet minister Damian Green, who lost his Ashford seat to Labour, said welcoming Mr Farage would be “utterly disastrous”.

He said doing so would see the Tories "lose millions of votes" on the other end of its voter coalition, adding: "You can’t just add the Reform vote to the Tory vote.

"We’ve got to win a lot of those voters back, but we do that by demonstrating competence, and having policies that will appeal to them, but within a broad conservative framework,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But Mr Farage has hinted he would not work with the Conservatives no matter the leader.

Speaking to journalists he said: “Honestly, I don’t think it matters who they pick as leader, this party is split down the middle.

"They call it a broad church; well, it’s a broad church with no common religion.”

He added that the party had “never really decided where they stood on Brexit”.

'Small C conservatives'

Miriam Cates, who saw her 7,210 majority in Penistone and Stocksbridge overturned by Labour, said she thought the Conservatives were capable of winning back “small C conservatives” who had opted to back Reform UK.

“Our vote didn’t go to Labour,” she told Today, adding “our voters were lost to Reform,” with lots of other Conservative voters “staying at home”.

She added that a "key difference" between MPs to resolve as they seek to rebuild the party would be to decide where they stand on the economy.

Adding that “free market liberalism” had served primarily to enrich London and the South East, she warned against offering voters “reheated Thatcherism”.

Former minister Tobias Ellwood, who was swept aside in Bournemouth East, said the party should "take time to regroup" after its defeat.

He added that “awful lots of homework” were now required to work out where the party would position itself on the political spectrum.

He cautioned against wanting to “leap" into finding another leader quickly, adding that this was likely to see "wannabe future leaders" appealing to the party's activist base, who since 1998 have had a role in choosing the leader.

The man who introduced that system, William Hague, has also warned against trying to "rush the choice of a new leader," writing in the Times that a mistake for the party "could be fatal".

He said he would like the party to wait until after its autumn conference in October before choosing Mr Sunak's successor, even if it required an interim leader.