Which Conservative candidate will be Britain's next PM?

The five Conservative candidates are vying to replace British Prime Minister David Cameron: (Clockwise from top left) Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Theresa May and Stephen Crabb.
The five Conservative candidates are vying to replace British Prime Minister David Cameron: (Clockwise from top left) Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Theresa May and Stephen Crabb.PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP, EPA

Former London mayor Boris Johnson, a prominent Brexiteer and one of the favourites to replace Mr David Cameron as British Prime Minister, said on Thursday (June 30) he would not be standing in the race. That left five other Conservative candidates in the field vying for the top leadership post.

Here's the line-up of the candidates:

Ms Theresa May, 59

Position: Home Secretary; Brexit vote: Remain

She is the most powerful woman in government and Britain's longest-serving home secretary in more than 50 years. She has been involved in politics at all levels for many years, beginning by stuffing envelopes at her local Conservative association before going on to be a councillor in the London borough of Merton from 1986 to 1994.

May’s steely exterior is often seen as lacking the warmth and popular appeal of politicians such as Boris Johnson. On Thursday, as she made her bid to be Tory leader, she sought instead to turn these into assets, stressing her reliability and focus on getting the job done. “I know I’m not a showy politician. I don’t tour the television studios...I don’t often wear my heart on my sleeve – I just get on with the job in front of me," she told reporters. 

May can also argue that her experience extends beyond politics, having worked in finance for 20 years before going into Parliament, firstly at the Bank of England and then at the Association for Payment Clearing Services. But her career has not been without controversy. She faced calls for her resignation over her handling of a processing backlog at the Passport Office in the summer of 2014. More problematically, as head of the department that oversees immigration, she may have trouble distancing herself from criticism for the government’s failure to meet Cameron’s pledge to cut net inflows to below 100,000. 

But while she aligned herself with Cameron in the battle to keep Britain in the EU, May, a known Euro-skeptic, was careful to appear a reluctant “Remainer," largely absent from the campaign’s televised and public campaign events. She has promised not to consider a second referendum, hoping that this will help to build bridges with those members of her party who actively backed “Leave.”

May is seen as the clear frontrunner. After nominations closed on Thursday, bookmaker Ladbrokes Plc shortened the odds on May as the favourite to win and installed her closest rival Michael Gove as the “clear second favourite.” The influential Daily Mail newspaper also endorsed May on Friday, saying she is the best candidate to unite a “party in flames.” 

Mr Michael Gove, 48

Position: Justice Secretary; Brexit vote: Leave

He was appointed Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice on May 10, 2015. Was elected Conservative MP for Surrey Heath in 2005. After university, he worked as a reporter for The Times and for BBC Television. 

On Thursday, he reversed a previous statement to stay out of the race and support former London mayor Johnson, his ally in the “Leave” campaign, just hours before Johnson was due to declare his candidacy at a press conference. The move forced Johnson to announce his withdrawal instead. His U-turn on supporting Johnson also came after he had turned his back on his old friend Cameron by backing the Brexit camp. 

In a statement announcing his candidacy on Thursday, he explained his reasons for the Johnson U-turn: “I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future". “I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”

Unpopular with ministers and the public when he was education secretary for seeking to push through radical reforms to the school curriculum, Gove saw his popularity surge during the “Leave” campaign as voters and party members saw him as the reasoned, sensible foil to Johnson’s erratic charisma. His early backing for Brexit will also have won him the loyalty of more virulent “Leave” supporters eager for a leader to champion their cause.

Gove’s relatively modest background is also likely to play well with Tory voters who feel the Conservative Party has been dominated by a privately educated elite. His father ran a fish- processing business in Aberdeen, which Gove claimed during the referendum campaign was destroyed by the EU’s fisheries policy, and his mother worked at the Aberdeen School for the Deaf. 

Despite having his fair share of admirers, some analysts question if Gove's surprise bid for the leadership would play well with voters. “It’s a very peculiar electorate but some of them may see Theresa May as a second Margaret Thatcher, another strong woman to lead the party,” said Wyn Grant, a professor of politics at Warwick University. “Michael Gove is very smart but whether they would think he’s trustworthy given what he’s done, and how he’s done it, is open to question.” 

Ms Andrea Leadsom, 53

Position: Treasury Minister and Energy Minister; Brexit vote: Leave

She was elected the Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire in 2010, and appointed Minister of State at Department of Energy and Climate Change on 11 May 2015. Worked in the banking and finance industry for 25 years.

Leadsom was nominated by fellow Brexit campaigners, armed forces minister Penny Mordaunt and William Wragg, a former primary school teacher who was elected to parliament last year. “I see a huge opportunity from the result of the referendum. Britain, the United Kingdom can be so much better in the world. The future for our children and grandchildren will be so great, but what we have to do now is to all pull together and make that opportunity a reality,” she said in a video posted on Twitter.


Dr Liam Fox, 54

Position: Backbencher; Brexit vote: Leave

He worked both in the National Health Service and as a civilian army medical officer before becoming an MP in 1992. Born and raised in Scotland, he attended the local comprehensive school before going on to study medicine at Glasgow University. 

Fox was defence secretary from 2010-2011, when he resigned over his friendship with a businessman who posed as his adviser. A government investigation found he had breached the ministerial code by allowing an “inappropriate blurring of lines between official and personal relationships”.

He has also held the posts of junior foreign office minister and Conservative Party chairman.  

He was nominated for the leadership by Robert Goodwill, a junior transport minister, and Scott Mann, a former postman who was elected to parliament last year.

A Brexit campaigner on the right of the party, he has said whoever becomes PM must accept the will of the British people and not "try to backslide" over EU membership.

He has stated that he does not believe in compromising on Britain's desire for greater limits to the free movement of people in order to have access to the EU single market. “I do not believe there is room for membership of the single market, if it entails free movement of people," he said in his leadership bid speech. "Those who voted to leave the EU would regard it as a betrayal, and frankly they would be right,” he added. “We do not need to be part of the single market to sell into it.”

He has also said that he does not want to see the Conservative leadership campaign being "totally dominated by the issues in the referendum”. “There are many other issues that I care very passionately about. This is a special country and we should start feeling special about ourselves.” 

Mr Stephen Crabb, 43

Position: Work and Pensions Secretary; Brexit vote: Remain

He has been MP for his home constituency of Preseli Pembrokeshire since 2005. As a backbencher in Parliament he served on the Welsh Affairs, International Development and Treasury Select Committees.

Brought up by a single mother in public housing in Wales, Crabb was educated at state schools and paid his way through university by working as a building site labourer, working-class roots that have earned him the title of “blue collar ticket” in some newspapers. He worked as a marketing consultant before being elected to parliament in 2005.  

He has held the job of work and pensions minister in Cameron’s government for just three months, having previously been the minister for Wales.  

Among those supporting Crabb’s bid is business minister Sajid Javid, who he has said will serve as his finance minister if he wins.

“The British people want control of immigration ... For us, this is a red-line,” Crabb said at his campaign launch. “It is going to be very challenging to reconcile that with the same kind of full access to the single market we have at the moment. The challenge must be to get a set of arrangements that approximates as closely as possibly to what we have now.”