Kemi Badenoch is the future of the Tory party – no one else survives

Kemi Badenoch is the bookies' favourite to be the next Tory leader
Kemi Badenoch is the bookies' favourite to be the next Tory leader

Kemi Badenoch will be the future of the Conservative Party by default as the only “big beast” left standing after the election, an exclusive poll for The Telegraph suggests.

Not only most of the Cabinet – including Rishi Sunak, Jeremy Hunt and James Cleverly – would be wiped out under a Labour mega-majority, but also leadership contenders including Penny Mordaunt and Suella Braverman.

Among others said to be contemplating leadership bids, only Tom Tugendhat is predicted to keep his seat, raising the possibility of a Badenoch-Tugendhat run-off as the Right of the party fights the centrist One Nation Tories for control.

The poll makes for terrifying reading for the Conservatives, who are currently predicted to retain just 53 seats, making them the second-biggest party in front of the Lib Dems on 50. Labour is predicted to take 516 seats, giving Sir Keir Starmer a record-breaking peacetime majority of 382.

Such a scenario would raise the question of whether the Conservative Party, in its current form, could ever win back power, and there is strong evidence that the party would veer to the Right, hoping to win back millions who are expected to vote for Reform UK.

Of the 53 remaining Tories, those on the Right of the party would outnumber centrists, according to the poll, suggesting Business Secretary Ms Badenoch could count on more than half of Tory MPs in the first round of a leadership vote, with between 15 and 20 likely to back Security Minister Mr Tugendhat if he ran.

Given that Conservative members chose Liz Truss as their leader when they were last given a choice – having rejected the more moderate Sunak – Badenoch would surely be in pole position if, as predicted, Sunak loses the election.

Badenoch has for months been the most popular Cabinet minister among readers of the Conservative Home website, with a net positive rating of more than 56 points, more than double the rating for Tugendhat. Sunak is in negative territory. Badenoch also receives a rock star welcome from Conservative members at the annual party conference, with standing room only at the events where she speaks.

Whoever became leader would then face the biggest rebuilding job in the party’s history, and they would need to do it with precious few experienced ex-ministers in their ranks.

Among the current or former ministers predicted to lose their seats are Sunak, Hunt, Mordaunt, Truss and Cleverly, as well as Grant Shapps, Suella Braverman, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Dame Priti Patel, Robert Jenrick, Esther McVey, Tobias Ellwood, Therese Coffey, Sir Robert Buckland and Gillian Keegan.

The bad news for the One Nation caucus of centrists is that their chairman, former Cabinet minister Damian Green, is among those expected to lose their seats, along with leading lights such as Ellwood, Keegan, former justice secretary Sir Robert and Economic Secretary to the Treasury Bim Afolami.

The news for the Right of the party is not much better. Shorn of well-known names such as Braverman, Dame Priti, Truss and Sir Jacob, a Right-wing leader would need to look to former ministers including Sir John Whittingdale and Ranil Jayawardena and the current Science Minister, Andrew Griffith, to make up their front bench, with Boris Johnson’s former political secretary, Danny Kruger, likely to be given a role.

With fewer MPs than there are shadow front-bench roles, however, any new leader would need to unite the party and find a way to work with moderates including Tugendhat and former Cabinet ministers David Mundell and Damian Hinds, as well as the current Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Laura Trott, and Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho, to stand any chance of rebuilding.

The Savanta-Electoral Calculus poll was carried out using the multilevel regression and post-stratification method (MRP), considered the gold standard in polling. It breaks down the likely vote share of each party in individual constituencies, giving a far more accurate picture of the likely makeup of a future parliament than simply comparing nationwide vote shares.

Intriguingly, although it predicts that Reform UK will get nearly four million votes – more than the Lib Dems – they will be spread too thinly to translate into individual seats, meaning Reform is currently expected to return no MPs at all.

However, the Clacton seat being fought by Nigel Farage is a tight three-way split between the Tories, Labour and Reform, and some of the polling of more than 17,000 people was done before nominations closed and Farage announced his candidacy, meaning there is every chance that the Reform leader could yet win election to Parliament at the eighth time of asking.

If that were to happen, the remains of the Conservative Party would have a decision to make over whether it allowed Farage to join its ranks or even merge with Reform UK, perhaps as an entirely new party, with the Conservative brand consigned to history.

Badenoch has already said she would not want to serve alongside Farage as he wants to “destroy” the Conservative Party. Farage, meanwhile, says he will be running for prime minister as a Reform candidate in 2029.

Politics, though, is the art of the possible, and both the Tories and Reform might find, on this evidence, that it is not possible to make progress if they have to expend energy fighting each other.