Priti Patel urged to run as Tory leader

Priti Patel
Dame Priti is understood to be focusing on holding her Essex seat at the moment - Carl Court/Getty Images

Dame Priti Patel is being urged by supporters to stand for the Tory leadership if the party is defeated at the election.

Allies of the former home secretary said figures from across the party wanted her to stand as a potential unifying candidate who could end the infighting and provide a credible leader of the opposition.

Friends said she had not ruled out the possibility of standing but was focused on the election and retaining her Witham constituency in Essex. They said she would make a decision after polling day on July 4, depending on the result.

Suggestions that she might stand as an interim leader were dismissed by her allies. “I don’t think anyone will do that. Either you want to fix it or you don’t,” said one.

Speculation is already building about a Tory leadership contest after the election with opinion polls forecasting a landslide victory for Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour party with the Conservatives reduced to as few as 53 seats.

Dame Priti would be seen as a frontrunner, along with Penny Mordaunt, the Commons leader, and Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, as long as they maintain their seats.

Other leadership contenders could include Robert Jenrick, the former immigration minister, Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, and Victoria Atkins, the Health Secretary.

Although on the Right of the party, Dame Priti is said to be garnering support from members of the centrist One Nation group. “There are people you would not expect who are saying: ‘You should think about it.’ The party needs holding together,” said one ally.

“She is election-focused and doesn’t have the bandwidth now to consider it. She will have a proper think about it when the election is done.”

Dame Priti was a staunch supporter of Boris Johnson, whom she served as home secretary, and has been loyal to Rishi Sunak. She spurned joining the Tory rebels who voted against his Rwanda legislation in an attempt to toughen it up, arguing privately that party disunity would only damage the Tories’ electoral prospects.

She has received backing from centrist figures such as George Osborne, the former chancellor, and David Gauke, the former justice secretary. One ally said One Nation MPs who had been sceptical about her tenure as home secretary now recognised how much more difficult the job was than they thought.

Allies say she is popular with the grassroots for her hard-line approach on immigration and crime. Supporters point to not only her experience in Government but her job with Lord Hague as his deputy press secretary in 1997, after Sir Tony Blair’s landslide victory, as valuable experience in coping with a party facing an existential crisis.