A PANEL of Conservative members have offered their views on who should be the party’s next leader amid ongoing trouble for Boris Johnson.

Johnson’s popularity has rapidly declined in recent months following the Owen Paterson scandal, multiple reports of Downing Street parties held while Covid restrictions were in place, endless headlines about Tory sleaze and internal party rows over high taxes and public health measures.

Conservative backbenchers are feeling rebellious and some have reportedly sent letters of no-confidence in to the 1922 Committee. After a disastrous by-election result in North Shropshire, where a huge Tory majority collapsed in a LibDem victory, MP Sir Roger Gale painted a stark picture.

“One more strike and he’s out,” he commented.

The National:

Amid this backdrop, Tory leadership hopefuls are reportedly circling and awaiting their opportunity to strike.

Earlier in December, it was reported that supporters of Chancellor Rishi Sunak are canvassing support in case “things fall down” – and sources claimed Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was trying to boost her own position by holding “drinks parties” for backbenchers.

One ally of Sunak said it was “the first I’ve heard” about the reports, and a spokesperson for Truss described the allegations as “total and utter rubbish”.

But whether Truss and Sunak are actively trying to boost their profiles or not doesn’t matter to party members, who are very supportive of either potential candidate taking over from Johnson.

Every few months Conservative Home asks a panel of 786 Tory members who should be the next leader – and since August, Truss’s chances have seen a boost.

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Truss, former international trade secretary credited with securing Brexit deals, received 23.03% of the vote – leading Sunak by around three points. Her score was up from 12.08% in the last survey.

The Chancellor was on 20.48%, down from 31.07% in August. Both are far ahead of fellow potential candidates.

In third place is Penny Mordaunt (8.91%), fourth is former European Research Group chair Steve Baker (8.27%) and fifth is ex-health secretary Jeremy Hunt (7.76%).

The list continues with Tom Tugendhat (5.47%), Sajid Javid (5.22%), Michael Gove, (4.20%), Jacob Rees Mogg (3.56%), Kemi Badenoch (2.42%), Dominic Raab (2.29%), Priti Patel (1.91%), Graham Brady (1.27%), Mark Harper (0.89%) and Anne Marie-Trevelyan (0.38%).

The National:

Analysis from Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman sees speculation over why Truss’s lead is not larger.

“Some members of the panel don’t believe that a Truss leadership would necessarily deliver lower taxes, or distrust her Remain past, or view her as an unproven quality as a holder of a great office of state,” he suggests.

He goes on to note: “Both Truss and Sunak are credible potential future leaders, and so one shouldn’t be surprised if support divides more or less evenly between them.”

Even if Johnson were to resign, his replacement would not be solely selected by members. The first round of a leadership election sees Tory MPs given a say, so any potential candidate would need to be popular within the parliamentary party to get to the membership stage.

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Speaking on Boxing Day, Labour chief Sir Keir Starmer discussed rumours over who could take over from Johnson in the future.

In an interview with The Independent, Sir Keir said there was “no plan for the future” under the Tories.

He told the newspaper: “I don’t care who they put up… we will take on whoever is the Tory leader.

“Whoever the leader is, whether it’s (Boris) Johnson or his successor… it is clear that we’ve already had 11, going on 12, years of Tory government, and it’s been a complete failure on any terms.”