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Kemi Badenoch: Tory Leader in Waiting?

Updated: Apr 23

When Boris Johnson announced his resignation in Summer 2022, an array of Conservative politicians put their top hats into the ring. One of these was the largely unheard of Communities Minister, Kemi Badenoch. 

I remember Badenoch being tipped as a unifying candidate by many, and the “future” by others, and she did perform well in some YouGov and ConservativeHome polls (11 points clear of eventual winner Liz Truss in the 16th July poll of party members). However, Badenoch finished 4th, losing in the 4th ballot of Conservative MPs. Since then, Badenoch has steadily risen the ranks of the party, becoming International Trade Secretary under Liz Truss, and continuing in this role under Sunak, until the BEIS/DIT merger in February 2023. In addition to this, she has served as the Women and Equalities Minister under both Sunak and Truss. 


However, Badenoch rarely appears on the media rounds, and her work appears to be confined to her department and House of Commons questioning. Perhaps this lack of significant media exposure makes her a leading candidate to replace Sunak, should he resign as leader. Betting company Coral place Badenoch second with odds of 20/1, behind favourite Penny Mordaunt’s 7/1, whereas bet365 goes further, placing the two equal with odds of 3/1 for both. So who is this largely unheard of Cabinet minister, and is a Badenoch leadership possible? 


Born in London to Nigerian parents, Badenoch studied engineering at Sussex University and worked in the private sector before entering politics. A former McDonald’s employee, Badenoch worked for Coutts and then served as a digital director at Andrew Neil’s Spectator. Many call Badenoch an “anti-woke politician” and she herself identifies with the “liberal wing” of the party, claiming to be "not really left-leaning on anything". She cites Burkean conservative Roger Scruton as a key influence to her own political philosophy.


What many know Badenoch for though is her views on two areas, British colonial history and the topic of trans rights. These topics have become central pillars of Conservative Party messaging in recent years, attacking what they see as historical revisionism of Britain’s colonial past, and vigorous discourse over the “trans debate”.


It appears that Badenoch is an ideal leader for a Party with a campaign centred on “culture wars”. However, this a Conservative Party vacuum of its own making and the wider political context must be considered. The central question therefore is, do the Conservative Party membership genuinely believe that this largely unheard of Cabinet minister could convince enough voters to come back to the Conservatives to win them a Commons majority?


The answer for many of them, would be an emphatic yes. Not because it is necessarily true, but because they assume that ‘most’ people believe what the likes of Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman are saying. This common tactic from the right of the Tories has appeared to be its only source of validation, claiming that people agree with them, even if they don’t. 


So, is Kemi Badenoch a future Conservative Party Leader? Annoyingly, the answer is possibly. Never underestimate the willingness of the Conservative Party to lurch further to the right if the polls aren’t going their way. We’ve seen them do it plenty the last few years. Also don’t forget, experience and wider popularity aren’t requirements for the leadership, after all, Iain Duncan Smith, the largely unknown shadow minister under William Hague, defeated the more popular and well-known (to the general public at least) former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke in 2001. 

At the very least, Badenoch is right in the mix.

Image: Simon Dawson/Department for International Trade and The Rt Hon Kemi Badenoch MP/No 10 Downing Street

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