All eyes on Sir Gavin the kingmaker as leadership hopefuls make their bids

Boris Johnson was busy penning his resignation speech when the battle to succeed him was already kicking into gear.

Sir Gavin Williamson is 'two from two' when it comes to picking out Tory leaders
Sir Gavin Williamson is 'two from two' when it comes to picking out Tory leaders

Although as Michael Fabricant so eloquently put it, the PM was "not yet in his coffin", leadership hopefuls were busy doing the rounds in Westminster trying to shore up support.

Penny Mordaunt, an early front runner with the bookies, had tapped up at least two of the region's MPs before Mr Johnson had stood before the lectern.

And Rishi Sunak, the diminutive former Chancellor, has also been doing the rounds.

Mr Sunak, who gleefully put the knife into Mr Johnson by resigning on Tuesday, is said to be steadfast in the belief that enough of his fellow MPs will see past his own scandals and back him to lead.

The affable Sajid Javid – another chief Johnson-slayer – will once again throw his hat into the ring, as will Jeremy Hunt – although neither are ever likely to win a leadership election.

Attorney General Suella Braverman was the first to confirm a run for Number 10, saying she wanted to "deliver on the promises" of the "bold and inspiring" 2019 manifesto.

A very, very long list of hopefuls also includes Brexiteer Steve Baker, Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat and Ben Wallace.

To the surprise of many, Dominic Raab, who has served as Mr Johnson’s deputy, has ruled himself out, as has Michael Gove.

At this stage, none of them exactly jump off the page in what is likely to be a wide open – and extremely cluttered – race.

As is always the case in recent Tory leadership battles, all eyes will be on South Staffordshire MP Sir Gavin Williamson.

The former Defence Secretary, Education Secretary and Chief Whip has been kingmaker in the last two contests, forging an unlikely path to victory for Theresa May in 2016, before running Mr Johnson's successful parliamentary campaign in 2019.

He has been quieter than a church mouse during Mr Johnson's recent struggles. It had been widely assumed he would back Ms Truss, although reports that he could run a campaign for Nadhim Zahawi have now been denied.

Whoever he picks, they could well reward him with a return to the top job in the whips office.

With many Tory MPs seemingly intent on dragging their party through the gutter, a tough disciplinarian may be exactly what is needed.

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