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Victoria Atkins leaves door open to Tory leadership bid

The Health Secretary is being discussed as a future Tory leadership option after an expected defeat on July 4.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins

Victoria Atkins has not ruled out running to be leader of the Conservative Party after the General Election.

The Health Secretary is seen as a possible contender to replace Rishi Sunak should he lead the Tories to defeat on July 4 as expected.

She joins other hopefuls – including Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch and Home Secretary James Cleverly – in jostling for the position with nine days to go until polling day.

Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch
Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch is also seen as a frontrunner to replace Rishi Sunak (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Asked about her leadership ambitions, Ms Atkins told reporters in London: “I’m not entertaining any questions about my leadership. Come on.

“I want to campaign at the moment.”

She had been speaking at a Tory press conference to respond to Labour’s plans to ban conversion therapy, but denied the intervention was an effort to drive a wedge on the trans issue or bolster her own leadership prospects.

Westminster watchers expect Mr Sunak to give up the leadership if the electoral hammering the polls are predicting occurs.

The contest to pick his successor could shape the party for years to come as rightwingers and more centrist Tories battle it out.

Ms Badenoch, seen as a frontrunner among right-leaning factions, on Monday left the door open to a tilt at the top job by saying “we will talk about leadership things after an election”.

Rishi Sunak
Tory leadership hopefuls are already jostling to replace Rishi Sunak as his party braces for an expected election defeat (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Cleverly has also not ruled out throwing his hat in the ring, while former immigration minister Robert Jenrick made an intervention at the weekend by saying the party was the “natural home for Reform voters” and former home secretary Dame Priti Patel pressed the case for lower taxes in a rallying cry to voters.

Commons leader Penny Mordaunt has been discussed as a strong contender from the more moderate wing of the party, but could struggle to retain her Portsmouth North constituency at the election, boosting Ms Atkins’ prospects.

Tory MPs usually vote to select the top two candidates, who are then put forward to the party membership, although the rules and timeline of the race would be set out by the backbench 1922 Committee.

Labour’s poll lead over the Tories remains around 20 points.

Some pollsters have suggested Labour could be on course for a thumping majority that puts at risk Conservative seats previously considered safe.

Ms Atkins won a 28,868 majority in Louth and Horncastle in 2019.

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