Kemi Badenoch is the bookmakers’ favourite to become the next Conservative leader in the wake of her performance at the annual party conference.
The Business Secretary has been suggested as a potential successor to Rishi Sunak if the Tories lose the next general election, expected to be held next year.
In her conference speech on Monday, Ms Badenoch accused Labour of peddling a “narrative of hopelessness” to young black people and said Britain “is the best country in the world to be black”.
Further comments at a drinks reception the previous evening saw her criticise activist groups including Stonewall, a controversial LGBT organisation, before going on to suggest charities should not receive money from the government.
Ms Badenoch is the frontrunner with odds of 7/2, followed by Penny Mordaunt, the Commons leader, at 5/1, odds published by the bookmakers Coral show. Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, takes third place with odds of 9/1.
Other contenders include James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, at 16/1 and Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, at 20/1.
Ms Badenoch has also emerged as the most popular Cabinet minister in a survey of Tory members for two months in a row, topping the rankings in September and then again last weekend.
A panel of members convened by the ConservativeHome website saw her receive a net approval score of 59 percentage points, followed by Ms Mordaunt and Mr Cleverly.
In July, Ms Badenoch oversaw the UK’s accession to the CPTPP Indo-Pacific trade bloc, while her role as equalities minister has also seen her argue passionately in favour of single-sex spaces.
The Tories currently trail Labour in opinion polls by an average of around 18 points, although Mr Sunak remains confident about his prospects of winning the next election.
Asked by Sky News on Tuesday whether he still expected to be Prime Minister afterwards, he replied: “Of course.”
The most recent poll, published by Opinium, found Mr Sunak had managed to close the gap between Labour and the Tories to 10 points after diluting or delaying a number of the Government’s flagship net zero policies.
‘Stop messing around’
At an “in conversation” event with The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson, Ms Badenoch was urged by audience members to run for the leadership if Mr Sunak loses the election, with Tory members shouting “we love you Kemi” and “Kemi for PM”.
She said leadership talk was “a problem” for her, and told Party members to “stop messing around” and back Rishi Sunak to win the next election.
Mr Nelson told Ms Badenoch that the pollster Frank Lunz, who correctly predicted Liz Truss would be the next Tory leader two years before it happened, had now predicted that she would be Rishi Sunak’s successor.
On the leadership talk, she said: “It is a problem, because it makes people think you’re not a team player when actually the opposite is true.
“The Prime Minister had this problem when he was chancellor so he gets it.”
Asked by a member of the audience to promise she would run for leader if Mr Sunak loses the election, she said: “I know the leadership speculation is fun but the PM we have is an unbelievably clever, unbelievably hard-working whose vision for this country is going to win us the election.
“So we need to stop messing around and win the next election.”