Tory party chair: runners and riders

Tory party chair: runners and riders
Oliver Dowden, who has this morning resigned as Conservative party co-chairman. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.
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So. Farewell then Oliver Dowden. The Hertsmere MP resigned as co-chairman of the Conservative party this morning, following last night's by-election defeats in Tiverton and Wakefield. He was appointed to the post in September and was tasked with guiding the Tory machine through the mid-term blues and focus CCHQ on winning the next general election. Now though, he's gone, and a successor must be appointed.

The Tories have opted in recent years to adopt a co-chairmanship model. Typically one is an oleaginous, wealthy individual whose job is to raise funds from other oleaginous, wealthy individuals. This role was performed with aplomb by Lord Feldman during the Cameron years and is now filled by Ben Elliot. The other co-chairman is usually an ambitious loyalist, willing to do the thankless task of the morning media round and deliver a decent stump speech on the reception circuit.

At election time, the chairmanship is critical and can act as a springboard to higher office: Cecil Parkinson made his name in 1983 and would have secured a Great Office of State, had it not been for his affair. But between elections the post takes on far less significance. Given the widely-held expectation that the next contest will not be until 2024, Boris Johnson may choose to appoint someone as an effective placeholder for the next 18 months and then shuffle them out before campaigning begins.

There is of course no guarantee that Johnson will immediately appoint Dowden's successor. One MP suggested to Mr S that the PM's trip to Rwanda means he could wait until his return to do a wider ministerial reshuffle as he seeks to reset his premiership. The other interesting element in Johnson's calculations will be whether he chooses to pick a Tory from a so-called 'Red Wall' or 'Blue Wall' seat, whose mind would be more inclined to focus on the challenge from Labour or the Lib Dems, respectively.

North or south, loyalist or critic, campaigner or media performer? These are the questions that will inform Johnson's decision as to who will take Dowden's place. Below are some of the names that are doing the rounds among Tory MPs as they discuss the fall-out from last night's results and their survival in office...

James Cleverly

Been a Boris-backer since their time together at City Hall in London. Well-liked across the party, he's currently a Foreign Office minister, having served as party co-chair during the triumphant 2019 election.

Nigel Adams

Another ardent loyalist, his shadow whipping operation is credited with saving Johnson's premiership back in February. He's standing down from his seat at the next election, meaning all his energies could be devoted to ensuring others don't lose theirs too. Organised the parliamentary party dinner in March and can work a room like few others can...

Michael Ellis

The minister for sticky wickets has regularly been called upon to deploy all his lawyerly skills in the House, defending the PM over Partygate. The Paymaster-General has his fans in Johnson's team but that respect is not shared by all across parliament.

Priti Patel

Has long been mooted for a move out of the Home Office after a mixed three years in the role. Her switch would signal a broader ministerial shake-up.

Craig Williams

Currently the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Rishi Sunak. Known as a good campaigner and savvy operator. Sits for Montgomeryshire, where the main threat is from the Lib Dems.

Luke Hall

Another Tory in a Lib-Dem facing seat. Hall's Thornbury and Yate constituency is one of those South West seats which David Cameron picked up in 2015 to win his surprise victory. Currently Dowden's deputy at CCHQ as party vice-chair. Though as one source quipped to Mr S: 'not sure what that counts for...'

Justin Tomlinson

Another incumbent vice-chairman and well-respected as an effective campaigner, having won his North Swindon seat off Labour in 2010.

Kemi Badenoch

A punchy performer in the Commons and has enthusiastic support from certain sections of the party membership.

Michael Fabricant

Will be in the bunker with Boris, Carrie and Dilyn until the end. Always keen to defend the PM, no matter how ludicrous the hill on which to die.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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