Rishi Sunak will reshuffle his cabinet this morning with Nadhim Zahawi set to be replaced as Conservative Party chair after he was sacked over his tax affairs, Sky News understands.
The prime minister has been under pressure to pick the right candidate as he struggles to draw a line under ‘Tory sleaze’ allegations – despite vowing to turn over a new leaf when he entered Number 10.
Allies of Boris Johnson have been touting him as a potential successor, but others have been calling for someone who can create a “positive headline” to help turn around the party’s fortunes in the polls.
The party chair is responsible for party administration and overseeing the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ).
Here, Sky News looks at the potential runners and riders.
There has been speculation of a Johnson comeback after Jacob Rees-Mogg said he has “all the right attributes” to be party chairman.
The senior Tory MP and close ally of the former PM told GB News on Sunday: “He is charismatic, he rallies the troops. He’s a sort of fully-loaded Conservative. So I think that type of personality would be a very good one for a party chairman.”
However, others have warned such a move would be divisive, while Mr Rees-Mogg on Tuesday conceded the former prime minister’s return to the front bench is unlikely.
“I think he would be a brilliant chairman, but he’s not going to be chairman”, he told Sky News.
“The person who is going to be chairman needs to be someone who is close to the prime minister and also very charismatic.”
The Tory vice chair under Theresa May and deputy chair under Boris Johnson, minister for London Paul Scully is seen as someone with the right skills and experience to replace Mr Zahawi.
Ex-cabinet minister Theresa Villiers is among those endorsing him, telling Sky News: “Paul is a top campaigner. He has done brilliant work in this constituency and did very well when he was Deputy Chair at CCHQ.
“He knows how important it is to engage with minority ethnic groups and he also understands London which is a key electoral battleground.”
A relative outsider is the Conservative MP for North Swindon, Justin Tomlinson.
He was deputy chair during the successful Bexley by-election in December 2021 – the last by-election the Conservatives won.
Mr Tomlinson quit his position in July 2022 to help Kemi Badenoch launch her failed leadership bid, but prior to being an MP he ran a business supplying Conservative associations with their campaigning materials and is known to be something of a “campaigning geek” among colleagues.
One MP told Sky News: “With a general election looming, we need someone with a strong track record of campaigning and fundraising. Justin Tomlinson is probably the strongest campaigner we have.”
Another did not go as far as naming him but said he would do a “brilliant job” if picked as chairman.
The current education secretary has also been tipped for the role.
In an article looking at Mr Zahawi’s potential successors, Paul Goodman, the editor of Conservative Home website, said: “Downing Street will want an appointment that creates a positive headline. It may take the view that the appointment of a woman will suit.”
The women in cabinet are Suella Braverman, Penny Mordaunt, Therese Coffey, Gillian Keegan, Kemi Badenoch, and Michelle Donelan.
Mr Goodman said: “The first is too senior, the second too ambitious, the third associated with Liz Truss and the fourth difficult though not impossible to move, given her pivotal role at education. Such an appointment would undoubtedly create a splash.”
Commons leader Penny Mordaunt is reportedly keen on replacing Mr Zahawi at CCHQ and is said to have pitched her credentials alongside Business Secretary Grant Shapps during last week’s cabinet away day.
Gavin Barwell, a Conservative peer and former chief of staff to Mrs May, said that while Mr Shapps has done the job before, Ms Mordaunt “is probably the best choice”.
He said in the run-up to the election the party chair needs to be an important figure who can communicate with media and has experience campaigning in marginal seats.
He told Times Radio: “When you look back at Rishi Sunak’s cabinet when he put it together, I felt Penny didn’t really get a role big enough to suit her talents, so this would give her a front and centre role in the run-up to the election.”
A popular figure on the right of the party and well-liked among the Tory grassroots, Priti Patel is among the high-profile names tipped to replace Mr Zahawi.
While she has previously turned down the role, sources close to the former home secretary have not ruled out her return to the cabinet, according to the Telegraph.
Red Wall MP Lee Anderson has also been named as someone who could replace Mr Zahawi.
Marco Longhi, the Conservative MP for Dudley North, put a poll on Twitter asking who agrees with him that Mr Anderson “would make a great chairman of the Conservative Party”.
While more than 72% of those who responded voted no, Mr Longhi suggested the hard left had got hold of the poll and the results show “how worried they would be”.
However, it is unlikely Mr Anderson would be given the role.
The Ashfield MP has been outspoken on issues like foodbank usage and Channel crossings and last week compared the government to “the band on the Titanic”, according to leaked WhatsApp messages seen by Sky News.
After Mr Zahawi’s sacking, rumours swirled that former Tory leader William Hague could make a return to frontline politics by filling the vacancy.
But Lord Hague, who is a close ally of Mr Sunak, quickly shut down that speculation.
“Since I’ve seen reports of people placing bets on me being the new party chairman, please be aware that I will absolutely not be returning to politics in any shape or form, including that one,” he said.