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These lawmakers are gunning for Boris Johnson's Prime Minister role

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The race is on for 10 Downing Street. It's only been four days since Boris Johnson announced his intention to resign as Britain's prime minister, and already 11 lawmakers from Johnson's Conservative Party are lining up to replace him. For more, we've got NPR's Frank Langfitt with us. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Who are the folks to watch in this race?

LANGFITT: Yeah, it's a really interesting group. Rishi Sunak - he's a former chancellor of the Exchequer. That's essentially U.K. Treasury secretary. He - very interesting. He resigned last week from the job, which is one of the things that triggered Johnson having to leave the prime ministership.

MARTIN: Right.

LANGFITT: And Sunak had a very successful program paying furloughed workers during - most of their salaries during the pandemic. So he has that, you know, to tout. Penny Mordaunt - she's a trade minister. Another former chancellor named Sajid Javid. The foreign secretary, Liz Truss. And Nadhim Zahawi, who led the COVID vaccine program, which was also very successful.

MARTIN: So explain the challenges that this new PM is going to inherit because there are a lot of them.

LANGFITT: There are. I mean, the first thing, I think, is for them to probably try to distance themselves from Johnson. I mean, integrity and telling the truth certainly is going to be an issue given his downfall and why he lost his job. But like the U.S., it's the economy. You know, right now we have record inflation here - over 9%. The U.K. has the slowest growth of the G7. Those are the seven largest economies that are democracies. Several candidates, a number of them, are talking about slashing corporate taxes to stimulate growth and investment. But the Opposition Labour leader, you know, Keir Starmer, he calls this an arms race of fantasy economics.

MARTIN: So, I mean, whatever his failings, though, Boris Johnson was a politician, right? He knew how to deliver votes. He knew how to win.

LANGFITT: Yeah.

MARTIN: Is there anyone in this crowd who could have his electoral touch?

LANGFITT: No.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

LANGFITT: And I think that's the big problem. Whoever wins is going to inherit all these problems we just talked about. And right now the Tories are trailing Labour by seven points in the polls. I was on a bike ride with my neighbor yesterday along the Thames, and he's a Tory voter. And he - we were talking about the candidates. He didn't really know that much about them. And he said nobody - you know, like him or not, nobody's going to be able to match Johnson in terms of his star power and his ability to sort of draw in other voters. This has got to be a really big concern for the party because even when you get a new prime minister - they get a new prime minister, they still face the prospect that they could lose in 2024, when the next election might be.

MARTIN: So, I mean, we've got to note, all the previous prime ministers of the U.K. have been white. Many of those running to replace Boris Johnson are people of color. I mean, is that playing into the campaigns at all?

LANGFITT: So it's really interesting. It almost had to be pointed out to me that six out of 11 are of color. Most are minority - most of the minority candidates are South Asian heritage. This is almost not mentioned at all in the mainstream press. Obviously, racism remains a problem in the United Kingdom. There's a long history in the British - you know, of the British Empire. But all of these are very conservative. They're classic free marketeers, so they very much fit the Tory brand. And some of the top candidates are sort of posh business finance types. So, really, I think people are focusing more on their policies and how they fit into the Tory Party, which they seem to fit in very well.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt reporting from London. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Good to talk, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.