David­son snarls ‘put up or shut up’ as back­ers say: She’s a contender

WAIT­ING IN THE WINGS...

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Tories at War - By Glen Owen and Bren­dan Car­lin

‘Ruth hasn’t shut the door on a chal­lenge’

WITH Theresa May on the rack, Tory MPs are hotly – if dis­creetly – de­bat­ing who could re­place her, with long-time favourite Boris John­son cir­cled by a num­ber of pos­si­ble chal­lengers.

Ruth David­son ap­peared to go out of her way to rule out a lead­er­ship bid at the Tory con­fer­ence in Manch­ester, and yes­ter­day she urged party rebels to ‘put up and shut up’ and fall into line be­hind Theresa May.

But pri­vately, sup­port­ers of the charis­matic Scot­tish Tory leader say she could yet be per­suaded to throw her hat into the ring – even though it would mean win­ning a Com­mons seat to be­come el­i­gi­ble to stand.

One said: ‘It’s not a short-term op­tion as she needs to get into the Com­mons first but I don’t think Ruth has shut the door on an even­tual chal­lenge.’ The 38-yearold for­mer kick­boxer, who is en­gaged to her fe­male part­ner, saved the Prime Min­is­ter’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer at the Gen­eral Elec­tion by win­ning 12 seats. It al­lowed Mrs May to cling on to power by gov­ern­ing with the help of the DUP.

She is also seen as de­ter­mined to stop Mr John­son from be­com­ing leader, view­ing him as toxic to the party’s prospects.

But if Ms David­son does not stand, her pre­ferred can­di­date would be an­other Boris-baiter – Home Sec­re­tary Am­ber Rudd.

Ms Rudd fa­mously hu­mil­i­ated Mr John­son dur­ing the EU ref­er­en­dum cam­paign, brand­ing him as ‘not the man you want driv­ing you home at the end of the evening’. The pri­vately ed­u­cated for­mer in­vest­ment banker faces two big hur­dles: as an ar­dent pro-Re­mainer, she would face stiff op­po­si­tion from Brex­i­teers and she has a wafer­thin ma­jor­ity of just 346 in her Hast­ings and Rye seat.

But Ms Rudd, 54, is now the ben­e­fi­ciary of a lo­cal ‘Vote for Rudd’ so­cial me­dia cam­paign fea­tur­ing the slo­gan ‘Fear­less’.

That was ex­actly how Tory ac­tivists re­garded an­other po­ten­tial contender, Ja­cob ReesMogg, when he con­fronted Leftwing ac­tivists dis­rupt­ing a Brexit fringe meet­ing at the party con­fer­ence.

Mr Rees-Mogg has re­peat­edly dis­owned am­bi­tions for the top job, with some MPs be­liev­ing he is more likely to back a Mr John­son bid. But the pro­file of the Som­er­set MP has rock­eted over the sum­mer, lead­ing to a ‘Mog­g­men­tum’ cam­paign that he should stand for the lead­er­ship.

MPs yearn­ing for ‘a safe pair of hands’ can­di­date are in­creas­ingly talk­ing up the tal­ents of De­fence Sec­re­tary Michael Fal­lon – not for his charisma but for his cool­ness un­der fire when a me­dia storm breaks.

First serv­ing as a Min­is­ter un­der Mar­garet Thatcher, Mr Fal­lon, 65, was one of a small num­ber of Con­ser­va­tives who un­suc­cess­fully tried to per­suade Mrs Thatcher not to re­sign as Prime Min­is­ter.

Many Brex­i­teers, though, would pre­fer an­other vet­eran Min­is­ter – 68-year-old Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis.

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