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Race to replace May steps up as contenders set out their stalls

The Tory leadership race is yet to officially begin, but you would not know that from the intense activity already under way.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to rule out a bid for the Tory leadership (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to rule out a bid for the Tory leadership (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The contest to succeed Theresa May is hotting up, with potential leadership candidates setting out their stalls.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to rule out a bid for the job, saying he had a “strong view about the sort of leader we need”.

He said the leader should put the Tories “four-square in the centre ground”, a view that will be echoed by big hitters at a meeting of the One Nation group of Tories in Parliament on Monday night.

Meanwhile, former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey will deliver her own pitch at the launch of Blue Collar Conservatism, a group aimed at winning over working-class voters to the Tories.

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson has already confirmed he will stand in the race to replace Mrs May, which is due to officially begin within weeks.

Another potential contender, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, said “there won’t be a shortage of candidates” for the job but “whether I will be one of those, you’ll just have to wait and see”.

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Esther McVey will launch the Blue Collar Conservatism group, setting out her pitch to win over working-class voters (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Prime Minister will set out the timetable for her exit and the leadership contest to succeed her after a crunch vote on the legislation for her Brexit deal in early June.

Defeat for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which is due in the Commons in the week beginning June 3, would hasten her exit from Number 10.

Mr Hancock said: “I don’t rule out standing for the leadership of the Conservative Party.”

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s flattering that lots of people have asked me to put my name forward and proposed to support me.”

Asked if he was reluctant to declare his candidacy because a recent poll suggested he had just 1% of grassroots Tory support, he said: “No, because the contest hasn’t started yet.

“I have a strong view about the sort of leader that we need – we need a leader not just for now but also for the future, we need to be absolutely four-square in the centre ground of British politics.

“We need to be delivering on the things that matter to people, deliver Brexit but then move forward.

“We need to concentrate on the pound in people’s pockets and have a patriotic unionism, not a narrow nationalism.”

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Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson has said he will stand in the contest to replace Theresa May (Brian Lawless/PA)

The One Nation group meeting in Parliament on Monday is expected to see Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and ex-Cabinet ministers Damian Green and Nicky Morgan set out their vision for a centre-ground Tory Party.

The group is also viewed as an attempt to prevent a hard Brexiteer from steering the UK out of the EU without a deal.

Ms Rudd said the group stood for “the state having an active role in fighting injustices, in environmental standards and a belief in free enterprise”.

“There are no simple answers to complex questions,” she said.

“A pragmatic, compassionate centre right has never been more vital.”

PA

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