If Cameron falls, Theresa May is ready to step into the leader’s shoes

Disaffected Tories are starting to rally around a new Iron Lady

She has been caricatured as Britain’s answer to Angela Merkel. Tough, unshowy but effective – although with better taste in footwear and a rather different take on Europe.

Now senior Conservatives have started talking up the prospects of Theresa May becoming the party’s next leader if the Tories lose the next election.

While most MPs dismiss any suggestion of a coup against David Cameron before 2015, many speak privately about what might happen should the party be defeated. Most believe that in those circumstances, George Osborne could never succeed to the Tory crown and are tentatively casting around for a “stop Boris” candidate to promote.

Mrs May is a name on many MPs’ lips. The Home Secretary has impressed backbenchers and fellow ministers alike with her able handling of the tricky brief in a department known as the graveyard of ministerial careers.

She has expertly navigated the treacherous waters of police reform and extradition proceedings against Gary McKinnon (saved) and Abu Hamza (deported). On immigration her tough position delights the Tory right, while her backing of equalities legislation and long-standing criticism of the “nasty party” reassures modernisers.

There are even signs that she may be subtly positioning herself for the job. Ms May is attending a lot of “rubber chicken circuit” constituency dinners for Tory colleagues – often a sign of someone with leadership ambitions. Before Christmas she unusually sat down for a soft profile interview with Tory bible The Daily Telegraph where she talked for the first time about her husband and regrets about never having children.

Senior female MPs, including ousted Cabinet ministers Cheryl Gillan and Caroline Spelman are quietly letting it be known that they will support her.

“She has decided that she rather wants the job and a growing number of people believe she would do it well,” said one supporter. “Theresa is tough as nails. She has quietly got on with a job. She’s not showy but she has good judgement. She’s not the new Maggie, she’s more like Angela Merkel.”

A senior backbencher who was once a critic of Mrs May said: “The left of the party loves her because she is pro gay marriage. The right loves her because she has been tough with the police and she’s tough on crime.”

A Cabinet minister says she stands her ground with the Prime Minister and Chancellor: “She doesn’t take any s**t from David and George. She can be quite short with them. She defends her corner like a tiger.”

While many Tories believe that Boris Johnson would be a natural successor to Mr Cameron, he is not widely liked within the parliamentary party.

One minister said: “The public might like Boris but they don’t know him. A lot of us worked really hard to get him re-elected as Mayor and then he repays us by undermining the Prime Minister on the economy and Europe. He’s a treacherous bastard.

“The question is: who can stop him? And I think that’s why Theresa’s name is coming up.”

If she were elected, Mrs May, 56,  would reverse the trend of ever younger Conservative leaders. The daughter of a clergyman, she read geography at Oxford, where she met her husband, Philip, a successful City figure, to whom she has been married for 32 years.

In The Daily Telegraph she spoke of her sadness at never having children: “It just didn’t happen. Things just turned out as they did. You look at families all the time and you see there is something there that you don’t have.”

The Other Runners

George Osborne 1/5

Although he is the second-biggest beast in the Tory jungle, he is too closely associated with Cameron to stand much of a chance of succeeding him should the party lose the general election in 2015.

Boris Johnson 4/5

A favourite with the grass roots, Johnson successfully transcends the Tory brand. His problem is that he needs a Westminster seat before 2015 to stand as leader.

Owen Paterson 2/5

More plausible than Liam Fox as the candidate of the right, the Environment Secretary would move the Tories back to their heartland on climate change, Europe and equalities.

Michael Gove 3/5

He has ruled himself out as a future leader both publicly and privately, but he might be persuaded to stand as a modernising “stop Boris” candidate.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Sport
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
transfers
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music(who aren't Arctic Monkeys)
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Digital Project Manager/BA

£300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home