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Kemi Badenoch: The anti-woke Brexiteer making waves in the Tory leadership race

The Saffron Walden MP thinks, says and does the kind of things that today’s Conservative Party adores – but she has a divisive edge to her personality, writes Sean O’Grady

Saturday 16 July 2022 19:29 BST
Badenoch’s unexpectedly strong performance in the early stages of the contest almost certainly guarantees her a post in cabinet
Badenoch’s unexpectedly strong performance in the early stages of the contest almost certainly guarantees her a post in cabinet (PA)

It may not seem very likely this time round, because she is probably a little too far behind in the MPs’ ballot, but there is every chance that Olukemi Olufunto Badenoch, known as Kemi, will end up in No 10 Downing Street. At 42, she has time on her side, and she has a level of talent and lashings of ambition, as she herself admits.

She enjoys the generous support and mentorship of Michael Gove, who was her ministerial boss before the last few weeks’ convulsions, which have seen her resignation and his sacking from the levelling up department. “She is brave, principled, brilliant and kind,” says Gove, adding that she has led the charge against “mumbo jumbo peddled by left-wing culture warriors” (which is a bit of mumbo jumbo itself, but we’ll let that slide). Having such a Svengali figure as Gove on her side could turn out to be a mixed blessing – one wonders what’s in it for him – but for now he’s her most high-profile backer and adviser.

Badenoch’s unexpectedly strong performance in the early stages of the contest – she far outstripped cabinet and former cabinet ministers Sajid Javid, Nadhim Zahawi, Jeremy Hunt and Suella Braverman – almost certainly guarantees her a middle-ranking post in cabinet, at least, and a potential springboard to the top job one day. She’s already served as a minister for children, equalities and housing, as well as at the Treasury, so she’s had wide experience – especially for someone who only came into the Commons, for the safe seat of Saffron Walden, in 2017, so actually post-referendum.

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