A street sign plaque on a wall which reads 'The Tory Leadership Race'

The Tory Leadership Election:
PR Winners & Losers

With the result now days away, the pollsters and bookies remain pretty certain the ultimate winner in the race for the Tory leadership – and by default the top job in British politics – is a foregone conclusion.  But as the campaigns have unfolded over the summer, who has won and lost in the PR stakes?

WPR’s B2B director, Tom Leatherbarrow, shares his thoughts on who has triumphed and who will be glad when it’s all over.



A campaigning triumph. She knows her audience and she’s shamelessly played to them with highly focused messaging designed to differentiate herself and, at the same time, nobble her opponent. The fact her audience comprises only 0.22% of the population means it’s hardly a mandate and will almost certainly lead to trouble further along the road but, for now, she’s a winner.


Never has a political party done virtually nothing to such brilliant effect. You can only assume that Napoleon’s guiding principle – “Never interrupt your enemy while he’s in the process of making a mistake” – has been its strategy. Yes, the energy freeze announcement has gone down well, but the real prize has been the candidates’ criticising of their own government’s economic record. Attack lines galore for the general election and all captured on video.


Piers who? The leadership contest has given new life to GMB, which has scheduled its guest presenters around key announcements that will impact the leadership election. Martin Lewis’s tour-de-force 15-minute rant about recalling Parliament while urging Boris, Liz and Rishi to get around a table to come up with a plan was a highlight, as was Rob Rinder’s epic denunciation of the state of the legal system.


For them, the past two months have been a smorgasbord of gossip, intrigue, backstabbing and unattributed briefings. At some point (hopefully), they are going to have to go back to the intricacies of reporting on education policy. But, for now, they’re enjoying the time of their lives. A special mention to Matthew Parris of The Times for his rugby tackle on Truss and Katy Balls of The Spectator, who has never looked happier.


No, I’d never heard of it either but, from the moment it threw a hand-grenade into the leadership election with predictions of a £3,500 energy price cap, its star has been in the ascendant. Timing is everything in PR and it got that one spot on.


My dad used to say that the Conservative Party would never get over Margaret Thatcher until she was dead. He was wrong. Almost a decade after her death, she’s still driving the direction of Conservative policy and being namechecked every five minutes.


rishi sunak

Bless him, he’s tried. He’s toured the country, been interviewed by Andrew Neil and got up at the crack of dawn to appear on Radio 4…all to be still, at the last count, circa 30 points down in the polls. The Tunbridge Wells gaffe was a low point, and you sense his attempts to explain the intricacies of financing a modern, industrialised economy (“there’s no such thing as COVID debt Liz, it’s just debt”) have fallen on deaf ears. As Reagan, The Great Communicator, said: “If you’re explaining, you’re losing”.

the conservative party

A leadership election process that was designed for opposition, after an election loss, has had the misfortune of taking place while in government (again) and in the middle of a succession of appalling headlines about gas and electricity prices and increasing anxiety about the cost of living. All of it leaves the ‘natural party of government’ looking like a bunch of self-absorbed navel gazers.

debate-hosting tv companies

The ratings have been terrible, presenters have fainted live on air and the questions have been awful (climate change?). Has anybody else been screaming “Why is this on my TV, I don’t even get a vote?”?

nadhim zahawi

You can see his thinking: prop up Boris from the Treasury, get plenty of TV appearances to boost my profile, position myself ready for an autumn leadership bid ahead of Truss. Instead, the rest of the government resigned, Boris was out on his ear and the person he stopped getting into No.11 is now going into No.10. Whoops!

the british public

It may yet not prove to be as bad a winter as is currently being predicted. But just when we needed our leaders to give us a bit of reassurance, they have, literally, been phoning it in.

The author: Tom Leatherbarrow is a director at WPR, specialising in strategies and content marketing for B2B audiences.