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Priti Patel is all smiles on Derby Day at Epsom – as political insiders believe she could be well-placed if Rishi Sunak is a faller at the General Election

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Priti Patel was all smiles on Derby Day at Epsom this afternoon, pictured in a baby blue floral dress, and adorned with a nude hairband and jewelled earrings as she passed cameras on raceday.

The former Home Secretary and current MP for Witham returned to the racecourse in Surrey this year, reprising her band from 2023 as she joined some 60,000 people expected to attend over the weekend.

Dame Priti Patel has managed to largely avoid the spotlight in recent months, barring a few critical comments on the government’s Rwanda policy failures and the need for unity within the Conservative Party.

But political commentators have begun to catch on to the stirrings of a possible return to the front benches in recent months, suggesting she could be well-placed to replace Rishi Sunak if he slips out of view after the upcoming General Election.

Priti Patel attends the 2024 Epsom Derby at Epsom Downs Racecourse on June 1

Priti Patel attends the 2024 Epsom Derby at Epsom Downs Racecourse on June 1

The former Home Secretary has been pegged as the possible next leader of the Tory party

The former Home Secretary has been pegged as the possible next leader of the Tory party

Priti Patel wore a light blue floral dress and brown loafers to the Epsom raceday this year

Priti Patel wore a light blue floral dress and brown loafers to the Epsom raceday this year

Patel was among those bracing cool 15C temperatures and high winds on a blustery Derby Day in Epsom this year.

In spite of the weather, she and many thousands of other attendees made sure they were dressed to impress, with floral frocks and statement hats the order of the day.

Patel was pictured wearing light brown suede with a cream clutch and two white-silver bracelets, matching the colour of her blue and white one-piece.

She appeared to be enjoying the sport, having returned this year after being snapped at the races in June 2023 – a gift of three tickets from Epsom priced at £1,050.

It was a rare appearance for Priti Patel, who resigned as Home Secretary with the appointment of Liz Truss as Prime Minister in 2022.

But whispers around Westminster are now starting to peg Priti as a ‘good bet’ for the next leader of the Conservative Party.

David Gauke, the former Justice Minister and Lord Chancellor under Theresa May, wrote in the New Statesman in February that he agreed with an assessment from former Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls that Patel ‘might come through the middle and be a surprise winner of the next Tory leadership election’.

Assuming Rishi Sunak would fight and lose the July 4 election, he wrote ahead of its announcement that Patel would have the advantage of still being popular ‘among most Tory MPs’ and focused on recovering votes lost to Reform with a new approach.

Gauke judged that Patel would be able to ‘unite the right’ by bringing Boris Johnson back into the fold – and bringing in Nigel Farage.

He reasoned that Patel had stuck with Johnson until the end of his premiership and was in a better position to build bridges within the party.

Another Conservative Party insider told GB News in April: “Priti would make an excellent Leader of the Party. She’s bright, articulate, charismatic and has experience across the highest levels of government.’

‘She’s kept out of the factionalism over the last few years and because she hasn’t been publicly critical of Rishi, and was yet loyal to Boris and Liz, she would be able to unite the Party,’ they agreed.

“She’s also ideally placed to take on Reform.” 

Stephen Bush, associate editor and columnist at the Financial Times, assessed in November that Patel was the ‘biggest threat to Braverman’s hopes of emerging as the right’s standard-bearer at the next leadership election’ as the outgoing Home Secretary slammed the Prime Minister with a letter accusing him of breaking promises.

Bush reasoned that Braverman making the complaints only after leaving office would empower her critics, while Patel had ‘forcefully and openly’ been raising the concerns about the party direction addressed in the letter.

Indeed, in February 2024 Patel wrote for the Mail On Sunday that the asylum system was ‘broken’, outlining her own ‘clear approach’ in government in 2021 and outlining the three objectives she had focused on.

More recently, she stood by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a fundraising dinner in Tiverton, judging his treatment by the party a ‘disgrace’.

‘Having been blessed and served as your Home Secretary for over three years until our party unceremoniously ejected Boris Johnson as the leader, our track record was outstanding,’ she said.

Priti Patel in a baby blue frock at the Epsom Derby Day in Surrey on Saturday

Priti Patel in a baby blue frock at the Epsom Derby Day in Surrey on Saturday

She appeared to be enjoying the sport, having returned this year after being snapped at the races in June 2023

She appeared to be enjoying the sport, having returned this year after being snapped at the races in June 2023

Priti Patel pictured at the Derby Day race in Epsom on June 3, 2023

Priti Patel pictured at the Derby Day race in Epsom on June 3, 2023

But reconsolidating unity in the party would be the next challenge.

‘We have to look forwards, not backwards, but we have to do something else: stick together,’ she said.

“I think Boris Johnson absolutely makes the weather in our party still,’ she said, after reflecting on the challenges of modern politics and the threat to the Tories posed by Reform.

‘I think people should remember an 80-seat majority doesn’t come out as thin air; that’s a force of personality. 

‘There’s a force of conviction and charisma, and sometimes you know what you need in politics; you need both,’ the former Home Secretary concluded at the time.

‘And when they come together, you can get 80-seat majorities, and they don’t grow on trees.’



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