Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has gone from being a little known politician to one of the most popular cabinet ministers among Tory members.
As Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have faced their respective scandals, the 51-year-old Wallace has “risen almost without a trace to be the champion of the Conservative grassroots – and the beneficiary of his colleagues’ struggles”, wrote Hugo Gye, political editor of the i news site.
A former soldier, Wallace attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and Millfield School in Somerset. After working as a ski instructor in Austria he was commissioned as an officer into the Scots Guards. During the 1990s he saw service in Northern Ireland, Germany, Cyprus and Central America. “The experience has informed his role as a minister,” said Tim Shipman in The Sunday Times.
- SEE MORE Is it time for UK defence spending to rise?
- SEE MORE Next Tory leader odds and polls: the frontrunners to replace Boris Johnson
- SEE MORE The curious case of Pen Farthing and the Afghan animal airlift
He entered politics as a member of the Scottish parliament in 1999. After moving to Lancashire, he became the MP for Wyre and Preston North, formerly Lancaster and Wyre, in 2005 and has been an MP ever since.
Wallace was parliamentary private secretary to Ken Clarke when he was justice secretary. He has also served as a whip, the Northern Ireland minister and security minister.
In 2009, The Garstang Courier revealed that Wallace claimed £175,523 in expenses on top of his £63,000 salary – the fourth highest expenses claim in parliament. Wallace, who had already published his expenses on his own website, said that the figure reflected the fact that the constituency “has approximately a 20% larger electorate than the average one in England”.
He supported Remain in the 2016 EU referendum, but is a long-standing ally of Boris Johnson and supported him in the 2019 Conservative leadership election. He was promoted to the cabinet as defence secretary in 2019 when his patron became prime minister.
For his first two years in the post he was out of the spotlight as the Covid pandemic kept defence largely out of the headlines. However, the Afghanistan crisis last summer saw him take centre stage, welling up with emotion during an interview on LBC as he described the harsh realities of the Taliban’s takeover. Shipman at The Sunday Times called it “a rare moment of emotion from a senior politician, one that seemed to crystallise a nation’s disappointment about a shoddy retreat”.
The Ukraine invasion has seen his profile rise again. Wallace just had his third “table-topping month” in ConservativeHome’s party member survey of cabinet ministers, with a plus-85 point rating.
“Wallace has impressed colleagues with his competent and statesmanlike response to the war in Ukraine,” said Ailbhe Rea at The New Statesman. “Now they are asking whether he, an unexpected leadership figure at a time of war, could be the next leader of the Conservative Party and country.”
The next Tory leader?
This popularity has certainly prompted speculation in Westminster that he could be a candidate to succeed Johnson. Wallace has played this down, saying that “for someone like me to be defence secretary is just an amazing thing” so he is “not really attracted to anything else”.
As well as talk linking him to Downing Street, Wallace has been spoken of as the man to replace Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg. There was speculation that David Cameron could take the position but the former PM would be unlikely to have the support of the French, said Politics.co.uk.
A source said: “It is being speculated about by quite a few, including overseas Nato members, that it could be Ben Wallace.”