WITH Theresa May set to step down as leader of the Conservative Party on Friday, her successor as Prime Minister has yet to be decided.

No fewer than 11 MPs have put there names forward for the top job.

But the leadership contest is more than that – it’s a battle for the soul of the party, as right wingers battle it out with the more moderate MPs to control the party, the country, and the direction of Brexit.

The list includes big hitters such as Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, and – the bookie’s favourite – Boris Johnson.

There’s also several former cabinet ministers who all resigned under May – former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, and the former leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom.

Then you have Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Housing Minister Kit Malthouse, and Brexit under-secretary James Cleverly.

And over the weekend, former chief whip Mark Harper and backbencher Sam Gyimah, who backs a second referendum, also threw their hats into the ring.

However, the earliest candidate to announce they would be contesting the party leadership was Rory Stewart, International Development Secretary and MP for Penrith and the Border.

Although not as high profile as some of the other names on the ballot, Stewart, whose constituency covers Alston, Nenthead, and Garrigill, is seen by some as a dark horse.

For one, his reputation is somewhat less tainted than the likes of Hunt and Gove, who made few friends during their time as Health Secretary and Education Secretary respectively.

And – despite admitting to smoking opium in Iran 15 years ago – he’s seen as less of a risk than the hard-Brexiters such as Johnson and Raab.

Stewart was a member of the Labour Party in his teens, and negotiated in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as tutoring both Prince William and Harry.

And he insisted that, if he is elected, he will not forget his constituents.

Stewart said: “The connection between Prime Minister and constituency is vital.

“If you’re stuck in the Westminster bubble you don’t know what’s truly going on.

“If I were lucky enough to be Prime Minister, I would be spending much more time in my constituency and have much more power to deal with the big issues which underlie the county.

“I believe that I can get Brexit done, beat Jeremy Corbyn and reunify the country.”

In the past week he has begun a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #Rorywalks, which has seen him head onto the streets of Britain armed with an iPhone to speak to the general public.

Stewart explained: “The way I’ve changed this campaign is by getting out on the streets. Those other guys are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on their campaigns.

“People who would not traditionally vote Conservative are engaging with me, young voters are getting on side.”Meanwhile, Hexham MP Guy Opperman has confirmed that he would be backing Michael Gove.

Opperman recently joined the “One Nation” group of MPs that was set up to push the party to the centre-ground of the party.

MPs will be asked to whittle down the list of candidates to two, through a series of votes.

The party’s membership will then be balloted on the final two names, with the result announced before parliament breaks for summer.