They may not be household names just yet, but the new education and defence secretaries could be the future leaders of the Conservative Party, Michael Gove has reportedly said.

The key architect of the Brexit referendum and environment secretary is said to have given his assessment over who will take over the Conservatives' top job and says the likely contenders are Gavin Williamson, 41, and Damian Hinds, 48.

Hinds has just been appointed education secretary while Williamson was recently given the defence portfolio after his predecessor Sir Michael Fallon was forced out over sexual harassment claims.

But the Times has reported how Gove's wading into a possible leadership succession has raised eyebrows at Westminster, especially in light of a less than smooth cabinet reshuffle.

Andrew Grimson wrote on the ConservativeHome website how Gove "foresees a day when Hinds might contest the Conservative Party leadership against Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary.

"It would, Gove says, be a contest between two northern, state-school candidates, with Williamson the 'tough and gritty' defender of a 'pur et dur' (hardline) conservatism, while Hinds represents a form of conservatism 'in which the Catholic church has a part to play and authority is tempered with mercy'," Grimson wrote.

Gavin Williamson
Defence secretary Gavin Williamson Glyn Kirk/AFP

Theresa May's former adviser, Nick Timothy wrote in the Telegraph how Hinds must do as education secretary what his sacked predecessor Justine Greening would not do and review tertiary education as well as consider lowering tuition fees.

"Hinds must be brave enough to do just that, to ensure universities are better, fees are lower and young people get the technical or academic education that suits them. He is already touted as a potential prime minister: if he gets this right, he will be a convincing candidate," Timothy wrote.

Gove himself has been considered at various times to be leadership material, although a source close to the environment secretary told the Times that the speculation "was simply a thought experiment to compare two talented figures in the party and not any sort of attempt to predict future contests".

Theresa May has insisted she was stay as leader and fight the next general election in 2022.