The battle to become the next Prime Minister has begun in earnest.
Of all the candidates that threw their hat into the ring to replace Boris Johnson, eight remain following the first two rounds of ballot voting.
Jeremy Hunt, Nadhim Zahawi and Suella Braverman have all been eliminated after failing to secure the requisite number of votes from their Tory allies, and so just five remain:
- Penny Mordaunt
- Rishi Sunak
- Liz Truss
- Kemi Badenoch
- Tom Tugendhat
The new prime minister is voted for by Conservative ministers, who will hand their vote to a) the candidate they believe to be the best option, or b) the candidate they believe will be the best for their career.
At the time of writing, Sunak is leading the way with 101 votes, but the bookmakers have Mordaunt as their favourite with Truss next best – you can get about 7/2 on Rishi at the time of going to press, which is indicative of how far there is left to go in this contest.
Within the next week, the candidates will be whittled down to just two, and they will then take part in a direct leadership battle – the new PM will be announced in late August or early September.
The key to remember is that this isn’t a public vote, but more a popularity ballot within the Conservative Party – perhaps why Rishi is lagging behind….
Keeping Her Distance
One of the reasons that Penny Mordaunt is polling well, perhaps, is that she is clear of any real connection to Boris – his popularity sunk like a stone in his last few days.
Savvy Tories will vote for the candidate who can put distance between themselves and Johnson’s ill-fated tenure, and therefore be more ‘electable’ in the eyes of the general public.
Mordaunt was actually sacked by Boris as defence secretary when he took power, so she will have no qualms about chucking the former PM under the bus and standing out on her own.
She has much less Cabinet experience than most of her rivals, but again that doesn’t have to be considered a bad thing – the Tories will be very keen to draw a line under the previous regime.
The former ITV gameshow entrant – Mordaunt appeared in the diving show Splash! – is a Royal Navy reservist who argued strongly for the Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum, and so she would appeal to party supporters.
The knives have been out for her in recent days, and Mordaunt herself has claimed that her rivals want her dumped out of the race because she is the candidate they most fear going head to head with.
Braverman and Steve Baker MP have pledged their allegiance to Truss’ campaign, with the former hitting out at Mordaunt for her lack of clarity and compassion on trans issues.
But it’s electability that ultimately counts the most, and pledges to cut VAT on fuel and increase income tax thresholds for lower earners will score her plenty of popularity points. Penny-backing punters could be quids in when backing her at 2.05 on the Betfair Exchange.
Is There Any Way Back for Rishi?
Embroilment in Partygate? Check.
Wife who claims non-domicile cash? Check.
Embarrassing staged petrol station photoshoot? Check.
Right now it’s easier to list Rishi’s gaffes and catastrophes than it is policies and successes, and that ambivalence from the electorate appears to have been passed on to his Conservative colleagues.
He increased National Insurance contributions as chancellor – a move that went down like a lead balloon, and in his campaigning to be PM he has continued to refuse to even consider tax cuts….we’re not exactly in ‘man of the people’ territory here.
The Conservatives will lose the next General Election if they can’t put the torturous last few months of Boris’ reign behind them, and Sunak is almost indelibly linked to the blonde bombshell’s tenure – at times they were almost like a two-headed political hydra.
But how the worm can turn. It’s been reported that Boris has said ‘anyone but Rishi’, and given that he still has some clout with Tory ministers – despite his humiliating resignation – it will be interesting to see if Sunak can overcome his former friend’s knife-turning.
Although he’s a slick orator who also tends to speak well in public, at this point the question is do the electorate really trust him – following in the wake of one of the most corrupt governments in modern history, that might just be a deal breaker.