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All The Candidates Still In The Running To Be The Next Prime Minister


6 min read

The race to find a replacement for Boris Johnson is heating up with less than a week of the Parliamentary stage left to go — here are all the Conservative MPs still in the running after the first two rounds of voting.

Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak is the frontrunner in the race, having gained 88 MP votes in the first round, 101 votes in the second round, 115 in the third and 118 in the fourth.

His backers include former secretaries of state Matt HancockGavin Williamson, and Robert Jenrick, as well former chief whip Mark Harper and Commons leader Mark Spencer.

He has long been seen as the favourite to replace Boris Johnson as the next Prime Minister, but lost some favour among members after he was fined for breaking coronavirus rules.

His dramatic resignation last week, shortly after fellow Cabinet member Sajid Javid, accelerated the departure of Johnson.

At his campaign launch, Sunak sought to pitch himself as the candidate who would be most honest with the public about the challenges facing the nation. 

But he has faced criticism from rival leadership teams that he is not matching their pledges to cut tax immediately or even quickly.

Sunak said that he would not offer "fairy tales" about the state of the economy, insisting that he would be a tax-cutting Prime Minister once he had tackled rising inflation.

"Once we have gripped inflation, I will get the tax burden down. It is a question of 'when', not 'if'," he said.

Sunak has also been at the centre of a briefing war with rival camps, and was forced to deny last week that his backers were tactically lending votes to other candidates for an advantage.

His campaign had been accused of asking supportive MPs to lend votes to rival candidates in order to split the vote in a way that furthers his advantage in the contest.

Despite initially struggling in the first Channel 4 leadership debate, Sunak managed to get a boost in the polls following a strong performance at the ITV debate. The third debate, scheduled for Tuesday evening, was cancelled after Sunak and fellow contender Liz Truss withdrew.

There were concerns that the "blue on blue" attacks being featured in the debates were damaging the reputation of the party, and candidates claimed they wanted to focus on MP hustings.

Opinium polling taken after the two debates saw Sunak come second in the Channel 4 debate, with 25% thinking he performed best, and first in the ITV debate, with 24% thinking he performed best.

Penny Mordaunt

Penny Mordaunt is considered the dark-horse candidate of the Conservative party leadership race, having won 67 MP backers in the first round of voting and 83 in the second. She lost one backer, however, in the third round, when she got 82 votes, but regained momentum in the fourth round, when she got 92.

Her backers include former ministers Andrea Leadsom and Maria Miller, and 1922 Committee veteran Sir Charles Walker.

The trade minister announced she was running on Sunday morning with a campaign video filled with patriotic imagery that was light on appearances from Mordaunt herself. The video later faced criticism over its inclusion of the Labour MP Jo Cox, who was killed by a far right terrorist in her constituency in 2016, and had to be re-edited. 

At her campaign launch last week, Mordaunt pitched herself as the candidate who Keir Starmer's Labour "fears the most", and called for the party to return to its core values of a small state, low tax, and personal responsibility.

"If we do not win the next general election, all those opportunities and the vision that the British people have from us leaving the European Union will not be realised," she said. 

"We must win that election. I am your best shot at winning that election. I am the candidate that Labour fear the most. And they are right to."

She pledged to establish task forces as Prime Minister to improve access to GPs and dentists and accelerate house building. 

Mordaunt also promised to set up a civil defence force to take pressure off the army, and reform childcare so that families are each given a "budget" to use as they see fit.

The trade minister struggling at the televised hustings over the weekend, with polling by Opinium putting her third in terms of performance at both debates. She faced difficult questioning on her position on trans issues, and attracted criticism for repeating the incorrect claim that Turkey was on track to join the European Union.

Liz Truss

While Foreign secretary Liz Truss was previously expected to be a frontrunner in the competition, she is currently in third place, winning 50 votes in the first round, 64 in the second and 71 in the third. Her fortunes improved in the fourth round, when she shot up to 86 votes.

Her backers include work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, education secretary James Cleverly.

Leading Boris Johnson allies Brexit Opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg and culture secretary Nadine Dorries have also issued their public support, pitching Truss as the Boris continuity candidate. 

It was rumoured that Truss has been considering a bid to be the next Prime Minister since January, when there were reports she was running a “schmooze operation” in her parliamentary offices dubbed "fizz with Liz".

Launching her campaign last Thursday, Truss was forced to defend her decision not to resign from Cabinet as Boris Johnson’s government unravelled last week.

Truss, a staunch ally of Johnson, chose to remain in Cabinet last week when Sunak, health secretary Sajid Javid, Wales secretary Simon Hart and Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis all quit.

"I’m loyal to Boris Johnson. I supported our Prime Minister’s aspirations,” she said.

Among her policy offers to prospective voters was a pledge to give tax breaks to working parents and create “low tax zones” in parts of the UK.

"Our economy won't get back on track overnight, times are going to be tough, but I know I can get us on an upward trajectory by 2024," she said.

"We need to be honest with the public. This will be tough, it will take time, but I am determined to deliver. I know I can deliver, because I have taken bold decisions and made bold reforms throughout my career.”

She did not perform as well as other candidates in the televised debates, coming last in the Channel 4 debate, according to Opinium polling, and fourth in the ITV debate.

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