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Rishi Sunak Allies Dismiss "Nonsense" Vote-Lending Claims As Tory Leadership Race Heats Up

3 min read

The briefing war between Rishi Sunak and fellow Tory leadership contenders escalated on Tuesday night after rival campaigns accused his team of tactically lending votes to other candidates for an advantage.

Sunak's campaign has 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.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who is fiercely loyal to Boris Johnson and doesn't want Sunak to succeed him, tweeted that the former Chancellor's team was using "dirty tricks/a stitch up/dark arts" to ensure that fellow candidate Jeremy Hunt made it onto the ballot because he can "definitely" beat him later in the contest.

Dorries was responding to a tweet by journalist Dan Hodges which said one rival camp believed Sir Gavin Williamson, the former Chief Whip who is working on Sunak's campaign, was orchestrating a plan to lend votes to Hunt.

A senior source in a rival leadership team told PoliticsHome they believed that Williamson had also asked Sunak-backing Conservative MPs to lend votes to Attorney General Suella Braverman.

This, they said, would ensure that the staunchly pro-Brexit right of the Conservative party would be split across more candidates, making Sunak's path to the final two easier.

A source close to Sunak's campaign, however, called the allegations "complete nonsense".

"Mel Stride [Tory MP for Central Devon] is running the whipping operation and that sort of behaviour just isn’t happening. It’s a dirty story being spread by anti-Rishi people," they told PoliticsHome.

Williamson is one of four former Chief Whips who are supporting Sunak's bid to succeed Johnson. The others are Mark Harper, Mark Spencer, and Julian Smith.

Sunak has already faced criticism from rival campaigns for refusing to match their pledges to cut tax quickly or immediately upon entering 10 Downing Street.

A veteran Conservative told PoliticsHome Sunak's multiple tax rises have not been popular with MPs or Tory activists, and if he gets to the final two he’s going to have Jacob Rees-Mogg telling the membership “this guy's a fucking communist”.

With a speech launching his campaign this morning, the former Chancellor said he was the only candidate who was being straight with the public about the state of the economy amid the cost of living crisis, and in a thinly-veiled swipe at other candidates said he was not going to talk in "fairy tales".

Sunak insisted he would be a tax-cutting prime minister, but only once he had "gripped" inflation.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, who endorsed Sunak this morning, said he was the only candiate who could defeat Keir Starmer's Labour at the next general election.

Sunak and seven other candidates made it into the Conservative party leadership ballot tonight after securing the backing of 20 or more Conservative MPs.

The others are Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chair Liz Truss, Attorney General Braverman, ex-Health Secretary Hunt, Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, and wildcard candidate Kemi Badenoch.

Sajid Javid, the veteran former Cabinet minister, was elimated after failing to secure 20 nominations.

Conservative MPs will vote for their preferred candidate in rounds, with the first taking place tomorrow. Candidates will need to secure the backing of at least 30 Tory MPs tomorrow in order to make it into the next round, with a higher threshold introduced in later in the contest.

Penny Mordaunt, who some polls have suggested is the favourite among Tory members to succeed Johnson, will launch her campaign in Westminster tomorrow morning.

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