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Tory Leadership Frontrunners Promise Top Northern Job Ahead Of Crunch Vote

3 min read

The three remaining candidates in the Conservative leadership contest have promised MPs in the North that they would create more devolution and a new minister for the region as they try to shore up support ahead of the final parliamentary ballot.

Jake Berry, chair of the Northern Research Group (NRG), said the remaining three candidatesRishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt and Liz Truss, "performed exceptionally well" after four rounds of voting by MPs, and were "all absolutely clear that levelling up will be at the heart of the next government".

The trio, who today made it into the final round of MP voting, each took around 20 minutes of questions at a hustings hosted by the NRG this afternoon, with up to 50 Tory MPs in attendance.

Berry said their performances "absolutely showed" that levelling up will be "front and centre" of the next regime, "even after Boris Johnson is no longer the Prime Minister".

The former minister admitted, however, that the next Tory party leader and Prime Minister might choose to drop Boris Johnson's flagship slogan upon getting into 10 Downing Street.

"Slogans come and go, but the core principle of levelling up is absolutely embedded across Conservative party politics for the next decade," he said.

"Call it Shirley if you want. As long as people in my constituency get the support they need from the government."

Berry, who spoke to reporters after the hustings had finished, believed Sunak had an advantage over other candidates on the issue, because he was "definitely playing on home turf" having been directly involved in levelling-up policy as Chancellor.

He felt that Mordaunt "has some really interesting ideas about how we reform the machinery of government to focus on delivery," and said that "Yorkshire lass" Truss "was name checking individual mills in individual colleages' constituencies" in the county.

All three candidates have signed up to the NRG's levelling-up pledges, which include a commitment to a new minister for the North, more devolution, a levelling-up "formula" to ensure "left behind" areas receive the government funding they need, and two new vocational colleges that will be "the vocational equivalent of Oxford and Cambridge", dubbed "Voxbridge".

The NRG, which is comprised of around 50 Tory MPs in the North of England, many of whom won their 'red wall' seats at the 2019 general election, have indicated they will not vote as a bloc at Wednesday's crunch round of voting, which will determine the final two candidates who are put to the party membership. 

"They [NRG MPs] are fully representative of the rest of the Conservative party in their support for different candidates," he said.

"The NRG believes that our job is to create the platform on which the policies can take place, not tell our members what they should and should not think about it."

One NRG MP who attended the hustings told PoliticsHome they were still undecided about who to vote for tomorrow when Sunak, Mordaunt and Truss compete for a place in the final two.

Sunak is widely expected to secure one of the spots on the ballot, having received 118 votes from Tory MPs today.

There were just six votes separating second-place Mordaunt and third-place Truss earlier today, setting up an unpredictable battle to join Sunak in the final two as Badenonch's supporters distribute among the remaining candidates. 

The final two will spend several weeks participating in hustings around the country before Conservative party members choose the winner – and the next Prime Minister – on 5 September.

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