Rishi Sunak faces two major opponents in battle to PM
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The former Chancellor – who along with Sajid Javid sparked a wave of resignations that lead to Boris Johnson’s eventual downfall – won the most support from fellow Parliamentary Tories last night among a crowded field. However, his supporters have been warned that he is “deeply unpopular” with the party’s grassroots membership – who will have the final say on who becomes the next Prime Minister.
At present, Mr Sunak is facing five other Tory MPs to become leader of the party, after Nadhim Zahawi, who replaced him as Chancellor, and Jeremy Hunt were knocked out of the contest.
In an election process set out by the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, the candidates face rounds of votes by fellow Tory parliamentarians to whittle the list down to two contenders.
These will then be put to the wider Conservative Party membership – which numbers around 180,000 – who will vote this summer on the next PM.
In the first round last night, Mr Sunak secured the most support from his political peers, garnering 88 votes.
But a YouGov poll of Tory membership released earlier yesterday (Wednesday) suggested he was far from favourite among the party faithful.
Penny Mordaunt topped the grassroots poll with 27 percent – more than double the support for Mr Sunak, who came third after Kemi Badenoch, the former Equalities Minister.
The Trade minister and Royal Navy reservist also came a strong second among Tory MPs in the first round vote, with 67 in favour, establishing her as a surprise adversary for the former Chancellor.
Emily Hewertson, a political commentator and former King’s College Conservative Association officer, argued Mr Sunak “will be twitching” following the result.
She said that even though he topped the poll of MPs, “his lead is not as large as most were expecting”.
Ms Hewertson claimed Mr Sunak was “deeply unpopular with the membership, giving whoever else makes it to the final two a free run”.
She added she was “rampantly disappointed with the number of Conservative MPs backing Rishi Sunak”.
The last resident of 11 Downing Street may have the most recognition among those vying for Tory leader, after presiding over the nation’s finances through the coronavirus pandemic.
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However, he has set himself apart from other candidates by suggesting restraint over cutting taxes at a time when inflation and the cost of living are soaring, describing it as “common-sense Thatcherism”.
In a leadership speech, Mr Sunak said it was “not credible” to promise lower taxes until inflation had been brought under control.
But other candidates have suggested the solution is the other way around: cutting taxes would increase spending, driving the economy.
Ms Mordaunt said she wants to return to a Government of “low tax, small state, personal responsibility”.
After the first round of MP voting, she said she was “very honoured” to have been given such strong support early on in the campaign.
David Davis, one of her supporters and former Brexit Secretary, told the BBC that it had “always been the argument” that Mr Sunak was the man to beat, commenting that it was an “extremely good result”.
The two – alongside Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Ms Badenoch, Attorney General Suella Braverman and Tom Tugendhat – face another vote by MPs this afternoon.
The candidate with the least support will be knocked out. Further votes will take place next week until only two contenders remain.
These will then be put to the wider Conservative membership, who will vote over the summer. The new leader is expected to be announced by September 5.
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