Sunak appears to be frontrunner. He appeals to conservative types who were taken in by Tony Blair. He is running a slick campaign, while being targeted with slurs.
London: The Conservative party leadership election has been compared to the Hunger Games and a reality TV show hosted by Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee—as in a reality TV programme the contestants are whittled down by the audience, in this case the MPs, who must cast their vote for their preferred candidate.
Jeremy Hunt, Nadim Zahawi and Suella Braverman have bitten the dust. This is according to the rules agreed by the 1922 Committee and the Conservative Party Board. Remaining on the third ballot on Monday, 18 July, are Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, Liz Truss, Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat. The candidate with the lowest number of votes will be eliminated, ballots continue next week until only two finalists are left.
The candidates divide between left of centre and right of centre Conservatives.
Rishi Sunak appears to be the frontrunner; he is a contrast to Boris Johnson. He appeals to conservative types who were taken in by Tony Blair. Sunak is running a very slick campaign, while simultaneously being targeted with slurs. Some say he has peaked too soon. Johnson loyalists are upset as they imagine Sunak has crafted a coup, which started with his resignation, against the Prime Minister. Sunak’s relationships with Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove, Gavin Williamson and other left of centre Tories are repeatedly scrutinised and hypothesized. Many believe that the Prime Minister’s downfall began when Dominic Cummings left No.10 in November 2020.
Penny Mordaunt was forecast to be number two in the final contest, but she is also under attack from Tory grassroots for her alleged “wokery” and moonlighting from ministerial duties to prepare for her campaign. Mordaunt claims “people are trying to stop her getting into the finals as they don’t want to run against her”—tactics she calls “black ops”. This could be quite damaging for her as it will not be popular with Conservative Associations or Conservative party members, who will have the final vote about who the leader of the party is. Mordaunt is polling well and popular with the Red Wall MPs.
Liz Truss, at the moment third in the ranking, but picking up steam, has cleverly cast herself as the Boris continuity candidate, loyal to the PM but with a fresh “Trusstworthy” vision. She announced an immediate budget that would put the £400 bn Covid spend into a war debt to be repaid over generations. Truss is determined to defeat President Vladimir Putin and deliver on Brexit and conservative policies. She is the preferred candidates of the ERG executive committee and is known for gathering the right advisers and experts around her, but she needs to gather support.
Kemi Badenoch has the advantage of Michael Gove’s support, but from the votes cast so far is unlikely to be in the final two, each of which requires over 120 MPs’ support.
Tom Tugendhat has held his own in the contest. Army centric but a name to watch and reckon with, once he has some ministerial experience he will stand much better leadership chance.
On Friday, Channel 4 presented the five candidates in a live show to a small studio audience, who posed the same questions to each candidate. The dominant issues in the Leadership Debate were trust and the new cost of living/inflation. The candidates could not agree. Truss, Sunak and Mordaunt responses turned irascible. In general, Sunak gave a polished performance about his competence; Mordaunt took some flak about her alleged confused position on gender ID; Truss was dressed in Lady Thatcher style, public speaking is not her forte but she gained credibility as the debate progressed; Tugendhat said that Boris Johnson was not honest; Badenoch presented very confidently and plausibly but without much substance.
Tugendhat is likely to be the next to be eliminated. His supporters probably will go to Sunak with some to Mordaunt. He put his best foot forward and presented himself as an upcoming politician. He could hope for a Cabinet post with either Sunak or Mordaunt. Before the final, Badenoch’s votes are most likely to migrate to Truss, unless the unexpected happens and she expects Sunak to win, in which case, she may declare her support for the former Chancellor.
Who knows if the smear campaigns against Sunak and Mordaunt will be successful. If this Westminster reality show is like a real reality TV show, is the result already scripted?