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20 July 2022

MPs may back Rishi Sunak, but Conservative Party members want Liz Truss

It is neither MPs nor the general electorate who will choose our next prime minister, but the 0.3 per cent of the population who are party members.

By Zoë Grünewald

On 19 July Kemi Badenoch, the “anti-groupthink” contender, was eliminated from the battle for No 10, leaving Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt and Liz Truss fighting for the prize.

Rachel has written an excellent analysis about which of them Labour would most like to face in a general election, and it seems the party is feeling optimistic. Sunak is tainted by his time as Boris Johnson’s chancellor, during which inflation rose to over nine per cent. Many within Labour see Truss as ineffective and damaging. She is considered the “continuity candidate”, having the backing of the Johnson-faithfuls Nadine Dorries and NME’s 2022 Villain of the Year Jacob Rees-Mogg. Mordaunt could represent a more genuine clean break from Johnson’s premiership, but she is expected to be eliminated today (20 July). Labour appears satisfied it has a good line of attack in any eventuality.

It is increasingly likely that Liz Truss, who has consistently performed the worst of the three in public opinion polls, may now win. On 19 July a YouGov poll of Conservative Party members showed that Truss would defeat Sunak, her most likely rival in the final two and seemingly the most popular candidate among both MPs and the public.

That Truss may be elected as party leader despite her unpopularity and perceived ineffectiveness has highlighted a key issue with party leadership elections. It is neither MPs nor the general electorate who will choose our next prime minister, but a group of Conservative Party members – who make up 0.3 per cent of the population. As Anoosh has written, the membership demographic is “old, posh, white, male, southern and very Eurosceptic” – hardly representative of the nation.

What happens next? Honestly, who knows. The big question is to whom Badenoch’s supporters will lend their votes. It’s a great day to be Michael Gove, Badenoch’s most influential backer. Where he lays his support is important, with many thinking he will now back Sunak.

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The outcome of the next round will be announced this afternoon at 4pm, leaving us with the final two candidates. Another parliamentary recess filled with campaigning, nail-biting and little sleep for political hacks will follow.

The whole debacle – the resignation of Johnson and the Tories’ quest for a new leader – has, we’ve been told time and time again, been about restoring trust in the Conservative Party and the government. Well, I’m starting to wonder if we all misheard. It looks as though the party is this close to restoring Truss.

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[See also: Will Liz Truss be our next Prime Minister?]