Support 100 years of independent journalism.

Can anyone prevent a Rishi Sunak-Penny Mordaunt contest?

The insurgent Kemi Badenoch may have a better chance than Liz Truss of making the final round of the Tory election.

By Harry Lambert

Penny Mordaunt – a politician that only a fraction of the population have heard of, and few journalists have spent any time scrutinising – is, all of a sudden, seemingly headed for Downing Street. That, at least, is the narrative that is gathering pace in Westminster today after the second round of voting in the race to succeed Boris Johnson as Conservative leader, and to take over as the UK’s prime minister on 5 September.

Mordaunt picked up the votes of 16 new MPs today, helping her to close the gap on Rishi Sunak, the frontrunner among MPs, who picked up 13 new votes. Mordaunt now has the support of 83 MPs, Sunak 101. The pair have the support of just over half of the Tory party between them and they seem likely to make it to the final two, which will be decided by Wednesday 20 July. Those two candidates will then face the judgement of the party membership over the summer.

I can see only one conceivable alternative to a Sunak-Mordaunt final two, and it does not involve Liz Truss, who picked up 14 votes today to give her the support of 64 MPs. Although Truss, the Foreign Secretary, is in third place, I think Kemi Badenoch, who picked up nine votes today and now has 49 MPs behind her, is a more likely challenger to a Sunak-Mordaunt final.

That might seem eccentric but Badenoch, 42, has come from nowhere to win the support of one in seven Tory MPs; she only became an MP five years ago and has never served in the cabinet. She also has the support of Michael Gove, who has substantial weight in the party and came third in the last two Tory leadership elections. Badenoch and Gove celebrated the latest round of voting this afternoon on the House of Commons terrace.

Badenoch has strong views, and they need to be examined and questioned. She wants to slash the size of the state by more than any other candidate. But her rise damns Truss, who has been running an all but open leadership campaign for months. Badenoch is 15 MPs behind Truss in the battle for third, with 27 MPs in need of a new candidate after the elimination of Suella Braverman, the Attorney General, today.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

I do not mean to overstate Badenoch’s chances of surpassing Truss: I suspect most Braverman supporters – directed in part by Steve Baker, her campaign manager, who distrusts Gove – will go to Truss rather than Badenoch, despite Truss having been a Remainer and Braverman’s backers being avid Brexiteers. But I expect Badenoch to outperform Truss in the television debates tomorrow and on Sunday, and a Badenoch surge is the only alternative I can see to Sunak and Mordaunt reaching the final two.

Content from our partners
Building the business case for growth
“On supporting farmers, McDonald’s sets a high standard”
City of London Corporation brings stakeholders together to drive climate action

[See also: The death of “Boris” the clown]

Topics in this article :