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18 July 2022

Rishi Sunak surges ahead in Tory leadership election as Liz Truss struggles

The Foreign Secretary gained just seven votes despite the endorsement of high-profile Brexiteers.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Tom Tugendhat has been knocked out of the race to become Conservative leader, ending his hopes of being the UK’s next prime minister.

Allies of one of Boris Johnson’s chief party critics, whose campaign was built around the Tories making a “clean start”, believe the bulk of his 31 MP supporters could switch to Penny Mordaunt, but Tugendhat himself refused to endorse anyone.

In the third round of voting, Rishi Sunak again finished first, this time with 115 votes (up 14). This leaves him only five votes away from guaranteeing his place in the final round, which is decided by party members. The former chancellor was spotted on the House of Commons terrace this evening (18 July) schmoozing colleagues.

Mordaunt, meanwhile, was down one to 82, a sign that the Trade Minister’s campaign has stalled after increased scrutiny. But her rival Liz Truss had little to boast about. Despite the endorsement of the Brexiteer Suella Braverman, who exited with 27 backers in the previous round, the Foreign Secretary gained just nine votes after a poor performance in both TV debates. The backing of Johnson loyalists may also have left colleagues suspicious of her.

Badenoch, who is viewed as the insurgent candidate, made a modest gain of nine votes (58), cementing her status as a future cabinet minister for whoever becomes leader.

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Tory MPs will whittle the candidates down to three tomorrow (19 July), and will no doubt be offered ministerial positions in return for their support. 

While Sunak has a commanding lead among MPs, there is currently no unambiguous favourite among the membership. The former chancellor’s record in government is one of raising taxes to their highest level in 70 years. Truss, who has been targeting the party faithful with a Margaret Thatcher tribute act since last year, may choose to use her status as Foreign Secretary to boost her chances.

Mordaunt could make a virtue of being the lesser-known figure, but her relative lack of experience may leave her vulnerable. And though the Tories are hungry for a “war on woke”, they may view the untested Badenoch as too much of a risk.

It is an open contest, yet Sunak’s slow but steady rise puts him in pole position.

[See also: Exclusive – Penny Mordaunt’s firm lobbied for anti-abortion evangelical group]

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