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CONSERVATIVE CONTEST

Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt top the votes in race to succeed Boris Johnson

Former UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak. (Photo: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt retained the top two places in the contest to be Conservative leader and next UK prime minister after topping a third ballot of the party’s MPs on Monday.

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer won 115 votes, ahead of Mordaunt with 82. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was third with 71. Former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch secured fourth place to stay in the race, while Tom Tugendhat, the most centrist remaining candidate, was eliminated.

The results suggest Sunak is a shoe-in now to make the final run-off of two candidates who’ll face a vote of wider Tory members to become leader – and prime minister – in September. But who he’ll face is less straightforward: Mordaunt still leads Truss, but her momentum has stalled after she shed one supporter while Truss gained 7.

With further votes scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, the picture can still change, and much will depend on who Tugendhat’s supporters choose to back. The field will be narrowed down to a final two, with the grassroots Tory members making the final decision. The winner will be announced September 5.

Sunak’s position is now commanding, closing in on the 120 votes he needs to secure a place in the final two, with at least some of Tugendhat’s votes now also likely to fall his way.
While Truss failed to knock Mordaunt out of the key second spot, she’ll be heartened by closing the gap. The foreign secretary has struggled to impress in televised debates, with some Tory MPs on the right of the party preferring Badenoch. But while Badenoch gained more extra votes than Truss or Mordaunt, she still has a sizeable deficit to make up by Tuesday if she’s to progress further.

Tory spats

The contest has grown hostile, with the debate on Sunday at times descending into clashes over the government’s handling of the economy, and promises of tax cuts that even some Tories have slammed as being unrealistic.

It was exactly what the Conservative Party was trying to avoid when it announced an accelerated contest. On Monday, Sky News said it would cancel its debate after Sunak and Truss pulled out.

Sunak and Mordaunt have borne the brunt of the attacks from rival campaigns, with Truss accusing Sunak of choking off growth as chancellor by raising the UK tax burden to its highest level in 70 years.

Decades of Networking Have Put Penny Mordaunt in Reach of Power

Backers of Truss have also taken aim at Mordaunt, whose momentum surprised the foreign secretary’s camp. Amid attacks, including from former Brexit negotiator David Frost and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke, Mordaunt has urged a more measured approach – while pointedly saying she would be open to taking part in televised events as her rivals backed out.

Earlier on Monday, Mordaunt’s boss, International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, accused the junior minister of spending some of her time over the past few months preparing her leadership campaign.

“There have been a number of a number of times when she hasn’t been available, which would have been useful, and other ministers have picked up the pieces,” Trevelyan, a Tugendhat supporter, told LBC Radio.

In the coming ballots, Mordaunt will want a good proportion of Tugendhat’s votes to clinch the second spot, while Truss knows her best chance is taking Badenoch’s backers if she’s knocked out in Tuesday’s round.

(Reporting by Ellen Milligan.)

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