Conservative leadership race slashed as Zahawi and Hunt knocked out

Tory MPs have held a first round vote to whittle down the candidates who wish to replace Boris Johnson

The remaining six Tory leadership candidates, clockwise from top left: Rishi Sunak, Kemi Badenoch, Liz Truss, Suella Braverman, Tom Tugendhat and Penny Mordaunt. PA / Reuters / UK Parliament
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Six of the eight contenders in the Conservative party leadership race made it through the first round of voting on Wednesday as MPs look to whittle down the early field in the election.

The MPs who made it over the first hurdle were Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak, trade secretary Penny Mordaunt, former minister Kemi Badenoch, Attorney General Suella Braverman, and former army officer Tom Tugendhat.

Two candidates were eliminated with fewer than 30 votes. Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who fought Boris Johnson for the top job in 2019, winning a third of the party membership vote, half that of his rival, and Nadhim Zahawi, who was made chancellor last week but also fell at the first hurdle on Wednesday.

Mr Sunak topped the poll with 88 supporters ahead of second-placed Penny Mordaunt with 67 votes. Liz Truss was third with 50.

The path to Ms Mordaunt becoming the next prime minister opened up on Wednesday night as a wave of MPs voted for her in the first ballot to be the next Conservative leader.

The trade minister surged, coming second behind Mr Sunak, who failed to dominate the contest in the manner he had wished.

There will now be at least one round of voting on Thursday, possibly two, with any candidate coming last or failing to get 30 votes knocked out.

It is expected that a substantial amount of horse-trading will take place on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, with those still in the race potentially pledging their caucus to the person they see as the eventual winner.

“There’s no runaway leader in all of this,” Mr Zahawi’s campaign manager Jonathan Gullis, MP, told the media after the 1922 Committee announced the results in parliament. “The right [wing] of the Conservative Party needs to figure out who they want to unite behind. They are all good choices.”

The inference was that Mr Sunak, the original frontrunner, had failed to convince enough MPs that he is the right man for the top job. Yet he still appears on course to be one of the last two candidates, and on Wednesday was tipped to become the new Tory leader by a renowned election expert.

Despite the backing, Mr Sunak remains vulnerable to a wider audience on several counts: his proximity to Boris Johnson by remaining in his post deep into the scandals that unseated the prime minister; his fine for rule-breaking during lockdown by attending Downing Street parties; and issues over his wife Akshata Murty's taxation status, as well his retention of an American green card.

By contrast, Ms Mordaunt, 49, was not in Mr Johnson’s cabinet, is an original Brexiteer.

Penny Mordaunt - in pictures

Contenders began to drop out ahead of the nomination, including ex-chancellor Sajid Javid, transport secretary Grant Shapps, and the relatively unknown Rehman Chishti, after they failed to reach the required number of endorsements.

Political observers noted that Mr Javid, whose resignation last week ultimately triggered Boris Johnson’s downfall, was victim of the adage that “he who wields the knife does not get the crown”.

Mr Shapps was among a number of ministers who pledged their support to Mr Sunak,

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee that sets Conservative Party rules, announced the candidates in alphabetical order in the same committee room where, on June 6, Mr Johnson faced a vote of confidence that eventually led to his resignation last week.

After the ballot, Ms Truss put out a plea to unite the right of the party in subsequent voting from Thursday that will eliminate the least popular candidate until two are left.

"Now is the time for colleagues to unite behind the candidate who will cut taxes, deliver the real economic change we need from day one, and ensure Putin loses in Ukraine," a spokeswoman for the foreign secretary said.

Ms Mordaunt enjoys strong leads in the polls of the 200,000 Conservative Party members who will vote on the final two remaining candidates after MPs finishing balloting, possibly early next week or even by Friday.

This has seen her chances rise considerably to be the favourite to become Britain’s prime minister on September 5 and possibly earlier if a deal is struck with the second place candidate.

UK Conservatives on the leadership campaign trail - in pictures

Updated: July 13, 2022, 6:39 PM