Election expert tips Rushi Sunak to edge Liz Truss 51:49 in leadership race

Penny Mordaunt is also a strong contender, the expert says

Rishi Sunak is favourite but it is expected to be a close race. Photo: HM Treasury
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A British politics professor with a history of correctly predicting major UK developments has named his favourites to replace outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson, but also said it will be a close race.

Jonathan Tonge, from Liverpool University, thinks Rishi Sunak will win after opponents failed to land punches in the early rounds of campaigning, but he can see a strong challenge from Liz Truss.

“Without any confidence at all, I’d say Rishi Sunak will become the next prime minister,” he said.

“But I think it’s a 51/49 call because Liz Truss plays pretty well with the Tory party members too.

“I think the members could see Sunak as a slightly more plausible prime minister than Truss because I don’t think they are quite as obsessed about tax cuts as has been popularly supposed.

“The Conservative party members are obsessed with Brexit, and in that sense Sunak has the upper hand over Truss because he is the longer-term Brexiteer.”

He thinks Penny Mordaunt still has an outside chance if she makes it through the MPs’ voting stage to the final round when party members pick the winner from the two horses that remain in the race.

The eight candidates who made it to the MPs vote are Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman, Jeremy Hunt, Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat and Nadhim Zahawi.

The leadership election was sparked after Mr Johnson was forced to step down after a scandal involving MP and deputy whip Chris Pincher.

It was the latest in a string of controversies for the government that included partygate — where government officials held Covid lockdown-defying parties — the refurbishing of the prime ministerial flat and ethical shortcomings.

Ms Mordaunt is a strong contender who could make it to the final round of voting, said Prof Tonge, who has a strong record of political forecasting.

“Unlike Truss, Mordaunt was a Brexiteer from the start, and there’s clearly a ‘stop Rishi’ campaign, where MPs will place their vote for the final two candidates based on who they think is likeliest to beat him in the final vote.

“If they think the Tory party membership, who cast the final ballot, cares more about Brexit than tax cuts, they’ll choose Mordaunt. I think Truss will probably shade it before Mordaunt.”

He the said:: “Sunak also looks the part of PM marginally more than Truss.

“He’s a polished performer who understands economics and the gravity of the economic situation better than any of his rivals.”

Updated: July 13, 2022, 3:09 PM