The contest to replace Boris Johnson is now in full swing. The initially crowded field of conservative hopefuls who are trying to be Britain’s new Prime Minister has dwindled from more than ten to only six after the Tory MPs met today and cast the first ballot, leaving Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, and Lizz Truss as the top favorites to succeed Boris Johnson, with the other three candidates scrambling to get traction before Wednesday’s ballot.
The contest is a good indicator of the internal divisions within the Conservative Party, and whoever wins will have to give purpose to a Tory party that has been riveted with internal fighting over the economic and political direction of the country. The new Prime Minister would assume office in early September if the schedule is followed typically, and the 2024 general elections will surely be one of their top priorities.
Wednesday’s ballot results went as follows: Rishi Sunak got 88 votes, Penny Mordaunt got 66, Liz Truss got 50, Kemi Badenoch got 40, Tom Tugendhat got 37, Suella Baverman got 32, Nadhim Zahawi got 25, and Jeremy Hunt got 18. Hunt and Zahawi got eliminated from the process as they failed to pass the 30-vote threshold for the first round.
The three favorites to succeed Boris Johnson
The centrist frontrunner, Rishi Sunak
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Rishi Sunak topped the first ballot of the contest and is the clear frontrunner; however, his position is not as safe or inevitable as some might have thought a few days ago.
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Sunak became well-known in British politics when he was appointed as Chancellor by Johnson in 2020, and he was trumpeted as a possible successor to Boris due to his popularity with the general public at the time. However, his public image has received hits over the last months after he was fined in the Partygate scandal, controversy over his wife’s tax status was discovered, and he gained the ill will of part of the Conservative party due to his fundamental role in the defenestration of Boris Johnson last week.
Rishi has declared himself a Thatcherite and has vowed to follow her economic policies if elected to office. Sunak was the Chancellor during the tax hike of the Johnson premiership, which might diminish his credentials among the libertarian right. Despite Sunak being a Brexiteer, he is the candidate that has received the public support of most Remainers in the race. Despite his frontrunner status, a YouGov poll shows that he would lose a head-to-head race with all Tory candidates.
The maverick challenger, Penny Mordaunt
One of the biggest surprises of Wednesday’s ballot results was the rise of dark-horse Penny Mordaunt, a junior minister, as she is only 22 votes behind Mr. Sunak. Mordaunt stayed away from the high-drama end of Johnson’s premiership last week and is something of a maverick candidate who is hard to pin down in the ideological camps dividing the Tories.
Mordaunt was a vocal Brexiteer in 2016 and has said that if elected as Prime Minister, she will deliver the economic benefits of leaving the EU. She is also popular among the Labour heartlands won by Boris in 2019, and her background is more attuned with the one-nation conservatives (more centered on economic issues) than with the Thatcherite tradition. However, she has held very liberal views on social issues in the past, especially on transgender issues, which might alienate her support from the more socially conservative side of the party.
Mordaunt’s path to the premiership lies in her ability to unify the Red Wall Tory MPs and those who view Sunak with suspicion. Penny has all the momentum right now, and a YouGov poll shows her as the favorite of the Conservative party members.
Liz Truss: The anti-Sunak candidate
Foreign Secretary Lizz Truss is the only candidate in the race that remains a Cabinet member and never called publicly for the ousting of Johnson. Truss started to raise her profile among conservative members due to her role in the British response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and by adopting a hardline approach to the EU-UK negotiations.
Truss’s support is based on hard Brexiteers (despite herself being a Remainer in 2016) and staunch Boris loyalists, like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries. They came out supporting her and have launched heavy attacks on Sunak’s role in Johnson’s resignation. Truss has promised to lower taxes, as almost all other candidates have done, and has consciously fashioned herself as a new Margaret Thatcher.
Suppose Truss can withstand the momentum around Mordaunt’s candidacy and set herself as the reliable Brexiteer and Thatcherite alternative to Sunak. In that case, she might be able to get enough votes and become Johnson’s successor.
The wildcards: Badenoch, Tugendhat, and Braverman
The remaining three candidates are in a dash to get support and survive the next ballot on Thursday, as whoever ends up last will be eliminated from the contest immediately. Braverman is in the most significant danger as she barely surpassed the 30-vote threshold on Wednesday. Tugendhat and Badenoch have a bit more room to maneuver, but they will need to enhance their profile quickly.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.