Tory MPs to put leadership contenders through their paces with first ballot round

The eight candidates left in the Conservative Party leadership race. Credit: PA

The race to succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister is heating up, with just eight candidates remaining in the Tory leadership contest.

Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat, Kemi Badenoch, Penny Mordaunt, Jeremy Hunt, Nadhim Zahawi and Suella Braverman will all be on the ballot on Wednesday, after all secured the 20 nominations from fellow MPs needed to enter the contest.

Mr Sunak and Ms Mordaunt have already gained support enough to progress after surpassing the threshold of 30 nominations, according to the number of MPs who have publicly declared their support, and Foreign Secretary Truss is not far off.

If all those on the ballot receive 30 or more nominations, then the MP with the fewest will be eliminated.

Yesterday saw the field whittled down by three, with former Health Secretary Sajid Javid the most high-profile casualty.

All the candidates are vying for the keys to No10. Credit: PA

Mr Javid said he was pulling out having apparently failed to attract enough support, moments before chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, made the formal announcement in a Commons committee room.

Earlier, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that he was abandoning his bid and would be supporting Mr Sunak, the former chancellor.

Backbencher Rehman Chishti – seen as the rank outsider – also said that he was dropping out having failed to get enough nominations.

The remaining candidates were grilled by fellow MPs in two sets of hustings on Wednesday evening organised by the Centre for Social Justice and Common Sense Group of Conservatives.

The strong show of support given by Tory MPs to former chancellor Mr Sunak means it appears highly likely he will make the competition's final round, which will see the two remaining contestants battle for a majority in a poll of Tory members.

But is anyone's guess as to which of the other seven candidates could join him.

Some commentators believe Ms Mordaunt and Ms Truss are the two other names most likely to succeed in reaching the final stage.

Ms Mordaunt, when asked by ITV News for the difference between her and the foreign secretary, said she can "win a general election", adding: "I am the candidate that Labour fear the most - and they are right to."

Meanwhile Foreign Secretary Truss, gained the endorsement of prominent Johnson loyalists Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nadine Dorries and James Cleverly, in what was seen as a concerted move to prevent Mr Sunak entering No 10.

Many supporters of the PM remain furious with Mr Sunak for the role he played in bringing him down, with his decision last week to quit helping to trigger a further slew of resignations.

The foreign secretary’s campaign also received a potential fillip with the announcement by Home Secretary Priti Patel, a fellow right winger, that she would not be standing, giving Ms Truss a clearer run.

Ms Dorries accused Mr Sunak’s team of “dirty tricks” after claims that one of his supporters – ex-chief whip Gavin Williamson – had been trying to “syphon off” votes for Mr Hunt so he would make it to the final run-off with Mr Sunak.

The claim was denied by Mr Hunt, who told LBC radio it was a “very dangerous game to play”.

Backers of Mr Hunt believe that he will be able to amass the required minimum of 30 votes in the first ballot later on Wednesday.

Allies of Mr Sunak also hit back at the claim by Ms Dorries, calling it “complete nonsense” being “spread by anti-Rishi people”.

Mr Sunak will instead on Wednesday try to burnish his economic credentials, using an interview with the Daily Telegraph to compare himself to Margaret Thatcher.

It comes amid an increasingly bitter war of words as allies of Mr Johnson have rounded on Mr Sunak, branding him a “high tax chancellor” who had failed to spot the waring signs that inflation was on the rise.

Johnson loyalist and Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg launched a broadside against Mr Sunak’s economic policy in an article in the Daily Mail, accusing him of raising tax to “socialist” levels.

Mr Rees-Mogg, who is backing Liz Truss, wrote: “Sunak has squandered the Conservative Party’s decade-long effort to build a competitive tax regime and it will be the French and the Americans who will benefit, instead of the British people.”

Mr Sunak, in the interview, told the Telegraph: “We will cut taxes and we will do it responsibly. That’s my economic approach. I would describe it as common sense Thatcherism. I believe that’s what she would have done.”

It comes after a Opinium poll for Channel 4 News revealed that Mr Sunak is the preferred candidate to take over the Tory Party among Conservative members, with 28% wanting him on the final ballot.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay went public with his support for Mr Sunak in a tweet early on Wednesday, writing he was “convinced” that Mr Sunak had “all the right attributes to take our country forward”.

Away from the Tory leadership race, the government has also provoked a row with Labour after the opposition party accused Mr Johnson’s team of “running scared” after it refused to allow parliamentary time for a Commons vote of no confidence.

Labour had called it “unprecedented” for ministers not to allow parliamentary time for a vote of confidence.

But a government spokesman hit back, accusing Labour of “playing politics” by tabling a motion of no confidence in the government and the PM when Mr Johnson had already resigned.

Rishi Sunak is the favourite to succeed Boris Johnson Credit: PA

It remains unclear what the next steps are for Labour, with the Scottish National Party reported to have told Sir Keir Starmer that if Labour does not apply for an emergency debate, the SNP will.

Thangam Debbonaire has said that Labour is considering all its options.

The shadow leader of the House of Commons told BBC Newsnight: “I’m not going to reveal all of our tactics. There’s various other things that we could try and at the moment we’re considering every single one of them.”

Former equalities minister Ms Badenoch launched her bid on Tuesday, vowing not to enter a tax cut “bidding war” and arguing others had been trying to “have your cake and eat it”.

Mr Tugendhat, the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee also promising to slash fuel duty by 10p as he kicked off his campaign, dismissing rivals’ criticism over his lack of ministerial experience.

He also sought to flag his defence credentials, committing to spending 3% of GDP on defence as part of a 10-year economic plan.

Mr Zahawi, the Chancellor, brushed off a rebuke from Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey for setting out tax proposals during the campaign, saying he was setting out his stall to be prime minister and his plans were “fully costed”.

Mr Zahawi criticised his predecessor’s hesitancy, insisting it is not a “fairytale” to cut taxes to ease the cost-of-living crisis.

The current Chancellor also used an appearance before Conservative MPs to declare his strong support for the family – something he said had gone out of fashion.

Under the rules set out by Sir Graham, candidates who fail to get 30 votes in the first ballot will be eliminated, with a second vote expected on Thursday.

The process is then likely to continue into next week, with candidate with the lowest vote dropping out, until the list of candidates is whittled down to just two.

They will have the summer recess to win the support of the Tory membership, which will ultimately chose the next prime minister, with the final result due on September 5.