Tory MPs to vote again as Truss, Mordaunt and Badenoch fight for second place

Conservative leadership bid Credit: PA Media

Tory MPs will vote again on Tuesday in the Conservative leadership contest, as the race for second place intensifies with Rishi Sunak’s place in the final two looking largely secure.

Penny Mordaunt, who last week created a significant lead over Liz Truss, now faces a difficult two days as she tries to boost her support among MPs after dropping a vote in the third ballot on Monday evening.

Despite signs of slowed momentum, Ms Mordaunt was still able to fend off a challenge by Ms Truss, receiving 82 votes to the Foreign Secretary’s 71 in the latest ballot.

The vote, on an unbearably hot day in Westminster, left Kemi Badenoch the remaining candidate with the lowest share of the vote after backbencher Tom Tugendhat was eliminated.

Mr Tugendhat had not yet said publicly which camp he might throw his support behind, but Ms Mordaunt made an early effort to court his backing – tweeting that she had “admired” him for years.

Ms Badenoch also tweeted on Monday that Mr Tugendhat would be an “asset” to any future Conservative Government.

The other campaigns will likely be doing the same.

But ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana said there could be a chance the eliminated leadership hopeful may not back another candidate.

Mr Sunak, who got 115 votes, edged closer to the 120 votes required to guarantee a place in the final two, who will face a vote of the Tory membership to decide the next party leader and prime minister.

It remains unclear which of the three remaining candidates will join Mr Sunak in the final two, even after a difficult few days for Ms Mordaunt which saw her attacked by all sides with allegations over her ministerial record and questions about her previous statements on trans rights.

She also faced accusations that she missed ministerial meetings because she was plotting her Tory leadership bid.

The trade minister’s absence from meetings forced colleagues to pick up the pieces, International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan alleged.

Both Ms Truss and Ms Mordaunt have also had their economic proposals blasted by the former chancellor Mr Sunak in recent days, who lashed out at the rival candidates’ tax plans during the TV debate on ITV on Sunday night.

In a sign of the concern about the way the leadership race is being conducted, a Sky News debate that had been planned for Tuesday will no longer go ahead after Mr Sunak and Ms Truss confirmed they did not want to take part.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

“Conservative MPs are said to be concerned about the damage the debates are doing to the image of the Conservative Party, exposing disagreements and splits within the party,” a Sky statement said on Monday.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said on Monday that he was “astonished” by candidates withdrawing from the debate, arguing that it demonstrated a lack of “confidence”.

He told reporters at a central London bank: “I can see, based on what I’ve seen in the debates so far, why they want to do so because this is a party that is out of ideas, out of purpose, they’re tearing each other apart.”

The leadership contenders – Mr Sunak, Ms Truss, Ms Mordaunt and Ms Badenoch – have already taken part in debates on Channel 4 and ITV which have seen the would-be prime ministers taking primetime pot shots at each other.

On Monday evening, it was Ms Badenoch who was among the happiest of the candidates.

She saw her vote jump from 49 to 58 in the latest round, claiming that it showed she had the “momentum” behind her.

She tweeted on Monday evening: “Continued momentum, closing the gap, I am the only change candidate left in the race. I’m in it to win.”

If she is eliminated next, the votes of Badenoch backers could determine who faces Mr Sunak in the vote of Tory members.

An MP supporting Ms Truss insisted the foreign secretary was “heading in the right direction”.

Asked about the increase in support for Ms Badenoch, they said: “Liz is absolutely heading in the direction… she’s ahead and she’s heading in the right direction, so that’s good.”

Ms Mordaunt will continue into Tuesday knowing that her place behind Mr Sunak remains vulnerable.

After the ballot, she tweeted: “My vote is steady and I’m grateful to my colleagues for all their support and thrilled to be in second place once more.

“MPs know that I’m a strong candidate, running a truly clean campaign and putting forward a positive vision for the party and our country.”

The exit of Mr Tugendhat from the contest was not unexpected, with the Tonbridge and Malling MP trailing behind rivals in the bid for Tory MP backers.

He had addressed his likely fate head-on earlier, dismissing any suggestion that he would drop out.

The PA News agency understands that at the behind-closed-doors hustings organised by the backbench 1922 Committee, he told MPs that it had been suggested to him that he should step aside and back another candidate.

He said: “It will come as no surprise that some have suggested I could leave with a job as well. But my view is clear. It is not for me to make that decision – it is for you.”

Tweeting after the contest, he said: “Although it wasn’t to be today, I am immensely proud of the positive vision we put forward for our country.

“Thank you to all those who supported me and believed in #ACleanStart.

“This is only the beginning!”

The Tory leadership candidates and presenter Julie Etchingham on stage in the ITV televised debate. Credit: Jonathan Hordle/ITV/PA

A series of votes among Tory MPs this week will narrow the field down to a final two, who will then face a summer of campaigning for the support of party members in a final vote.

The new leader will be announced on September 5 and is expected to become prime minister the following day.

Ms Mordaunt also said on Monday promised to ditch housing targets if she enters Downing Street, saying they have been “tested to destruction”.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who remains behind Ms Mordaunt in the race to become the next Tory leader, has already hit out at so-called “Stalinist” housing targets.

Ms Mordaunt used a piece in the Daily Telegraph to claim that the current government house-building policy is “not working” and is trapped in a “broken pattern”.

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