Former health secretary Sajid Javid has endorsed Liz Truss as the next Conservative Party leader, in what will come as a huge blow to Rishi Sunak's campaign to be the next prime minister.
Mr Javid, who launched a leadership run on a platform of swift tax cuts but quickly pulled out, said Ms Truss, the foreign secretary, is the best candidate to appeal to the electorate at the next general election.
In an article published in The Times on Wednesday, he also attacked Mr Sunak’s more cautious plans for tax cuts, warning they are now an essential way to grow the economy.
A former chancellor, like Mr Sunak, Mr Javid said the nation risks “sleepwalking into a big-state, high-tax, low-growth, social democratic model which risks us becoming a middle-income economy by the 2030s”.
“If we can renew our government with a bold agenda, the Conservatives can still beat Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP at the next election – and the evidence suggests Liz is the best-placed candidate to do so,” he added.
It came as Ms Truss won a 34-percentage point lead over Mr Sunak in a YouGov poll of party members, before a survey for the ConservativeHome website put her 32 ahead.
Mr Javid, whose resignation as health secretary minutes before Mr Sunak’s as chancellor triggered the cascade that forced Boris Johnson to quit as Tory leader, then threw his support behind the frontrunner.
Mr Javid pulled out of the Tory leadership contest in its early stages after struggling to win enough nominations from Conservative MPs to go through to the first round of voting.
His backing of Ms Truss came shortly before the latest hustings of Tory members at an event in Cardiff on Wednesday evening.
The YouGov survey showed 60% of the party members polled between July 29 and August 2 saying they intend to vote for the foreign secretary, with 26% backing Mr Sunak.
The poll of 1,043 Conservative Party members indicates just 11% do not know who they will vote for, while 2% said they will not take part in the contest.
A further indication of her dominance came with a survey of 1,003 members by the ConservativeHome website, which had 58% backing Ms Truss to Mr Sunak’s 26%.
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But Ms Truss insisted she is taking nothing for granted, as a delay in ballot papers being issued due to cyber security concerns gave her rival a little more time to catch up.
The first postal votes in the contest were due to be submitted this week, but the party delayed sending ballots out following advice from cyber security experts.
The party has made changes to its process on the advice of the National Cyber Security Centre, part of GCHQ, following warnings that hackers could change members’ votes.
The ballots had been due to be sent out from Monday but could now arrive as late as Thursday August 11.