British-Indian Rishi Sunak heads list of eight Tories vying to replace Boris Johnson

Rishi Sunak, former U.K. chancellor of the exchequer, during the campaign launch for his bid to become leader of the Conservative party in London on July 12, 2022. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Hollie Adams.

Rishi Sunak, whose resignation last week helped trigger Boris Johnson’s downfall, heads a final list of eight candidates seeking to become the next Conservative Party leader and U.K. prime minister.

The contenders needed the backing of 20 Tory MPs to secure a place in Wednesday’s first round of balloting. Senior Conservative lawmaker Graham Brady confirmed the names at a briefing in Westminster.

On a day of moves in Westminster, the high-profile candidate Grant Shapps withdrew and threw his support behind the early front-runner Sunak, who has the most publicly-declared support from Tory MPs. Former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who resigned moments before Sunak last week, also pulled out, as did the relatively unknown Rehman Chishti.

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Home Secretary Priti Patel announced she would not stand, a move seen by many as a boost for Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s bid to be the preferred candidate of the low-tax, Thatcherite wing of the Conservative Party.

Conservative MPs are due to cast their ballots from 1:30 p.m., with the result of the first round to be announced at 5 p.m. The candidate with the least support is knocked out, along with anyone receiving fewer than 30 votes.

The second round of voting is scheduled for Thursday, with further rounds next week following television debates arranged for the weekend.

The Conservatives want the contest to be as rapid as possible, given the longer it goes on, the more the candidates’ attacks on each may impact the views of the wider electorate. The aim is to have a final two before July 21.

At that point, the process shifts to the estimated 175,000 grassroots party members who get the final say in who enters No. 10 Downing Street in September. In that phase, it’s not Sunak but Trade minister Penny Mordaunt who currently leads the way, according to a ConservativeHome survey.

Mordaunt will formally launch her leadership bid on Wednesday.

Sunak would also lose to Kemi Badenoch, who has the backing of Conservative big-hitter Michael Gove and is seen as a rising star of the Tory right, Truss and Attorney General Suella Braverman in a head-to-head vote among grassroots Tories, according to the ConservativeHome findings.

So far, the debate has focused on tax cuts, with many candidates trying to out-do each other in a bid to appeal to the Tory right, just as Johnson tried to do whenever his position came under pressure.

Sunak’s major handicap is that he raised the U.K.’s tax burden to its highest level since the 1940s as chancellor to pay for pandemic-era spending, a record that sits uneasily with many Conservative MPs. In his final months in office before resigning, Sunak resisted calls to cut taxes for fear of fueling inflation, which is forecast to exceed 11% in the U.K. in October.

But Sunak used his campaign launch to hit back at his Tory rivals, who he said were combining unrealistic tax pledges with spending promises.

“Once we have gripped inflation, I will get the tax burden down,” Sunak said in a speech in London on Tuesday. “It is a question of ‘when,’ not ‘if’.”

Speaking at his own campaign event, Tom Tugendhat, chair of Parliament’s foreign affairs select committee, pledged to lower fuel duty by 10p a liter and to reverse the new national insurance levy, which Sunak and Johnson introduced to help fund efforts to tackle the pandemic backlog in the National Health Service. He also took aim at the chaos of the Johnson era.

“We must return to service,” Tugendhat said, in a thinly veiled reference to his military record. “We need leadership with a renewed sense of mission.”

Meanwhile, Badenoch criticized rivals who have vowed tax cuts on day one in office, and dismissed claims she is too inexperienced. Not being in cabinet now means she doesn’t have the “baggage” of other candidates, she said.

 

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