Rishi Sunak, who lost the last Conservative leadership race in a runoff against Liz Truss, has gained the most public support of Members of Parliament to replace her as Tory leader, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from public statements.
Sunak has the backing of 60 MPs, compared with 16 MPs for Penny Mordaunt. His lead, however, is slimmer against the wildcard Boris Johnson, who was ousted from the premiership in July and left office September 6. The former Prime Minister has accrued support of 32 MPs. None of the three top candidates have publicly declared they are standing.
Under rules announced on Thursday, a maximum of three Tory MPs will be able to run, as the party has set a threshold of 100 MPs for candidates to even get on the ballot paper, and there are a total of 357 MPs in the party. Sunak is now more than halfway towards that threshold.
Boris Johnson and his former finance minister Rishi Sunak were leading potential contenders to replace British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Friday, with candidates canvassing support to become Conservative Party leader in a fast-tracked contest.
British minister Penny Mordaunt on Friday launched her bid to replace Liz Truss as prime minister, becoming the first Conservative lawmaker to announce they are running.
Truss quit on Thursday after six weeks in power. Those who want to replace her must secure 100 votes from Conservative lawmakers by Monday.
With opinion polls suggesting the Conservatives would be all but wiped out if a national election were held now, the race is on to become the fifth British premier in six years.
The winner will be announced on Monday or next Friday.
In what would be an extraordinary comeback, Johnson, who was ousted by his lawmakers in July but remains popular with party members, was being touted alongside Sunak as a likely candidate.
“He can turn it around again. And I’m sure my colleagues hear that message loud and clear,” Conservative lawmaker Paul Bristow told LBC radio. “Boris Johnson can win the next general election.”
But Johnson, who left office comparing himself to a Roman dictator twice brought into power to fight crises, might not reach the 100 vote threshold after his three-year premiership was blighted by scandals and allegations of misconduct.
One of his former advisers, who no longer speaks to Johnson and requested not to be identified, said he was unlikely to reach the target, having alienated dozens of Conservative lawmakers.
Will Walden, who also once worked for Johnson, said the former leader was returning from holiday and taking soundings.
Business minister Jacob Rees-Mogg tweeted his support, using the hashtag “#Borisorbust”.
Sunak, the former Goldman Sachs analyst who became finance minister just as the Covid-19 pandemic arrived in Europe and was runner-up to Truss in the summer’s leadership contest, is the favourite with bookmakers, followed by Johnson.
Third-placed is Penny Mordaunt, a former defence minister popular with party members who came third last time. None have formally declared their candidacy.
Britain’s shortest-lived prime minister, Truss quit after her economic plans were rejected by investors, hitting the pound and pushing up borrowing costs, forcing a U-turn under a new finance minister after she sacked her closest political ally.
The sight on Thursday of yet another unpopular prime minister making a resignation speech in Downing Street — and the start of a new leadership race — underscored how volatile British politics has become since the 2016 Brexit vote.
The Conservative Party has a big majority in parliament and need not call a nationwide election for another two years, but opposition parties, some newspapers and even a few of its own lawmakers have said voters should now be given a say.
“The Tories (Conservatives) cannot respond to their latest shambles by yet again simply clicking their fingers and shuffling the people at the top without the consent of the British people,” Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said.
“They do not have a mandate to put the country through yet another experiment.”
Some Conservative lawmakers have urged colleagues to coalesce around one candidate to minimise the bruising.
Sunak, who had warned that Truss’s fiscal plan threatened the economy, remains unpopular with some party members after he helped to trigger the rebellion against Johnson.
Mordaunt is seen as a fresh face, largely untainted by earlier administrations. But she is also untested and is so far lagging Sunak and Johnson in finding backers.
After being sent by Truss on Monday to defend the government in parliament, she was praised by some of her colleagues as showing the necessary mettle to be a strong prime minister.
The next leader will inherit an economy heading for recession, with rising interest rates and inflation over 10% leaving millions facing a cost-of-living squeeze.
Surveys on Friday showed British shoppers reined in their spending sharply and put their confidence levels near record lows, while worse-than-expected public borrowing figures underscored the economic challenges ahead.
Truss’s spokeswoman said work was continuing on a fiscal plan due to be set out on Oct. 31 but that it would be for her successor to decide whether to proceed with it.
Whoever takes over also has a mountain to climb to restore the party’s own reputation.
“Whether or not a change of leader is going to be sufficient to make the Conservatives actually electorally credible is certainly highly debatable,” political scientist John Curtice told LBC.