News Item: Final two candidates for UK PM to be decided
The final two candidates to become UK prime minister will be decided Wednesday, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Penny Mordaunt battling it out to make an expected runoff against frontrunner Rishi Sunak.
Former finance minister Sunak was only two votes short of securing his place in the final two after Tuesday’s voting, but the race behind him tightened as Truss clawed back five votes to finish only six behind Mordaunt.
The final pair will be announced at 4:00 pm (1500 GMT), before the race then moves to Conservative party members who will decide the new leader and prime minister. The result will be announced on September 5.
Tuesday’s vote means Britain will get either its first British-Asian prime minister or the third female leader in its history.
Sunak, whose resignation helped to topple outgoing leader Boris Johnson, is all but guaranteed to make the final cut.
But Mordaunt — the one-time bookmakers’ favourite — is now the outsider with punters betting that the right wing of the party will swing behind Truss after Kim Badenoch was voted out on Tuesday.
In a bid to woo those MPs, Truss wrote in Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph that her plan to revive the economy would be “based around tax cuts, deregulation and tough reform”.
Former minister David Davis, a backer of Mordaunt, accused Sunak of lending votes to Truss so he could face her in the runoff.
“He wants to fight Liz, because she’s the person who will lose the debate with him,” he told LBC Radio.
A YouGov poll published before the vote showed that, despite his popularity with parliamentary colleagues, Sunak was the least appealing candidate to the members.
The BBC plans to host a live televised debate with the final two candidates on Monday, with all remaining candidates agreeing to take part if they get through.
Sunak won the two previous debates, according to snap polls.
But his popularity with the Tory grassroots has faded since questions were raised over his family’s tax arrangements, and as he presided over sky-rocketing inflation, which on Wednesday hit a new 40-year high of 9.4 percent in June.
In a new policy announcement, Sunak vowed an “ambitious new plan to make the UK energy independent” by 2045 in order to prevent future energy-driven inflation spikes, after Russia’s war in Ukraine sent gas prices rocketing.
– Race gets personal –
Mordaunt had headed the same YouGov poll of Tory members previously.
But she now trails Truss after a damaging few days in which her former boss, one-time UK Brexit pointman David Frost, slammed her work ethic and questions were raised over her stance on transgender rights.
Johnson announced on July 7 he was quitting as Conservative leader after a government rebellion in protest at his scandal-hit administration.
Having survived a confidence vote in his government on Monday, Johnson is now almost certain to stay on as prime minister until his successor is announced on September 5.
Under Britain’s parliamentary system, the leader of the biggest party is prime minister and can be changed mid-term without having to call a general election.
Johnson chaired his last cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning and is due to face his final weekly question-and-answer session with MPs in parliament on Wednesday.
In the two previous televised debates — on Channel 4 Friday and the ITV network Sunday — the contenders clashed notably on whether to cut taxes to help ease a soaring cost-of-living crisis.
But Sunday’s clash turned more acrimonious — and personal — with candidates encouraged to directly criticise one another and their proposals.
Sunak called out Truss for voting against Brexit, her previous membership of the Liberal Democrats and her position on tax.
In turn, Truss questioned Sunak’s stewardship of the economy.
Badenoch attacked Mordaunt for her stance on transgender rights — a rallying call in the “culture wars” exercising the Tory right.