The last stage of the parliamentary rounds of the leadership contest is here. This afternoon, MPs will vote to decide which two out of Penny Mordaunt, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak progresses to the final round, in which they are whittled down to one by the party membership. The new leader will be announced at the beginning of September. Although Mordaunt came out in second place in yesterday’s ballot, there is a growing consensus among MPs that the most likely result today is a Truss vs Sunak final. The fact that Kemi Badenoch was knocked out in the fourth ballot means that the right of the party ought to be able to unite around the Foreign Secretary as their preferred candidate.
However, the numbers have been so tight so far that there is still room for an upset – even frontrunner Sunak is yet to hit the 120 required to reach the final round. The various campaign teams have had a long night hitting the phones to try to win over as many of Badenoch’s 59 supporters as they can. As one such backer put it on GB News this morning: ‘My phone hasn’t stopped; I’ve never been so popular! But no one has offered me an ice cream yet.’
For now, Team Mordaunt is digging in. Her campaign stepped up a gear this morning as her personal account tweeted (and then deleted) a Telegraph article with the headline: ‘Tory MPs – vote for Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss today and you’ll murder the party you love’. A supporter of Truss tells Coffee House: ‘Things can only get better given the day began with us having to see off Penny’s death squads. If only such murderous intent had been applied to her day job.’
Once the final two are announced at 4 p.m., the candidates will quickly move to the second stage of their campaigns. While they technically have the whole summer to campaign, time is of the essence. Once members receive their ballots in early August, they could return them rather quickly. This means there is an incentive to hit the ground running – particularly for Sunak, as membership polling suggests he has work to do to win over the grassroots. The former chancellor’s supporters are encouraged by recent polling that suggests he has enjoyed a 13 per cent swing towards him with the members in less than a week.
If it is a Truss vs Sunak final, the Foreign Secretary starts out as the grassroots’ favourite. Expect Team Sunak to get him out in the country and featured in the media as much as possible in a bid to change that. This will begin in earnest on Monday when the final two face off in a televised BBC debate. The hope among MPs is that the candidates will refrain from the blue-on-blue attacks that have defined the debates so far.