By Connor Steel
CONSERVATIVE MEMBERS will be faced with a difficult decision this summer as they choose to elect either Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss to become their political party leader and indeed Prime Minister; the ex-Chancellor and current Foreign Secretary winning the support of their colleagues to progress into the final two standing.
It comes after a two week leadership contest that has seen a long list of eight candidates whittled down in a series of votes; Fareham MP Suella Braverman, Kemi Badenoch, Tom Tugendhat, Jeremy Hunt and Nadhim Zahawi all exiting prior to Wednesday after four individual ballot rounds held almost daily since last Tuesday.
This time it was Penny Mordaunt who exited from the fifth and final round of Conservative MPs following big questions about her lack of cabinet experience coinciding with under-par displays across two TV debates last weekend; the Portsmouth North MP finishing 3rd with 106 votes as she was pipped at a crucial moment.
Despite finishing second in the four previous votes Mordaunt was beaten by a late surge from Truss who secured a final total of 113, an increase of twenty-seven since Tuesday. The Foreign Secretary will join the front-runner Mr Sunak in the last two, who won the support of 137 colleagues including high-profile names.
But the two candidates now face a tough challenge as the vote is thrown to the wider Conservative Party members to decide the ultimate winner. Released data from the 2019 leadership contest shows that 160,000 will receive the chance to vote, although this is estimated to be nearer to 200,000 by many media outlets.
This includes members of the party from Gosport and Fareham, with one telling the Globe: “If we don’t get this decision right, we open the doors to a potential Labour Government and that won’t be good news for Britain. There is no clear favourite this time & I look forward to registering my vote, but will do my research.”
Eligible members will each receive a ballot paper for the ‘election’ either through post or private online link by early August with a requirement to return these by September 2. This follows a very similar timeframe to the Conservative leadership contest when Boris Johnson replaced Theresa May following her Brexit-related exit.
In the meantime both candidates will feature in a dozen regional hustings throughout the coming weeks, which will work alongside televised debates. The two are scheduled to participate in a live BBC debate on Monday night (July 25) and then again on Sky News (August 4); both scheduled for early evening peak slots.
Following the deadline results will be counted and announced in a special event on September 5, with the winner set to automatically become Prime Minister. They will become the fifth UK leader in just 13 years with the handover of power expected at Downing Street within hours of the event, but no exact details are known.
This leadership contest was triggered on July 7 following Mr Johnson’s sudden resignation as leader of the Tory Party in the wake of his handling of the Chris Pitcher debacle; which saw over 50 ministerial colleagues hand in letters of resignations starting with Mr Sunak himself and the former Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
And just hours before the final two candidates were announced at precisely 4pm, Mr Johnson faced his final session of Prime Minister’s Questions as summer recess began. Amidst a backdrop of loud cheers and jeers he struck a buoyant tone as he told the dispatch box: “Mission largely accomplished … hasta la vista, baby.”
Readers can follow live updates on the Conservative Party Leadership contest by visiting BBC News and other mainstream media platforms. Alternatively they can also check the official Conservative Party website featuring profiles and campaign messages from both the candidates, alongside voting and ballot information.
PICTURED BY THE AUTHOR: Conservative Party Club, located in Gosport High Street, in early AM sun.