Thursday, August 4 2022

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A poor run of results for Rishi Sunak yesterday: a less than adamant performance in the first round of Tory MPs and a dismaying poll of YouGov members. The second round of deputies today is decisive for him.

The only person in Westminster who had a worse Wednesday than Sunak was me: it was a disastrous day for my position short of Penny Mordaunt. More on these two topics below.

We don’t just walk on Mordaunt

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Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s turnout in the first round of MP voting is, to say the least, not great for a frontrunner. His 88 MPs represent 24.6% of the parliamentary party, the worst performance by any first-round winner since the end of the old “magic circle” system of leader selection. Until 1964, conservative leaders emerged not through election, but through negotiation among party leaders.

Bar chart of the percentage of votes for each candidate who won the first Conservative leadership poll showing this is just a case of history repeating itself

As you will notice, neither Ken Clarke, nor Michael Portillo, nor David Davis won their leadership election. Of the candidates who have done so, only Boris Johnson – who faced 10 candidates in the first round in 2019 – had to defeat so many candidates as Sunak. But Johnson’s 114 votes are higher in percentage and absolute terms than Sunak’s.

More importantly, most Tory MPs are not at all concerned with the details of the size of the pitch. They look at a double-digit performance for Sunak, remember Boris Johnson (114) and Theresa May (165) hit triple digits in the first round of their leadership contests, and they start to wonder if there’s any blood in the water. .

Last night a historically minded MP pointed out to me that when David Davis, the frontrunner in the 2005 leadership election, failed to live up to expectations, he actually lost votes in the second round. And Michael Portillo got just one extra vote between the first and second rounds in 2001. Candidates who underperform expectations can often go back: Michael Heseltine lost 21 votes between the first and second rounds in 1990, while Michael Gove lost votes between the first and second rounds. second round of voting in 2016. (Sky News’ Isla Glaister pointed out to me just like Rory Stewart in 2019.)

To make matters worse for Sunak, a new YouGov membership poll shows his position among the membership has deteriorated sharply: he is losing heavily to all remaining candidates with a viable path to the ballot.

Add that to Penny Mordaunt’s very good performance. Almost every UK newspaper, including the FT UK edition, has a large picture of the Trade Minister on the front page this morning. And the mood among the Conservatives is feverish. Three Tory MPs I spoke to last night predicted Mordaunt heading to the top of the poll, while I spoke to a Sunak supporter who is considering shifting his vote to Mordaunt in today’s poll .

As George Parker, Jim Pickard, and Sebastian Payne explain in their account of yesterday’s events, the knives are now well and truly out for Mordaunt. (The absolutely marvelous quote that rounds out the piece is worth the price of admission alone.) It still has to navigate several TV debates and close scrutiny, but barring a damaging story or blunder, it should be treated as the favorite for the party leadership.

Thick with tracing

Readers with long memories may, at this point, ask “wait a second Stephen, didn’t you say there was a cap on Penny Mordaunt support?” And yes, I did, once or twice*.

And I always do: there is a hard limit on the number of MPs Mordaunt can drop from the party’s right flank. Her inconsistent public stances on trans rights and her maneuvering against Johnson mean there is a hard cap on the number of MPs from the party’s right who will support her. Whether it’s Liz Truss or Kemi Badenoch emerging as the last woman standing on the right flank, the number of MPs who will transfer their allegiance to Mordaunt is very small.

But I had underestimated two things. The first is Sunak’s political weakness. His polling among Tory members is frankly horrendous, and there are enough Tory MPs whose first or second choice is Sunak or Tom Tugendhat, but who fear what they see as the absolute calamity of a victory for Truss or Badenoch.

In addition to Mordaunt’s ability to win the votes of the now-eliminated Jeremy Hunt or Tugendhat (who ran a very impressive leadership campaign but has limited room to expand his coalition further), she is well positioned to collect Sunak’s votes directly.

The second is the political strength of Tugendhat. It cannot be said that all Tugendhat supporters are on the left of the party, or that they can be counted on to fall behind Mordaunt. Some are not particularly leftist and have particular animosity against Mordaunt. But most of them can be counted on to vote for Mordaunt when the time comes.

Mordaunt’s ceiling among socially conservative MPs on the party’s right flank is still real. His problem with the right goes beyond the party’s MPs and also extends to his power brokers: Lord David Frost, the former Brexit minister, was criticizing his ministerial record this morning and the Daily Mail still insists on the right of the party to unite behind Truss. But Mordaunt’s cap on the right doesn’t matter if MPs of all types on the left of the party believe it’s their only viable way to prevent a victory for a candidate on the right of the party.

*Thrice.

Now try this

Tune in tomorrow, Friday July 15, at 1:00 p.m. BST to hear George Parker, Brexit editor Siona Jenkins, public policy editor Peter Foster and I discuss what lies ahead for Britain and the business after Boris Johnson. Register here to participate in the subscriber-only event.

I really appreciate the European Women’s Championship, which is taking place in England this year. There are still a few tickets available and there will be more once the group stages are over.

If you need a good, fun book to guide you on the journey to and from gambling, or just in general, I can wholeheartedly recommend Shalom Auslander. mother for dinner, a biting and funny satire on life, family and politics featuring the last cannibal-American family. I tweaked it on the trip back to Hackney from darker Brentford.


Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stéphane on Twitter @stephenkb and please send gossip, thoughts and comments to [email protected].


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