Liz Truss pitched by backers to unite the Tory right

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On Monday, I wrote that The contest for the “establishment slot” in the Conservative race had been won, and that Rishi Sunak had essentially guaranteed his participation in the final vote among Tory members. That remains the case.

But the Conservative right is badly fragmented. That could well mean that one of Penny Mordaunt or Tom Tugendhat (both running on a platform of “I’m a winner, but don’t ask me too many specific questions because I know full well I am to the left of the mainstream party ”) makes it to the final round in place of a candidate from the right.

For a number of reasons that I try to explain in today’s newsletter, Liz Truss’s chances of pulling together enough support to avoid that have gone up.

You can leave your Tugendhat on

Conservative candidates for the party leadership will need 20 nominations to enter the first ballot and secure at least 30 votes in order to progress to the second. This new plan will facilitate a quick contest, with the new prime minister in place on September 5. That makes no real difference for Rishi Sunak, who is well out in front as far as nominations are concerned.

It is good news for both Penny Mordaunt and Tom Tugendhat, who have secured the required 20 nominations. But it is really, really good news for foreign secretary Liz Truss.

Why? Because at the moment Trust’s biggest problem in the leadership contest is the relative success of the other candidates fishing for nominations on the right of the party. Between herself, Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman and Priti Patel, there are more than enough votes to leapfrog Mordaunt and Tugendhat into the final two — but there are too many candidates vying for those slots.

It remains my view that sooner or later most of that support will cohere around one of the candidates. Before that point, there are two risks to Truss. The first is that the various candidates of the right collide into one another, allowing someone like Mordaunt or Tugendhat into the final two in their place. And the second is that someone like Badenoch manages to get out ahead of Truss.

The expedited process helps Truss, as it makes it harder for any of her rivals on the right to leapfrog ahead of her. The Times’s lobby team reports today that Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries are set to endorse Trust. James Cleverly, the new education secretary and another longtime Boris Johnson ally, has also endorsed the foreign secretary. The Daily Mail, meanwhile, has splashed on Truss’s warning that a divided right could mean that Conservatives are left with a choice between Sunak and a candidate from the party’s left flank.

The subtext of these endorsements and the Mail’s headline is clear: the right’s power brokers and Johnson’s closest allies are not-so-gently hinting that the time has come to row in behind Truss.

But another barrier facing Trust is tactical voting. So far we have had only one reputable poll of the leadership race among Conservative members, courtesy of YouGov. The important thing about it is that it shows Sunak facing a difficult battle in the final round regardless, but that he may be better off facing Mordaunt than Truss.

Now, if Sunak continues to do well among Conservative MPs, he should be able to go into the final round of voting knowing full well that he is guaranteed a spot in the top two and with the ability to choose his preferred opponent.

It may be that at that point he decides that the polls are one thing, but believes he has a better chance of defeating Truss than Mordaunt. But it is equally possible that, even if Truss does succeed in cohering the support of the right behind her, she will find her path to the final stage of the contest blocked off.

Now try this

Our chief political correspondent Jim Pickard decided to take a break from his life of leisure writing fascinating pieces about Labor’s new line of attack or probing the finances of Nadhim Zahawi to do some real journalism alongside Robert Orr, to find the 10 best pubs in the City of London.

It’s a very satisfying list — there is even a good entry if, like me, you really prefer to get a drink somewhere you can get something with an umbrella and three types of liquor rather than a traditional pub.

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

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