The Tory leadership odds are rapidly fluctuating as MPs cast their votes on their favoured contenders, in a bid to whittle down those vying for the role of Prime Minister to a final two. However, the first televised debate that took place between the candidates on Friday evening could well have reshaped the race – and there are two more to go this weekend.
Following the second round of votes on Thursday, just five candidates remain.
Taking the lead with the most MP votes is Rishi Sunak with 101, Penny Mordaunt places second with 83, then Liz Truss with 64, Kemi Badenoch received 49, and Tom Tugendhat came in with 32 – just enough to qualify for the next round.
With the objective to establish a final two by the end of next week, the contest will see a series of televised debates and hustings between the contenders to win over their fellow associates and secure more votes in the upcoming rounds.
Once the final two are decided, around 160,000 Tory party members will vote for a winner in a postal ballot – and these are the people the contenders are playing to, not the general public.
However, the first-round performance saw a mix of pitches, some of which may have ultimately reshaped the expected outcome of the race.
Rishi Sunak – 9/4
Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who took the decision to resign from his role in a revolt against incumbent Prime Minister Boris Johnson – despite also being fined for the partygate scandal – performed well overall.
Displaying a calm and composed disposition, Mr Sunak showed few nerves and answered questions with seniority and pragmatism.
However, by reeling his treasury experience into the debate – which could have been seen as a potential asset – may well be the asset that knocks him from the lead.
Mr Sunak, remaining stubborn on his stance not to reduce tax and spending, as well as attacks on wishful thinking and easy promises to cut said taxes, may not have gone down too well with fellow MPs.
Mr Sunak said: “The best way for people to have money in their pocket is to get a grip of inflation.
Mr Sunak told Liz Truss: “We have to be honest. Borrowing your way out of inflation isn’t a plan, it’s a fairytale.”
However, Mr Sunak didn’t get away unscathed as when he claimed his principled decision to raise National Insurance Tax to protect the NHS, rival Tom Tugendhat responded that Mr Sunak told him he did “because the boss wants it”.
Although, despite a few knocks, polling by Opinium of the 1,159 people who watched Friday’s contest placed Mr Sunak second with 25 percent of votes.
Penny Mordaunt – 13/12
Securing enough votes in both rounds of the race to place her second, Ms Mordaunt is a strong contender to take office in September.
However, Ms Mordaunt’s performance didn’t appear to quite live up to the high expectations.
The Guardian’s Martin Kettle aptly described it as the moment her candidacy “hit rough water”.
Ms Mordaunt made few memorable points, she failed to justify her billing, and her record on trans issues remains a challenge.
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The Tories have identified the question of trans rights as a wedge issue to use against Labour, but Ms Mordaunt’s shifting views over the years might make it awkward for her to do so.
She said: “I can’t imagine why people are not comprehending what I say and have been regurgitating this issue for weeks and weeks,”
She continued: “I’m a woman, I’m a biological woman in every cell in my body,” before adding that “a man who had transitioned was not the same as me”.
However, despite not doing as well in the debate as her counterpart, Ms Mordaunt’s performance didn’t appear to knock her off the board from being the bookie’s favourite. Although, she received just 12 percent of the Opinium vote.
Liz Truss – 27/5
Placing third in the race and third on the bookmaker’s odds board, Ms Truss’s performance appeared to have gone most awry out of all the contenders.
Only six percent of Opinium voters thought she performed the best. Critics have said her delivery came across as much more scripted and inconsistent.
A breakdown of the votes showed the foreign secretary to effectively have come last in the debate in the eyes of Conservative voters, Labour voters, and swing voters.
Kemi Badenoch – 28/1
Despite placing fourth in the race – and fourth on the odds board, Kemi Badenoch placed higher than Liz Truss in the Opinium poll with 12 percent of voters believing she performed the best.
Holding a relatively low public profile, Ms Badenoch spoke more freely and authentically and her viewpoints on climate change left a memorable mark on viewers.
Dismissing international environment minister Lord Goldsmith’s warning that it would be “political suicide” to drop the 2050 net zero target, Ms Badenoch said: “I think he’s wrong.
“The pledge was made in 2018 for 2050, none of us are going to be here as politicians in 2050. It’s very easy to set a target you are not going to be responsible and accountable for when the time comes.”
Pledging to cut some green levies to help tackle the energy crisis, Ms Badenoch said: “We do need to tackle climate change, but I think the crisis that we’re dealing with now comes first and we need to make life easier for people.”
Tom Tugendhat – 40/1
Surprisingly, the contender consistently placing last in the race so far was actually voted to have performed the best overall, receiving 36 percent of the Opinium vote – ranking HIGHER than Mr Sunak.
Like Ms Badenoch, Mr Tugendhat spoke sincerely and off the cuff. He was the only contender to answer “no” without hesitation to the question “Is Boris Johnson honest?”, which received warm applause from the crowd.
Promising his campaign slogan of a “clean start”, Mr Tugendhat called for “a break from those Johnson years” before adding: “I’ve been holding a mirror to many of our actions and asking those in our party, those in our leadership positions, to ask themselves ‘is that what the public really expects?’”
“Are you serving the people of the United Kingdom or are you serving your career? Because that’s the real question tonight. That’s the real question for all of us.”
But only time will tell whether or not this will be enough to persuade more votes from MPs in the upcoming rounds.
Latest odds were retrieved from Oddschecker.