LONDON: Indian-origin Rishi Sunak was pushed to fourth place as Conservative top choice to succeed Boris Johnson as UK PM in a poll of party members that gave wild card candidate Kemi Badenoch the lead. It could be a setback for former Treasury chief Sunak, the frontrunner among Conservative lawmakers.
The Conservative Home poll of 851 Tory party members, published Saturday, gave Badenoch an 11-point lead with 31% of members saying she should be the next leader of the Conservative Party. Foreign secretary Liz Truss beat junior trade minister Penny Mordaunt to second place at 20%. Mordaunt was third at 18% and Sunak was fourth at 17%, nine votes behind Mordaunt, while Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat was in fifth place.
This puts the view of the Tory grassroots at loggerheads with a large chunk of Conservative MPs for whom Sunak is the clear frontrunner. In the parliamentary ballots currently taking place, Sunak secured the backing of 101 MPs in the second ballot and 88 votes in the first ballot, coming top in both. The third ballot will take place on Monday.
It is the party members who get to make the final decision on their next leader and the future PM once Tory MPs have whittled down the candidates to the final two. There are now question marks as to how popular Sunak is with Conservative members who seem to have taken a shine to Badenoch after a Channel 4 debate on Friday.
The 41-year-old former equalities minister Badenoch was born in London to Nigerian parents and spent her youth living in Lagos and the USA. Considered the anti-woke candidate, she appeals to the right of the party. She resigned as equalities minister alongside dozens of others in the week Johnson stood down.
Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who is backing foreign secretary Liz Truss in the race, blamed Sunak on Sunday for the high inflation in Britain. He told Sky News’ Sophie Ridge: “Over a year ago the Bank of England kept on printing huge sums of money which has inflated the economy. It was the Treasury that signed off on that money printing, the chancellor, no less,” he said, referring to Sunak.
“That has fuelled inflation. Rishi Sunak signed off on the extra money that was printed,” he said and proceeded to slam Sunak for his reluctance to lower taxes to help the UK cost of living crisis. Truss is advocating immediate tax cuts. “If you have tax rates at the rate they are now with more to come, you are going to bring the UK economy into recession,” he said.