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Is Rishi Sunak Next UK PM? Former Chancellor Clear Favourite Among Tory MPs

A number of Tory MPs have publicly declared support for Sunak, who lost the PM race to Truss just six weeks ago.

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Video Producer/Editor: Shohini Bose

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is among the favourites to take charge at 10 Downing Street, with over 100 Conservative Party MPs offering him support after Liz Truss resigned as the UK prime minister on Thursday, 20 October.

Truss faced a severe revolt against her leadership from an increasing number of Conservative Party MPs amid mounting economic and political chaos.

Sunak’s dramatic move to quit as Boris Johnson’s finance minister in July this year had set of a wave of resignations from fellow MPs, ultimately forcing a controversy-ridden Johnson to reluctantly give up the PM post. 

The bookmaker’ favorite during the conservative party leadership contest after Boris Johnson’s exit, Sunak lost the race to former PM Truss just six weeks ago, despite being the most popular candidate in five of six contest rounds

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However, Truss’ ouster and the state of the UK economy, owed to her financial policies, have brought Sunak to the front of the leadership race.

Tory MPs Rally for Rishi

During the conservative party leadership contest after Boris Johnson’s exit, Rishi Sunak was defined in two ways. To some Tory members, Sunak is the chancellor who nursed the United Kingdom through COVID, to others he is the Brutus to Johnson’s Caesar.

He is also being hailed as a prescient politician who warned Truss of the imminent chaos from her proposed tax plans. 

While Sunak has not officially thrown his hat in the ring yet, several Tory MPs believe that the former finance minister is the only cure to the party’s woes.

"He [Sunak] has the plan and credibility to restore financial stability, help get inflation down & deliver sustainable tax cuts over time; and unite the Conservatives by bringing the best talent into govt to deliver for the British people."
Former Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab on Twitter

Over 100 MPs have so far backed Sunak for the leadership contest.

These include Stephen Crabb, Paul Maynard, John Glen,  Kevin Hollinrake, Andrew Bowie, Simon Hart, Craig Williams,  Anthony Mangnall and others. 

Veteran MP Crispen Blunt, voicing his support for Sunak said, “We must take the only course open to us and rally for Rishi."

Former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Julie Marson also vowed her support to Sunak and stated, “Rishi Sunak had my support to be leader over the summer because I feared Liz’s approach to the economy would lead to what did happen." 

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North West Durham MP Richard Holden told ITV News that Sunak is poised to contest in the second fight for 10 Downing Street in less than two months from the first.

Angela Richardson, who had vocally opposed Truss and was one of the first few Tory MPs to call for her resignation, also backed Sunak.

“I’m backing Rishi Sunak for PM. I know he’ll unite the party as well as bringing sound economics to our country and lead us to success in the future.”
Angela Richardson on Twitter.
"Having spent the summer supporting Rishi Sunak’s leadership bid, my views on his suitability have not changed. If anything, the past six weeks have brought them even more sharply into focus." 
Maggie Throupe, MP for Erewash, said.

Support for Sunak comes mainly from two factions of the Conservative Party. 

First, the One Nation caucus, who are the biggest grouping within the Tories, consisting of over 100 MPs mostly from the party’s centre-ground.

Led by former deputy PM Damian Collins, who supported Sunak in the previous leadership contest, the group also consists of heavyweights like Welsh Secretary Robert Buckland, former Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Work and Pensions Secretary Chloe Smith, and Tom Tugendhat, the security minister. 

Second and more contentiously, support for Sunak comes from some of the new clutch of Tory MPs who were elected to ‘Red Wall’ seats, mainly in the Midlands, Northern England, and North East Wales, which historically tended to support the Labour Party.

Steven Swinford, political editor at The Times, claimed that as of 2 pm IST on Friday, 21 October, 44 Tory MPs have publicly declared support for Sunak, 26 for Boris Johnson and 15 for Penny Mordaunt.
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Several MPs in the group have owed their political careers to Johnson, vouching for him in the upcoming contest. However, the group has some Sunak supporters as well, like North West Durham MP Richard holden, who is backing Sunak. There are close to 45 ‘Red Wall’ Tory MPs.

While Sunak yet to publicly declare his intent to join the leadership contest, his campaign will depend on how well he can convince the Conservative Party that he is the man to rescue the UK’s spiraling economic condition. 

Polls Predict Sunak Leading Truss 

A poll by YouGov of Conservative members found 55 percent will now vote for Sunak if they were able to vote again, while only 25 percent would vote for Liz Truss.

YouGov also found that close to 55 percent of members think Truss should resign as party leader, while only 38 percent believe she should have stay.

Sunak's Previous PM Bid Failure 

The former finance minister was the most popular candidate among Tory lawmakers in the leadership contest earlier this year, but after getting through to a run-off against Truss, he lost out during the party vote which involved over 170,000 Tory party members, who made the final decision.

Sunak threw his hat into the ring after he resigned from Johnson's cabinet in the first week of July. "I am sad to be leaving Government but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we cannot continue like this," read Sunak's resignation letter.

However, Sunak angered many with his resignation, which is said to be the first domino which brought down Boris Johnson. 

Sunak's failure to resolve the cost-of-living crisis, his decision to increase taxes, and the revelation of his wife Akshata Murthy's non-domicile status that allowed her to save millions on taxes in foreign earnings together dented his reputation of being the most-liked minister in the Boris Johnson cabinet.

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During the leadership contest, where he was the most popular in five of the six rounds, he had warned Truss that tax cuts would lead to market panic and cause a jump in costs of borrowing, which was proved correct after Truss’ economic programme set off the fuse which eventually led to her ouster. 

This time, Sunak will have to weigh up against the hostility from resenting party members who remain aggrieved over his “betrayal” of Johnson and also for raising the UK’s tax rates to the highest decades during a cost-of-living crisis.

(With inputs from ITV News)

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