Battlefield Britain: Second in Line, Can Team Sunak Outrun Boris in UK PM Race?

Many feel at a time of economic crisis, Sunak, a former Chancellor himself would be able to stabilise the country

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A day is a long time in politics. Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned on Thursday. As the shortest-serving PM, Truss lasted only 44 days. Some may say, it’s democracy in action wherein leaders are removed as soon as they fail to live up to their promises. But for us, the people of this country, it’s a revolving door of chaos not of the citizens’ making, at a time of economic and cost-of-living crisis.

We have had four Chancellors of the Exchequer in four months and three PMs in four months all because of a divided Conservative party bloodbath. We had barely come out of one tiresome and bitter leadership election and now, we are once again into another one.

In the last round, six weeks ago, while former Chancellor Rishi Sunak was far ahead of Truss among the MPs, he lost to Truss when the 170,000-odd Conservative membership elected her. Yes, this time round Sunak is obviously leading, after even the Party membership noticed his predictions on Truss’ 'fantasy budget' coming true.

But wait, hold your breath, the Big Beast of the current Conservative Party is on his way back from a holiday in the Caribbean islands—former PM Boris Johnson. His supporters have rushed to scream from rooftops how the country needs him back because he had led the party to an electoral victory and without him they would face a rout in the next elections. Never mind that his own party threw him out three months ago.

UK To Choose PM in a Week

The rules of the leadership election are different this time to ensure that the process is completed within a week. The 1922 Committee Chairman Sir Graham Brady and Conservative Party Chairman Sir Jake Berry announced that the process would end on 28 October but the result could come much sooner, perhaps on Monday night. Candidates will need a minimum of 100 nominations to proceed to the ballot, according to new rules decided by a committee of MPs. Nominations started on Thursday night and close at 2pm on Monday.

If two or three candidates reach the threshold, then there will be two rounds of voting from the MPs. The first vote will take place on Monday at 3.30 pm with results announced at 6 pm and an indicative round, if needed, would take place that evening, with the final result at 9 pm. MPs will hear from the nominated candidates at hustings but it will be behind closed doors.

Many Tory MPs do not want the membership to be involved, given the abject disaster they landed the country in, with their choice of Truss. However, this time they will not get to vote unless more than one candidate receives 100 or more nominations.

It is intriguing and interesting that the threshold to reach the ballot has been raised to 100. That could well make the prospect of Johnson running again look less likely, with some Tory MPs suggesting he could be wasting his energy by running. And Johnson hates losing. Clearly, he will only run if he is sure of winning.

What Are Boris's Chances In The UK Mantle? 

However, a ballot of members will be conducted via 'secure online voting' according to the party. The ballot will close at 11am on Friday 28 October and the result will be announced later that day. Only qualifying members, who have been a member for at least three months, can vote. There will be at least one hustings between the final two candidates, via a broadcaster which is likely to be the BBC.

Sunak, who has remained silent since Truss came into office, is currently the runaway favourite and Penny Mordaunt was the second favourite and there were talks that a unity candidate would be decided within the Party. This, until cries to bring in Johnson, one of the most divisive fellow into the race of a highly divided Tory Party, arose. On Friday, Sunak already had the support of 55 MPs but Johnson got into second place with 34 MPs and fast-rising, leaving Mordaunt in third place with 17 MPs.

Will Johnson trump Sunak’s chances for a second time? It is difficult to predict at this point of time. It is ironical, that despite Partygate, scandal after scandal, and the Party removing him for being unfit for office, he could be back in the reckoning.

Can Boris Outlive His Controversies?

He faces a Privileges Committee investigation for having lied to MPs over Partygate which begins in November. And sources close to the Committee say, the evidence is so damning that Johnson could be ‘gone by Christmas’ if he returns. He could be suspended from Parliament during the investigation or will the MPs who ousted him give up their seats in the Parliament?

This is a question Johnson needs to consider. Should he come into office when there is an ongoing investigation against him? Will the Party again go for another leadership election? Or will Johnson’s untenable position due to the Privileges investigation, force a general election?

Can Sunak-Hunt Pair Counter Brand Boris?

Johnson supporters are also trying to say, Sunak is the betrayer who brought down the Johnson government, although the truth is that Johnson went down for his own mistakes.

Until Friday evening only Penny Mordaunt had announced her candidature. None of the other frontrunners had declared that they are running for the post. But bookmakers have put Sunak in the lead. An ally of Sunak and former minister said, “The brutal truth for Boris is that his support has not shifted at all since he was ousted. Then he had roughly 40 MPs still backing him, maybe 20 more are soft votes. I cannot see him getting more than 60 votes so … he’s done. He will say he is grandly not putting himself forward for the good of the nation because he knows he’ll get stuffed.”

According to Team Rishi, it is preparing a coordinated push of MPs to tweet in support, when he is expected to get a flood of declarations. “It will all be over by Monday night,” one ally predicted. Many now feel that at a time of economic crisis, Sunak, a former Chancellor himself, would be able to stabilise the country along with Jeremy Hunt, his supporter, continuing as Chancellor by his side.

If there are two candidates on Monday, will it be a repeat of former Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership election wherein Andrea Leadsom withdrew her candidature? Will the Party manage to put forward a unity candidate? Johnson is not in a position to unify the Party so will definitely not be a unity candidate. This Tory bloodbath is endangering the country.

A Fresh Chapter in UK Politics..?

We have had enough of Johnson, and his cabal of self-serving MPs who now want him back with the hope that he may somehow be able to save them from a complete rout in the next general elections. MP Simon Hoare said, he feared “Johnson simply has too much baggage and “history” to ever allow the Country, Government and Party to move on look forward. We need a new, fresh chapter.”

While Hoare supports Sunak, all opposition parties across the UK are demanding an immediate call for elections, citizens, including well-known names like historian Simon Schama, have joined in to rally for an early general election and there is a call for a demonstration in the weekend to demand a general election.

While we go through this terrifyingly rough rollercoaster ride, running loose at its hinges, the destruction brought upon the country, its reputation and credibility is taking a huge beating and we, as a country will pay a heavy price for years to come.

(Nabanita Sircar is a senior journalist based in London. She tweets at @sircarnabanita. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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