Kausar Fatima discusses a Mordaunt’s momentum acrimonious race
The British practice of Mordaunt’s momentum removing a prime minister and electing a new one contains in itself lessons for all democratic systems following the Westminster style of democratic governance, particularly Pakistan that actually came into being through the application of this system. Boris Johnson is practically out of office after three eventful and tumultuous years at 10 Downing Street. Boris Johnson’s fall was the result of a rebellion within his cabinet, as ministers and senior members of the British Conservative Party expressed their lack of confidence in his leadership. In particular, several ethics-related controversies severely dented the maverick politician’s reputation. These include accusations of inappropriate sexual behaviour displayed by a Tory former deputy chief whip and reports of boozy parties hosted at Number 10 while the rest of the UK was in strict lockdown during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Johnson’s legacy is likely to be mixed, as he failed to appropriately address the scandals that plagued his administration, while he also championed Brexit, his country’s messy divorce with the European Union. It was however a fact that the supposed advantages of Brexit have yet to reach the British people, as the country’s economy tanks. While some, including former PM John Major, have called for Boris Johnson’s immediate exit from Number 10 but he is likely to cling on for a few more months until the Tories elect a new leader and by default the new PM. The race for the UK’s top job is on, with a number of candidates reportedly vying to fill in Boris Johnson’s position. The leadership race appears to be acrimonious and may further hurt the standing of the Conservative Party.
The candidates for the leadership contests were required to win the initial backing of at least 20 of their fellow Conservative lawmakers in order to proceed to the first round of voting. In order to whittle the number of candidates down to just two, more votes will now take place – beginning Wednesday – with the 358 Conservative MPs asked to choose their favourite candidate to take over the party. Any candidate receiving less than 30 votes from his or her fellow MPs will be eliminated in the first round of voting. Then in the second round, the candidates with the fewest votes are eliminated. These rounds of voting will continue until two candidates remain, which is expected to happen by the end of this week. When two candidates remain, all the members of the Conservative Party (some 200,000 people) are asked to vote by postal ballot on their favourite candidate. The winner is expected to be announced on 5 September 2022.
The leadership contest widened with Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt becoming the ninth Tory MP to throw her hat into the ring. The Brexit-supporting former defence secretary launched her campaign styling herself as a pragmatist and a team player. Rishi Sunak is already in the field along with his successor in the treasury Nadhim Zahawi, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and former health secretaries Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt have all launched campaigns for the top job. They joined Attorney General Suella Braverman, former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, backbencher Tom Tugendhat and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
In this context, on Tuesday night, the eight candidates had 12 minutes each to try to convince their fellow MPs why they should be the next leader of the party and the country. Several promised to cut taxes and unite the party after the spectacular fall of Boris Johnson, who remains as prime minister but only in a caretaker role while his replacement is found. People putting themselves forward had to secure the backing of 20 Tory MPs. This was a higher threshold than in previous contests. Former Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Foreign Office minister Rehman Chishti did not secure enough nominations before Tuesday’s deadline and withdrew from the contest. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps dropped out earlier.
In the first round of voting though Penny Mordaunt, the little-known former defence secretary was defeated by Rishi Sunak– by 88 votes to 67 – but she is the candidate with momentum behind her, as the race heats up. Penny Mordaunt leapfrogged Liz Truss into the second place and is widely held to be the overwhelming choice of the Tory grassroots who will pick up the next leader. This is the reason that Steve Baker, the influential former Brexit minister branded Rishi Sunak as a loser in contest blown wide open with the only certainty that Rishi will not be prime minister. There will now be enormous pressure on MPs to ensure Ms Mordaunt is put before members as a candidate, when the race is whittled down to a final two contenders next week. She is also the bookmaker’s favourite and landed the support of Tory vice-chair Mike Penning who quit the post in order to support her.
The results of the first ballot have raised the growing possibility that Tory members will pick a different leader to the choice of their MPs, as happened when by Iain Duncan Smith defeated Ken Clarke in 2001. Jostling and lobbying began immediately to try to secure the votes of defeated contenders for the survivors in the race, as they put their pitches to MPs at hustings. The field is expected to be narrowed to two by the end of next week, and then around 160,000 Tory members decide which candidate they want to become the next party leader and prime minister.
The remaining six hopefuls are now scrambling for support from MPs who backed Jeremy Hunt and Nadheem Zahawi. Rishi Sunak, who quit as chancellor last week in protest at Boris Johnson’s running of the government, said that he felt great about the result whereas Penny Mordaunt said she was very honoured by her showing. Launching her leadership bid earlier, former naval reservist Penny Mordaunt emphasised her teambuilding abilities, adding that leadership should be less about the leader and more about the ship though she is yet to announce a policy platform. However in an early mishap shortly after launching, she posted a new version of her campaign video after paralympian Jonnie Peacock asked for footage of him included in the clip to be removed.
The other contenders left standing are right-wingers Kemi Badenoch who secured 40 votes, Suella Braverman securing 32 votes with centrist Tom Tugendhat getting 37 votes. But all three are thought to have little chance in the ballots to come, which are likely to conclude with a choice of Sunak vs Mordaunt or Sunak vs Truss – or even Mordaunt vs Truss. Earlier an explosive YouGov poll suggested Penny Mordaunt would defeat Rishi Sunak by 67 per cent to 28 per cent among party members and that is considered a huge margin. It put Ms Mordaunt on 27 per cent support among the grassroots, almost twice as much as second-placed Ms Badenoch on 15 per cent. Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss were both trailing badly on just 13 per cent – as the party grassroots appeared to express a desire for a clear-out of cabinet ministers tainted by the Boris Johnson years. Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee is thought to be discussing a threshold of 40 or more votes to avoid being knocked out – to slim the race to three of four contenders for further votes next week. TW