This afternoon, details of the process to elect the next Conservative party leader (and prime minister) have been revealed following Liz Truss’ resignation earlier in the morning.
These rules would appear to go a long way in deciding who is likely to become the UK’s next prime minister.
On the face of it, the contest would now appear to be Rishi Sunak’s to lose, but there are 4 crucial junctions en route.
Junction 1 – Will anyone apart from Rishi Sunak secure the 100 nominations?
Under the party’s plans for next week’s leadership election, candidates have to submit their nominations by 2pm on Monday. Candidates must submit 100 nominations by Monday to be eligible to vote.
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This threshold of 100 nominations should prove easy pickings for Rishi Suank who secured the backing of 137 MPs in July’s contest.
Boris Johnson, a former prime minister, is likely to find it difficult to meet the 100 nomination mark.
While Mr Johnson has a loyal supporter base at Westminster he is not the 100 required, it is believed to be in the dozens. This low-ish showing was clearly reflected in the few colleagues who attended Downing Street to support Johnson’s resignation speech.
Any outsider who wants to enter the contest will face serious obstacles if they exceed the 100 vote threshold.
Brandon Lewis, Tom Tugendhat and Suella Braverman will not have the opportunity to start small and grow over a series of ballots.
Now, the focus is on whether or not either of the other favorites, Penny Mordaunt, or Kemi Badenoch, can achieve the 100 nominations required.
Penny Mordaunt narrowly exceeded the 100 vote mark in the July final MPs vote, and secured the support of 105 colleagues in the third round.
In the fourth round in the summer, Kemi Badenoch secured 59 votes, but it is thought that in next week’s contest she may benefit from securing the support of many of the 113 MPs who backed Liz Truss.
If Penny Mordaunt or Ms Badenoch fail to secure 100 MP, Mr Sunak could become the next prime minister of the UK by Tuesday at 2pm.
Junction 2 – If Rishi Sunak, and just one other candidate, make it to the MPs ballot, is he able to pull far enough ahead?
Conservative MPs will vote once the nominations are closed and the field has been down to just two candidates. However, this is only to indicate their preference for a candidate.
This is the moment when, if one candidate emerges far ahead in MPs vote (say 240 to 117 votes), the pressure will be immense on the second person to withdraw instead of submitting themselves to a party member vote.
After the recent experience of Liz Truss, it will be suggested that it is vital that the next Conservative leader can rely on the broad support from the parliamentary party.
Although Mr Sunak may not win the MPs vote, he has been supported since the summer and is likely to win it.
The question is, then, how far can he go, if at all?
Moreover, if he can pull ahead, and the second candidate doesnt’ withdraw, then Rishi Sunak will have invaluable momentum going into the full vote of party members.
Junction 3 – If both Ms Badenoch and Ms Mordaunt make it to the ballot, which is then eliminated?
In the possible circumstances (given there are only 357 eligible Conservative MPs), that Mr Sunak, Ms Badenoch and Ms Mordaunt all make it to Monday’s ballot, Conservative MPs will then vote to reduce the number of candidates to two.
This would be the worst case scenario for Mr Sunak.
Although he would be still the favourite to make it to the final two of voting, it would suggest that he lacks the MP numbers that he needs to secure a dominant victory as outlined in Junction 2.
At this stage, his opponent would have momentum.
Junction 4 – Will enough Conservative members repent from their summer opposition to Mr Sunak
The contest will reach the Conservative party membership, which is not certain given Junctions 1, 2 and 3, but if it does, the party members will vote next week in an online secure election.
The winner of the party members vote will then become the UK’s next prime minister on Friday.
An opinion poll from the group JL Partners suggested that should a re-run of the summer’s leadership contest have occured earlier this week, then Mr Sunak would have emerged victorious by 43% to 28%.
This suggests that some party members might be turning to Mr Sunak in light of recent events.
Next week, Liz Truss won’t be on the ballot paper.
If Mr Sunak retains his support level from the summer, something that would seem likely given the divisiveness of subsequent events, he will then need to persuade 1 in 8 of those conservative party members who didn’t back him in the summer to have a change of heart.
Where he was very visible in the first two days of Liz Truss’ premiership, popping up repeatedly in both Westminster Hall and the Commons chamber, Mr Sunak has barely been seen since.
Rather than telling ‘I told you so’, this has been smart politics. According to the Conservative party members, 1 in 8 may vote for Mr Sunak.
On the above basis, next week’s leadership contest still appears Mr Sunak’s to lose, but there will be some crucial junctions, and no doubt some more twists, along the way.