Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak, and Penny Mordaunt are the frontrunners in the Tory leadership race

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On Wednesday, Penny Mordaunt and Rishi Sunak, former chancellor of India, emerged as the frontrunners in the race for the next Conservative party leadership.

In the first round of voting by Tory MPs for their next leader and prime minister, Sunak came first with 88 votes — a quarter of the parliamentary party — while Mordaunt was second with 67.

Two potential candidates for Boris Johnson’s replacement were eliminated: former health secretary Jeremy Hunt (now chancellor) and Nadhim Zahawi (now chancellor). Both of these men failed to win the support of 30 Tory MPs, which would have allowed them to enter the next round.

The contest’s other four candidates are Liz Truss (foreign secretary), who received 50 votes on Thursday. Next came Kemi Badenoch, ex-equalities Minister, on 40 votes; Tom Tugendhat, House of Commons chairman of foreign affairs committee on 37; and Suella Braverman, attorney-general, on 32.

Conservative MPs will reduce the number of candidates further in a second round of voting on Thursday — the contender with the lowest level of support will fall out of the race.

The field must be reduced to two candidates by Thursday, next week. The winner will be chosen by Tory party members.

Sunak’s supporters are increasingly hopeful he will make it on to the final shortlist.

One Sunak ally said MPs recognised that “Rishi has the best experience and plans to deal with the current economic situation”.

Sunak insists on his candidacy, unlike many other candidates. tax cutsIt is not possible to implement until inflation has fallen under control.

Sunak made himself unpopular among some Tory MPs, rightwingers included, by increasing taxes to pay for Covid-19 and improving public services.

Sunak was the favorite to take on Mordaunt in the final shortlist. launched her campaign on Wednesday with a pledge to return to traditional Tory values of “low tax, a small state and personal responsibility”.

Her campaign was supported by YouGov survey of Tory membersThis put her ahead of all other candidates.

The bookmakers’ odds on her winning the contest shortened after the poll suggested she would beat Sunak by 67 per cent to 28 per cent in the ballot of party activists.

Hunt’s campaign declined to deny media reports the ex-health secretary could endorse Mordaunt, in what would be a further boost to her candidacy.

Although Truss came third in the first round, Conservative party insiders said she was struggling to combat Mordaunt’s momentum. One said Truss had put in a “surprisingly poor performance”.

Truss’ campaign team said she wants rightwing Tory MPs to unite behind her candidacy.

“Now is the time for colleagues to unite behind the candidate who will cut taxes, deliver the real economic change we need from day one and ensure Putin loses in Ukraine,” it added.

If the right parliamentary party rallied round Truss then the other place on final shortlist might go Sunak instead of Mordaunt. This would mean that the Tories would now have their third female leader.

Braverman’s team said the attorney-general was not throwing in the towel, in spite of only just crossing the 30-vote threshold to fight the next round.

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