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Kemi Badenoch's role in the Tory leadership race isn't over yet

20 July 2022

4:38 PM

20 July 2022

4:38 PM

Kemi Badenoch, the Tory leadership contest’s Emma Raducanu, finally lost momentum. She put on just one vote to secure 59 backers, and is out. But that’s not the end of her story in this battle to find Britain’s next prime minister. Where she and her supporters now place their votes will determine which two Tory MPs are whittled to one by the votes of 160,000 ordinary members of the Conservative party.

It would be extraordinary if Badenoch threw her weight behind Penny Mordaunt, given her highly personal charge that Mordaunt as equalities minister was too liberal in her policy towards trans people. It’s a charge that Mordaunt has rejected, but there’s no hint of forgive and forget on either side.

What about Badenoch’s highest profile supporter, Michael Gove? I doubt he’ll reveal who he is backing next. But right from the start it has been widely assumed in Westminster he’ll end up as a Sunak supporter.

Sunak is not home and dry. He’s still two votes short of a clear victory. And if he wants to have a following wind as the contest moves to the membership-hustings phases, he needs to win today by a comprehensive margin.


So Sunak will be hoping and praying that somehow Gove can shift most of Badenoch’s 59 supporters his way. MPs are resistant to being whipped in these contests. Some of Badenoch’s will prefer Mordaunt or Truss.

And as I understand it, the two MPs in charge of the organisational side of Sunak’s campaign – the former whips Mark Harper and Mel Stride – won’t lend any of their votes to any of the other candidates. According to one Sunak supporter, the ex-chancellor is now focused on winning this part of the contest as comprehensively as possible.

‘Rishi has no preferred candidate for the members’ phase,’ said the source. ‘If he’s lucky enough to get there, he’d be delighted to face any one’.

For what it’s worth, betting markets now believe that third-placed Truss – with 86 votes to Mordaunt’s 92 – is not only most likely to get through to the final run-off but will end up as PM.

I understand punters’ logic. They can’t see how Badenoch fans could possibly back Mordaunt, given the apparent antipathy between Badenoch and Mordaunt. And several MPs have told me this analysis is correct.

But I would just caution that in a secret ballot, with hours to go for the remaining candidates to persuade and bully and bribe their MPs colleagues, none of the three is a racing certainty.

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