Tory leadership race: Six candidates scramble to lure supporters of defeated Zahawi and Hunt ahead of second vote

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Tory leadership race: Six candidates scramble to lure supporters of defeated Zahawi and Hunt ahead of second vote
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Six Tory MPs battling to succeed Boris Johnson have begun a scramble to grab the votes of supporters of defeated rivals Nadhim Zahawi and Jeremy Hunt ahead of Thursday’s crunch second ballot.

The six still in the contest after Wednesday’s first vote of the parliamentary party - which knocked out the Chancellor and the former Foreign Secretary - will be further whittled down after MPs hold a second ballot in the afternoon.

Mr Zahawi and Mr Hunt failed to get the 30 votes needed to make it into the second round of the race to replace Mr Johnson at the helm of the Conservative Party and as Prime Minister.

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak took the lead with 88 votes, with International trade minister Penny Mordaunt second with 67 and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on 50. The others to make the cut were equalities minister Kemi Badenoch (40), soldier turned MP Tom Tugendhat (37) and Attorney General Suella Braverman (32).

Mr Zahawi and Mr Hunt fell short with 25 and 18 votes respectively.

Frantic talks were immediately getting underway as the remaining six contenders sought to woo Mr Hunt and Mr Zahawi’s supporters to back them.

Some of Mr Hunt’s supporters are expected to go to Mr Sunak or Mr Tugendhat, or possibly Ms Mordaunt.

The results came after a day of drama which saw Ms Mordaunt gain momentum with a successful leadership bid campaign launch and a YouGov poll showing she would beat both Mr Sunak and Ms Truss in a showdown among the party members.

The shortlist of two candidates should be decided by next Wednesday, to be put to Tory party members over the summer in a postal vote.

Mr Tugendhat tweeted: “This is a fantastic result.

“I’m delighted to be going through to the next round with the momentum we need to change this country for the better. Our country needs ACleanStart”.

It was less clear how Mr Zahawi’s supporters will now switch their votes.

Mr Hunt issued a barbed message condemning “smears and attacks” after Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries claimed Mr Sunak’s team had lent his support so he could get the backing of 20 MPs to enter the contest on Tuesday.

He tweeted: “A gentle word of advice to the remaining candidates: smears & attacks may bring short term tactical gain but always backfire long term.

“The nation is watching & they’ve had enough of our drama; be the broad church & unbeatable, election winning machine that our country deserves.”

Both Mr Sunak and Mr Hunt’s teams denied Ms Dorries’ allegation, which was not backed up by her ally Brexit minister Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Ex-Health Secretary Mr Hunt, who challenged Mr Johnson for the Tory leadership in 2019 after Theresa May was ousted, added: “I want to thank my incredible team of loyal and talented supporters who put their faith in me.

“It’s become obvious to me you only get one big shot at this, and I had mine in 2019.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, ex-Health Secretary Sajid Javid and backbencher Rehman Chishti have already pulled out of the contest.

A leading supporter of Ms Truss swiftly called for fellow Tory MPs to unite behind her “free market” ideology after she secured her place in the next round of the contest.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke was asked on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme whether Ms Truss hopes to now pick up votes from rivals Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman.

He said: “I think it’s very important that we unite as much of the party as possible behind Liz’s vision.

“I’m not going to presume how any candidate or their supporters will now respond, but it’s certainly the case that if we want to ensure there is a clear free market vision in the final two to go to the Conservative Party membership, then it is really important that people now look hard at the choice that is in front of them and make sure that we get the right people into that final round.”

Stoke-on-Trent North MP Jonathan Gullis, a backer of Mr Zahawi, suggested that other campaigns should consider coalescing around a single standard-bearer for the party’s Right wing.

He said: “I think the people who own those campaign teams, whether that be Suella or that be any others, I think we should have a good conversation with each other and figure out - we want to make sure by the end of next week we have two candidates.”

Mr Gullis insisted he was not worried about party unity in the wake of the vote and rejected the suggestion that the result was a career setback for the Chancellor.

He said: “I don’t think it’s a setback.

“At the end of the day he took a big step forward, a brave step forward.

“Many people, including myself, haven’t got the balls to be perfectly frank to put themselves forward. So I respect him massively for having a go at it.”

As the race to replace Mr Johnson heated up, Ms Dorries accused fellow Tory MPs of staging a “coup” against the PM.

The Culture Secretary told BBC Panorama: "I was quite stunned that there were people who thought that removing the Prime Minister who won the biggest majority that we've had since Margaret Thatcher in less than three years.

"Just the the anti-democratic nature of what they're doing alone was enough to alarm me.

"And for me it was a coup".

Ms Dorries made the same claim on Monday, when she also criticised those who moved against Mr Johnson.

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