Tory leadership contest: Voting closes within hours - and some party members are feeling apprehensive

·5-min read

It's just a few hours until voting closes in the Conservative leadership contest - bringing an end to a long and bitter summer of campaigning.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have spent the past six weeks battling it out to persuade Tory members that they have what it takes to run the party - and the country - after Boris Johnson resigned.

The foreign secretary looks set to win the contest, though the former chancellor did receive a warm reception at the final hustings in London's Wembley Arena on Wednesday night.

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But many members say they feel neither candidate has what it takes to deal with the unenviable in-tray of reuniting the party while getting to grips with a worsening cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine.

Former MEP for East of England, David Bannerman, said Labour's lead over the Tories has widened since the leadership contest started - and he would have preferred Mr Johnson to stay on.

"If you look at the polls, we are in a different position now and whoever takes over has a hell of a mountain to climb, that's the general feeling of the membership," he said.

"On balance, most wanted to keep Boris and have no contest."

Mr Bannerman, 62, said he was supporting Ms Truss because of her policies, accusing Mr Sunak of having "no new ideas".

"If you are going to dispose of a prime minister, you have to have different policies, not more of the same."

Polling has suggested that a large majority of Conservative Party members prefer Mr Johnson over his two potential successors.

Mr Sunak - the underdog in the contest - appears to be paying the price for his role in bringing down the Johnson administration when he dramatically resigned as chancellor in July.

Alex Stewart-Clark, a 60-year-old from Scotland, said he threw his weight behind Ms Truss as soon as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace ruled himself out of the race.

He summed up the feeling of many disgruntled party members when he said: "Rishi Sunak was given the best job in politics after the prime minister, and he threw it away less than three years later when he stabbed Boris Johnson in the back."

However, some members were more forgiving of the former chancellor.

Anita Asudera, 54, and Neelam Kumar, 57, from London, are voting for Mr Sunak despite also being fans of Boris Johnson.

They said it was right he resigned when he did, and Mr Sunak's record during the pandemic has convinced them he can deal with the cost of living crisis.

"I really like him and I like what he stands for," said Ms Kumar.

"When the nation went into lockdown he did his best and I don't think he gets enough credit for what he did."

'They're both rubbish'

Other voters had more mixed emotions.

Keith Maynard, from Peterborough, said he was glad to see the back of Boris Johnson because "those who make the rules shouldn't break them".

However, he does not think the party have put the best people forward to replace him.

The 68-year-old said he would have preferred Kemi Badenoch to take over as she had "fresh ideas" such as delaying the net zero target.

He said he would be voting for Ms Truss "reluctantly" because she is "the better of the two".

Luke Caldecott, a 25-year-old from Wrexham, gave a more stinging criticism.

"I think they are both rubbish, a lot of members are very apathetic towards the two final candidates," he said.

"Lots of people I have spoken to are saying they are worried, because they don't feel inspired and think they are useless."

Mr Caldecott said he believed a fresh face like Ms Badenoch or Penny Mordaunt would have had more appeal to red wall voters like himself and the wider public.

His views were echoed by Andrew Humphrey, a 43-year-old from Leigh-on-Sea. He also said he would be "reluctantly" voting for Ms Truss because she has more cabinet experience than Mr Sunak, but Tom Tugendhat and Penny Mordaunt were his preferred choices.

"I don't feel they [Sunak and Truss] are the best two candidates," he said. "We are in danger of rehashing the same people for the same jobs."

Mr Humphrey urged whoever wins to put "fresh faces" in the cabinet and get rid of "dead wood" to give the Conservatives a fighting chance at the next election.

'I doubt I will pick either'

John Strafford, 79, went a step further and said the party needs "radical change or risk going down the tubes".

He said he wants to see the party become more democratic, saying he did not like Boris Johnson but members should have had a say in his fate.

And the Kemi Badenoch supporter said he would have liked to have seen four candidates make it to the final stage for members to choose from.

"I doubt if I will pick either of them," he said of the final two candidates.

However, it wasn't all negative.

There was a lot of enthusiasm for Mr Sunak following the hustings. One undecided member said the former chancellor had convinced him he could deal with the cost of living crisis, whereas Ms Truss offered "platitudes".

Even Truss supporters had positive things to say about his performance.

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Harriet Gould, a 39-year-old from Cambridgeshire, said she was leaning towards Ms Truss because of her cabinet experience but she thought both candidates were "excellent" and it would be a difficult choice.

Nick Rogers, a 37-year-old from southwest London, agreed - saying he thought Ms Truss had the "steel" to deal with the cost of living crisis and war in Ukraine, but members had "two strong candidates to choose from".

Mr Strafford's wife Caroline said - despite being the underdog in the competition - she felt Mr Sunak performed better.

"I think Boris Johnson was a disastrous prime minister," she said.

"[Rishi Sunak] is better placed to deal with the cost of living crisis."