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Rishi Sunak among top eight contenders as competitors drop out of UK’s Prime Ministerial race

Former chancellor of exchequer Rishi Sunak likely to be among the top three contenders (Photo: IANS)

The race for 10 Downing Street sharpened as competitors began dropping out of an astounding 11 aspirants for the leadership of the Conservative Party and for taking over as the UK's next Prime Minister from Boris Johnson.

Among the top contestants in the race are UK’s first female defence secretary and Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, former chancellor Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and former foreign and health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

It is a tribute to British politics that people from such a wide diversity of ethnicities—Indians, Pakistanis, an Iraqi and one of African descent, are aspiring for the top leadership of the country. However, two candidates of Pakistani origin—former health secretary Sajid Javid and Rehman Chisti dropped out of the race on Tuesday after not getting the required support from party members.

The Conservative Party, with 358 MPs, has issued new rules for the contest. In the first round of elections, each candidate has to show the support of at least 20 MPs, which is up from eight. The second round, an elimination round, members getting less than 30 votes are eliminated.

The British media, which has been speculating over the support each candidate has managed, has come out with different numbers for each candidate. On Tuesday, The Guardian said that Mordaunt "was the preferred candidate among party members".

On the other hand, Sunak had garnered the support of nearly 40 MPs and seems to be gaining ground. Under the party rules, candidates who lose out will have to show support for one of the leading contestants.

Two major issues that have emerged in the crisis are the contenders' views on tax cuts as "the cost of living crisis" takes precedence among leaders and begins to hurt the masses.

The other issue is the battle against wokeism about which many candidates including Sunak and Attorney General Suella Braverman, who is also in the reckoning, have already spoken about. The UK is caught up in woke politics over race, culture and the issue of transwomen.

Sunak launched his campaign with the Ready4Rishi website last week. Officially he launched his campaign on Tuesday morning with the slogan, "Restore trust. Rebuild the economy. Reunite the country". He has also taken a stand that he will reduce the taxes in the future once inflation reduces but right now, he says he may have to increase taxes to keep the country going.

The former chancellor has faced considerable opposition over his wealth, the holding of a green card while being the chancellor and allegations that he is out of touch with ground realities due to his privileged lifestyle. Some party colleagues also see him as being not Conservative enough and being too Labour in his views.

Many support him because they see him to be competent and bright. Others feel that he steered the country well during the pandemic, protecting jobs, ensuring that households and businesses ran even during the tough lockdown days.

With Boris Johnson dethroned by a revolt in his cabinet and in the Conservative Party, many of Johnson's supporters are campaigning for Truss and opposing Sunak. Experts still believe that Sunak will be among the top three along with Truss and Mordaunt.

With many contenders likely to be out of reckoning this week itself, the world is likely to see Britain’s next prime ministerial face being known by Monday.