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Rishi Sunak maintains lead in UK prime ministerial race despite strong stand against populist tax cuts

Rishi Sunak remains in the till despite a strong opposition by prime minister Boris Johnson (Photo: IANS)

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak leads the pack of five prime ministerial candidates in the UK as they spend a busy weekend mustering support before the next round of voting takes place on Monday.

Sunak is taking the lead despite his firm stand that as the new prime minister, he will first bring inflation under control even before he can consider cutting taxes. In opposition to his stand, while keeping an eye on public sentiment, his contesting colleagues have promised to implement tax cuts immediately.

To the amusement of the British media and the public, the five colleagues—Sunak, Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat and former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, were seen pulling down each other during the 90-minute debate organised by Channel 4 on Friday. Even as they shared their ideas on how to salvage the British economy and whether to cut taxes to put more money in people's pockets, they hit out at each other over their work and decisions.

On Truss' insistence over slashing taxes, Sunak said: "Borrowing your way out of inflation isn't a plan, it's a fairytale".  The 'cost of living crisis' as well as rising bills over energy costs, which many fear may go up further during the winter owing to the Russian attack on Ukraine, has become a household topic and one that is dividing the Conservative Party hopefuls.

Earlier during the week, Sunak retained his lead with 101 votes while Penny Mordaunt got 83, Liz Truss 64, Kemi Badenoch 49 and Tom Tugendhat 32.

Sunak remains on top despite a massive 'anyone but Rishi' campaign launched against him by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's camp which accuses Sunak of being treacherous towards Johnson. Experts say that despite the current lead, he may face problems later as the competitive field reduces.

His statement that he will run the economy like former prime minister Margaret Thatcher seeks to consolidate his Conservative credentials. The other statement that he will ditch European Union (EU) laws that are holding back Britain to unleash the country’s true potential too has gone down well with the electorate.

Mordaunt seems to be a hot favourite with grassroots support and may even upstage Sunak. She was called out by former levelling up minister Kemi Badenoch over her shifting stand on transgender rights. Even though Mordaunt has been touted as one with most potential to beat Sunak, she also has little ministerial experience to back her up.

The 'anyone but Rishi' campaigners are likely to throw their weight behind Truss, which could reduce Mordaunt's chances as well.

The challenges before Sunak are unlikely to diminish even if he manages to become the prime minister. He will continue to face the wrath of Johnson loyalists and may not get complete support from his cabinet which could be crucial in delivering good governance to the people.

At the same time he will have to shoulder the additional burden of leading the highly fragmented Conservative Party into the next general elections against Labour–which itself would be a bigger challenge.

Read more:

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(India Narrative report from London)