A battle for the heart of the Tory Right erupted on Tuesday as Liz Truss sought to see off a challenge from Kemi Badenoch and overtake Penny Mordaunt to make the shortlist to be the next Prime Minister.
One of Foreign Secretary MsTruss’ key allies claimed that leadership frontrunner Rishi Sunak risks being like “Sleeping Beauty” by refusing to bring in immediate tax cuts to kick start Britain’s struggling economy.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke trumpeted “the urgent case for a pro-growth strategy and tax cuts to support both families and jobs”.
However, Ms Truss’ campaign has failed to take off to match Mr Sunak’s, with the ex-Chancellor gaining 115 votes from MPs in the third round of the contest on Monday and the Foreign Secretary 71.
Ex-equalities minister Ms Badenoch has been the surprise strong contender in the leadership race, and has now gained the backing of 58 MPs.
One of her supporters, North East Derbyshire MP Lee Rowley tweeted after the results were announced at 8pm on Monday: “Another v strong showing for @kemibadenoch tonight - and huge thanks to the growing number of colleagues who have supported Kemi in recent days
“We’ve been in govt for twelve years and done some brilliant things - but we need new ideas to win again in 2024.”
Many Rightwingers in the party are clamouring for tax cuts and are rejecting Mr Sunak’s “sound money” policy of taming inflation, already above nine per cent, before lowering taxation amid fears that cuts now will only fuel the spike in prices hitting millions of families across Britain.
Thatcherite former Cabinet minister John Redwood messaged: “If we cut taxes we can see off recession, ease the cost of living squeeze, create more jobs and attract new investment. If we stick with the Treasury policy of trying a recession with high taxes clobbering us the state will have to borrow more, not less. Time for change.”
However, Mark Flanagan, of the International Monetary Fund, has warned against debt-financed tax cuts, suggesting they might boost inflation.
The Tory Right faces a battle to get one of its leading candidates into the shortlist of two to be put to party members in a postal ballot over the summer.
Soldier turned MP Tom Tugendhat was knocked out of the contest on Monday, gaining the lowest number of votes, 31.
His supporters were expected to go largely to Mr Sunak and ex-International Development Secretary Ms Mordaunt.
She is currently in second place on 82, losing one vote though she was not expected to garner many of the supporters of Attorney General Suella Braverman who crashed out in the second round.
Ms Truss and Ms Badenoch now faces a battle over which one of them will stay in the race in the fourth round on Tuesday.
If whoever wins gains the backing of the bulk of the support of the loser who is knocked out, then she is likely to be in a good position to make the shortlist.
However, Ms Mordaunt is still fighting for a place in the last two, on a more centrist ticket, and could benefit if there is a surge of support behind Mr Sunak, including from Rightwingers, and if the Right of the party fractures.
Mr Tugendhat had not yet said publicly which camp he might throw his support behind, but Ms Mordaunt made an early effort to court his backing - tweeting that she had “admired” him for years.
Ms Badenoch also tweeted on Monday that Mr Tugendhat would be an “asset” to any future Conservative Government.
The other campaigns will likely be doing the same.
Any candidate who gets the backing of 120 MPs is guaranteed a place on the shortlist.