Tactical voting could spectacularly backfire, Rishi Sunak supporters warned

Rishi Sunak - REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Rishi Sunak - REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Rishi Sunak’s team are urging supporters not to be “too clever by half” by lending their votes to other camps amid fears his campaign could lose momentum.

It is understood that Mel Stride, the MP counting the numbers for the former chancellor’s campaign, has posted on the campaign WhatsApp group urging backers to vote for him on Wednesday.

Two MPs supporting Mr Sunak also expressed fears that if some of their fellow backers voted tactically to ease his path once he makes it to the final two, it could spectacularly backfire.

One said the race was now “down to the wire” and anyone thinking about trading votes at this late stage in the contest was “bonkers”.

It comes amid speculation that members of Mr Sunak’s campaign – which has four former government chief whips among its supporting MPs – lent support to Liz Truss’s campaign in Tuesday’s vote to stop Penny Mordaunt making the final two as part of a “dark arts” operation.

This was because of widespread surprise that the former chancellor had not comfortably cleared the 120-mark that would have guaranteed him a place in the final two in Tuesday’s ballot.

Liz Truss - Toby Melville/Reuters
Liz Truss - Toby Melville/Reuters

The view among some Tories is that Mr Sunak would find it easier to beat Ms Truss when the pair debate policies in front of the membership, rather than Ms Mordaunt, who is thought to be more popular with the grassroots.

Claims of vote-lending have already been denied by Mr Sunak’s campaign, with a spokesman saying: “We haven’t lent any votes, we are going for every single vote – as you can see, it’s close.”

One MP supporting Mr Sunak said it was an “incredibly tight race” and told The Telegraph that some MPs were “trying to be too clever by half” and using their vote in an attempt to engineer the two candidates they want to face each other in the final leadership showdown over the summer.

“I would imagine people are trying to achieve their idealised outcome – but it’s so close, it’s too close to call,” the ally said. “Anyone who thinks it’s not too close to call is bonkers, it’s down to the wire. Any outcome is possible.”

He said the plea from Mr Sunak’s campaign was that “if you want Rishi to be in the final two, do not try to be clever, just vote for him”, adding: “That is a message I am trying to ram down colleagues’ throats.

“I’ve spoken to people from different camps that have tried to do all sorts of crazy things, and it has always backfired.”

Mr Stride, acting as the former chancellor’s campaign whip, sent messages on the Team Rishi WhatsApp group urging supporters to play it straight when it comes to voting.

“Mel Stride says we are not changing votes, stick with Rishi, do not think about playing games by trading,” one member of the WhatsApp group said.

‘The new wets’

Members of Ms Truss’s campaign are telling those in Mr Sunak’s camp that they are being labelled “the new wets” – a derogatory term used for those on the more progressive side of the Tory party.

The term dates back to the 1980s, when members of the moderate wing of the Conservative Party who opposed some of Margaret Thatcher’s more hardline policies were often referred to by opponents as “wets”.

“Some of Liz’s side are calling Rishi supporters the ‘new wets’. This is going down really badly,” one MP said.

A source on Mr Sunak’s campaign said: “Every vote counts and we are focused on talking to MPs about why Rishi is the right candidate”