Only Kemi Badenoch can stop Penny Mordaunt, say backers as they woo Liz Truss supporters

Kemi Badenoch - Victoria Jones/PA
Kemi Badenoch - Victoria Jones/PA

Supporters of Kemi Badenoch are urging Brexiteers to come over from Liz Truss’s camp, claiming their candidate is best placed to beat Penny Mordaunt and take second place in the Tory leadership contest.

MPs backing Ms Badenoch have been emboldened by what was seen as a poor showing by Ms Truss in the first televised debate on Channel 4 on Friday night, with the Foreign Secretary ranked by polls as the weakest performer.

The charm offensive was bearing fruit on Saturday night when Adam Afriyie, one of the 28 “Spartan” Tories who fought Theresa May’s Brexit deal, announced that he was backing Mrs Badenoch.

A further three Brexiteer MPs who had backed Suella Braverman, the former European Research Group chairman, before she was voted out of the race are understood to be considering switching to Mrs Badenoch.

Mrs Badenoch’s supporters are hoping she can build on that momentum with a strong performance in Sunday night’s second televised debate on ITV.

The news came as she made an unashamed pitch to Right-wing Tories in an article for The Telegraph, calling for a cut in immigration to ease the pressures on housing and the NHS.

One Red Wall Tory who backs Mrs Badenoch said Ms Truss’s performance in the Channel 4 debate had forced a rethink for some Tories trying to stop Ms Mordaunt from making the final two .

The MP said: “The feedback I am getting from colleagues is that Liz was incredibly poor. A lot of the new voters who jumped across last week are now having second thoughts. The pro-Liz lot who do not like Penny went to Liz to stop Penny from getting into the final two. Now they are having second thoughts.”

Four Conservative MPs are understood to be switching to Mrs Badenoch. The MP said: “There is going to be movement from Liz towards Kemi. Liz would have liked to be in the position this weekend when she can squeeze the Kemi vote – now the Kemi campaign is more likely to be on the offensive in going after Liz Truss’s supporters.

“She [Ms Truss] was the worst performer out of the five – all the polling shows that. There is real concern she is going to be the next Theresa May. Her performance was incredibly wooden, and there is a sense that she is least likely to win a general election out of the five candidates.

“Truss’s strategy this week has been to unite the Right – she won’t unite the Right. Right now, I can’t see how Liz Truss gets to the final two.”

One Brexiteer Tory MP who had now decided to back Mrs Badenoch rather than Ms Truss told The Telegraph: “Liz was just c---. It was just scary.

“Kemi wins on all fronts. In front of Keir Starmer, he says: ‘Racist Tories,’ she says: ‘That doesn’t work’. He says: ‘Rich Tories, they don't understand working class families,’ that doesn’t work – she has got three kids. She just says: ‘Well, Sir Keir’ and it is game, set and match.”

The news came as a new poll of Tory party members made Mrs Badenoch the clear favourite after her strong showing in the debate.

The poll of 850 members, by the ConservativeHome website on Saturday, put Ms Badenoch in the lead on 31 per cent, up from 19 per cent last Monday.

Ms Truss was second on 20 per cent, up from 11 per cent, while backing for Ms Mordaunt stalled, with her support falling from 20 per cent to 18 per cent. Rishi Sunak was in fourth place on 17 per cent, up from 12 per cent last Monday, while Tom Tugendhat was fifth on 10 per cent, up from seven per cent.

Lee Rowley, the Tory MP helping to run Ms Badenoch’s campaign, told The Telegraph: “Kemi enjoyed last night’s debate. Of course she’s having lots of conversations with colleagues as she wants them to support her message of change.”

In a statement to The Telegraph on Saturday night, Mr Afriyie, the MP for Windsor since 2005, said: “I honestly believe that Kemi is our only hope for connecting with people and winning an election.”

Mrs Badenoch was now best placed to pick up votes, with Mr Tugendhat expected to finish in last place at the third round of voting on Monday, he said.

In her article for The Telegraph, Mrs Badenoch said “Government should do less, better.” She linked cutting immigration to taking pressure off housing, saying: “Building more homes while doing nothing to bring immigration down is like running up the down escalator.

“We’ll never get to where we need to with that approach, and we won’t persuade people to accept more homes if it is being done due to immigration failures. If we can bring immigration down to a sustainable level, we can then protect green spaces for our children and precious agricultural land.”