Just seven days ago I received a WhatsApp message from a Tory MP which said: “Rishi PM. Hunt for CX. Penny FS. And it’s a done deal.” A week later and we’re almost there.
Over the weekend, Tory MPs were faced with a choice between a leader – Rishi Sunak – who has the best chance of allaying the city’s concerns about Tories’ tax and spending policies – and a leader who has the best chance of winning the next general election to win in two years. They chose the former.
MPs noted that when Johnson flew back to the UK from the Dominican Republic on Friday to try to seize power, the pound fell in financial markets; This morning it’s back to pre-mini budget levels.
It looks like the markets got what they wanted for the new Prime Minister – and Conservative Party members are being denied theirs.
Frantic hunt for votes
Penny Mordaunt and her team are in a frantic race for votes this morning. Her team circulated polling data showing that she was “ranked as the best choice for PM by voters who know the candidates” and that she was the “most likeable choice” in the seats won by the Tories in 2019.
There is no question that Mordaunt would be a reassuring figure at the head of the Tory party and could unite both wings. But questions remain about her experience at the helm of government. MEPs seem to have already made their choice.
As of this writing, Sunak has 146 MPs and his rival Penny Mordaunt has 26. The leader of the House of Commons must collect the votes of 74 of the remaining 187 to clear the 100 MP threshold for membership.
Tory observers including Conservativehome’s Paul Goodman urged Mordaunt to withdraw this morning. But I’m with someone like Sir John Redwood who says members need to have a say. This is the best way to unite the party under one leader.
What will Sunak do as prime minister? I recommend listening to his interview with me on Chopper’s Politics Podcast in mid-August when he redoubled his commitment to upgrading the South of England and the North.
He made it clear that he prefers targeted support to tax cuts.
And not for the first time he has had to defend his vast fortune and say he “welcomes” people who raise it.
“People who are successful, people who work well by working hard – the Conservative Party has to be on their side,” he told me.
Giant ego trip?
Of course that won’t be enough. Labor will turn their lines of attack on a politician richer than the king. (“What cost of living crisis? You can’t heat your house, Sunak can afford to heat his swimming pool in Yorkshire”).
Johnson is getting a lot of praise this morning for resigning in the national interest. Yet in his 292-word statement, he used the personal pronoun “I” a staggering 27 times – nearly one in ten; there was only one mention of “national interest”.
Was it all one giant ego trip? Johnson’s testimony reminded me of a failed Apprentice star’s comment to Lord Sugar. “There are no I’s in the team, but there are five in individual brilliance.”
Tories will have noticed the teasing finale to Johnson’s statement, when he said: “I have a lot to offer but I’m afraid this is just not the right time.” The Johnson psychodrama will go on and on.
At the moment we are waiting for what looks like a coronation for Rishi Sunak, who will become Britain’s first prime minister of Asian heritage.
Looking back on that text message, Sunak is expected to keep Jeremy Hunt as his chancellor. All that remains is for Mordaunt to replace James Cleverly as Secretary of State and the ‘coup’ will be complete.
And the Conservative MP who predicted it sounded relieved this morning.
“No one wants a fifth chancellor in five months. Everyone wants some calm and stability,” he said, adding, “Everyone has to compromise a bit on what they want for us to unite.”