Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt and Boris Johnson vie to be U.K. prime minister

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LONDON, April 20 (Reuters) /PRNewswire/ — After two turbulent months of drama and crisis, Britain finds itself right where it was before, with some of the same faces vying to become the third prime minister in just eight weeks.

Supporters of the three suspected frontrunners – Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt and, yes, Boris Johnson – were off the blocks early on Friday, laying out their pitches as to why their persona should be given the keys to 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s residence.

Could Boris Johnson make an extraordinary political comeback? What about Rishi Sunak, the bookies favorite who fell to Liz Truss in the last contest? Or Penny Mordaunt, who is not well known but votes well with Conservative Party members? Or could someone else emerge as the leading hope for becoming the next Conservative Party leader?

The Friday front pages of Britain’s famous tabloids already had Truss firmly in their rear-view mirrors as they focused on “Boris v Rishi: Fight for the Soul of the Tories,” in the words of the Daily Mail. The Telegraph, the Sun and The Daily Express have all put Johnson on the front page, while the left-leaning Mirror has just called for a general election in big ‘now’.

It’s been less than 24 hours since Truss said she was stepping down as prime minister, earning her the unenviable title of the shortest-serving prime minister ever. The party is working on an amazingly short timeframe and plans to complete their competition in a week.

No one has officially stated they will run, but supporters for the first three – and the new rules ensure there can be no more than three – have started to declare their support.

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Rishi Sunak is the favorite of bookmakers. The runner-up in the last leadership contest was remarkably calm himself, but his The Ready for Rishi team has started to get going. They point out that his candidacy received the strongest support from his peers during the last competition and say that many of his economic ideas turned out to be forward-thinking.

His critics claim he betrayed Johnson and blamed him for helping to end that era. But according to the Daily Telegraph, he has more public statements of support than any other candidate.

“Rishi’s competence, compassion, economic foresight and leadership qualities mean he is the candidate to unite our party. Rishi’s charisma and broader appeal in the country mean he is in the best position to rebuild support for our party.” wrote Nick Gibb, a Conservative Party lawmaker.

Johnson’s supporters want him to return from his plow — like the classic-era hero Cincinnatus brought back to deal with a crisis Johnson referred to in his retirement speech.

Rumors are circulating that Johnson, who was Britain’s 55th Prime Minister, may also want to become Britain’s 57th Prime Minister. Those in the Bring Back Boris camp argue that Johnson is the only candidate with a “mandate” to lead. In 2019, Johnson helped his party win the general election. It’s not certain anyone else could rouse the populace to the same extent – or if Johnson himself can even do it anymore.

“One person has been elected by the British public with a manifesto and a mandate until January 25. If Liz Truss is no longer PM, there can be no crowning of previously failed candidates. MEPs must demand their return @BorisJohnson – if not, it must be a leadership election or a GE” or general election, tweeted Nadine Dorries, a Johnson loyalist.

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Johnson is the best choice among the 170,000 members of the Conservative Party. But antipathy is also widespread among the general public. His tenure was marked by scandal after scandal, and voters and his own peers were angered by his refusal to account. He was the first sitting Prime Minister ever to be fined by the police.

Johnson is also still under investigation by the House of Commons for misleading lawmakers about the infamous Downing Street parties, and he could still potentially be suspended from Parliament.

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Under his leadership, the Conservatives slipped behind the opposition Labor Party in polls for the first time in years earlier this year. Johnson is still under investigation for lying to Parliament. Not long ago, 41 percent of his own peers said they had no faith in Johnson’s leadership.

It would surprise few people if he officially declared that he is running. After all, there was that reference to Cincinnatus in his closing speech, and Johnson seems ready to leave the farm for his country again.

The third potential successor many are seeing is Penny Mordaunt, who is trying to become a household name but may still have a long way to go – the most in one poll couldn’t name her when her photo is shown. But her PM4PM supporters are trying to change that, pointing out that she votes better than Sunak among the all-important Conservative Party members.

Mordaunt’s visibility received a major boost in the final days of Truss’s tenure, as she stood up for the Prime Minister in Parliament after the economic program was dismantled and deftly handled the hostile issues. Many speculated at the time that it could be one Test run for your own offer for the top job as it showcased her parliamentary sparring skills.

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The candidates don’t have much time to drum up support. The race has been shortened to make it go fast. Britain could have a new prime minister as early as Monday.

The rules were changed Thursday to allow the country to quickly replace Truss. Candidates must have the support of at least 100 Conservative peers to advance in the race. Given the high bar, it is possible that only one candidate will be proposed until Monday at 2 p.m., when the nomination ends.

If there is more than one, the hopefuls will be thinned out before the final two are presented to the 170,000 Conservative Party members. Officials have said the contest will be completed by October 28 at the latest.

Some have argued that this method is undemocratic. The new leader will be elected either by a group of about 350 Conservative lawmakers or, when it comes to membership, by 170,000 people – hardly the same as a nationwide election.

“By the end of October, Britain will have three prime ministers in eight weeks, two of whom came to power without a general election…” the Financial Times wrote in an editorial. “The prospect of another Conservative Prime Minister elected without a general election ignores not only Britain’s growing democratic deficit but also the lack of competence displayed by its pathetic government.”

But despite growing calls for a general election, that seems highly unlikely. The Conservative Party is not expected to push for anything that would likely lead to its annihilation in the current polls.



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