UK Conservatives vote in first round of leadership race

LONDON (AP) — Two candidates were eliminated from the race to replace British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday, leaving six lawmakers battling to lead the Conservative Party and the country.

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Treasury chief Nadhim Zahawi failed to meet the 30-vote threshold by Tory lawmakers needed to stay in the race.

The remaining suitors will now race to pick up the two men’s supporters in a contest that will replace the flamboyant and outraged Johnson – a famous figure in Britain and around the world – with a much lesser-known new prime minister.

The 358 Tory lawmakers had crowded into a damp hallway in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon to line up and vote in a large room adorned with oil paintings. Security personnel made them hand over their phones to ensure secrecy.

Eight candidates had obtained the required support from 20 of their colleagues to make the first ballot.

Further ballots will take place on Thursday and, if necessary, next week, until only two candidates remain.

The final two candidates will face a run-off of around 180,000 Conservative Party members across the country. The winner is expected to be announced on September 5 and will automatically become Prime Minister, without the need for a national election.

Few suitors have a high public profile. Former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak is the bookmakers’ favorite and received the most votes, 88. He was followed by Trade Secretary Penny Mordaunt, who scores high in Tory member polls, with 67 votes, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, with 50.

Lawmaker Tom Tugendhat, ex-Equality Minister Kemi Badenoch and Attorney General Suella Braverman also remain on the ballot.

Candidates are jostling to replace Johnson, who resigned as Tory leader last week amid a party revolt sparked by months of ethics scandals. He will remain in office as caretaker prime minister until his replacement as party leader is chosen.

Mordaunt, at his official campaign launch on Wednesday, said the party had “standards and trust to restore” after the scandal-ridden Johnson years.

She said voters “are fed up with us breaking promises, they’re fed up with broken promises and they’re fed up with divisive politics.”

The list of candidates is surprisingly diverse, with four candidates from ethnic minorities and four women. But all offer similar tax-cut promises, with only Sunak offering a note of caution. He ran as the candidate for fiscal probity, saying the country needed ‘honesty and accountability, not fairy tales’ to weather the economic shockwaves of the coronavirus pandemic and war in Ukraine.

Supporters of the other candidates have unlikely portrayed Sunak – whose heroine is former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – as a left-winger. Johnson’s office has denied campaigning against Sunak, whose resignation last week helped end the prime minister’s reign.

A spokeswoman insisted Johnson remained neutral in the campaign to choose his replacement.

Johnson delivered a farewell note during his weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons. He hinted it could be his last appearance there, although he is expected to take questions again next week, before Parliament’s summer recess, and leave office on September 6.

“The next leader of my party could be elected by acclamation,” he told Labor leader Keir Starmer – although that would only happen if one of the bottom two candidates dropped out. “So it’s possible that this will be our last confrontation.”

Johnson said it was “true that I am not leaving at a time of my choosing”, but insisted: “I will be leaving soon with my head held high.”

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Edward L. Robinett