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Opinion

Rishi Sunak May Not Be The Next UK Prime Minister Despite Winning So Far

Like most political parties, the Conservative party is also known for intra-party deals, pressure groups within the party. And Sunak, many feel, may not have a handle on these sub-groups within the party.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak (Image: Twitter/ @RishiSunak)

The Tories haven’t yet decided who their next leader is going to be, but almost every Indian, especially those who may not even be able to place the United Kingdom on the map, has already decided that Rishi Sunak will be the next Prime Minister of the UK. Pride, even if misplaced, in a person of Indian origin does that to you.

But, though Sunak is the frontrunner, having convincingly emerged the winner in each of the four rounds of voting by Conservative Party MPs, his path to 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British Prime Minister, is full of potholes and ditches. Now, he and Liz Truss have emeerged as the top two contenders for the post of party leader.

Sunak got 137 votes while Truss, the Foreign Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality, secured 113 in the fifth round of voting held Wednesday. And this has led to most people thinking that since Sunak looks set to be a finalist, his appointment as PM-designate is a given. What needs to be understood is that the most difficult battle is still left for him to fight and win – the battle to emerge victorious when the Tory party members finally vote.

While so far Sunak has been winning the battle for the votes of the 358 Tory MPs – even though the margin between him and the other remaining contestants has been continuously shrinking, he may not find the going so easy when it comes to securing majority support from among the almost 1.70 lakh Tory party members, who will have the last say in who becomes the next PM.

Nobody knows exactly the current size of the Tory party membership. What is known, however, is that in 2019, when the last time a fight for leadership of the party took place and Boris Johnson won convincingly over his opponent Jeremy Hunt, the total membership was around 1.60 lakh and Johnson received 92,153 or over 66 per cent of the total votes cast.

It should also be remembered that in all the rounds before the final round of voting, Johnson had always managed to secure over 50 per cent of the total votes, something that Sunak hasn’t managed so far.

The general consensus seems to be that, so far, Sunak is winning because he is getting votes of all the liberals among the Conservative MPs while the true-blue conservatives among the conservatives are split between the other candidates. What happens now that only three candidates are left in the fight? For example, who will the 59 MPs who backed former minister Kemi Badenoch in the fourth round, a vote she couldn’t survive after finishing last, vote for now that their candidate is out of the race?

Who Will The Cadre Support?

The final battle is likely to be between Sunak and either Liz Truss or Penny Mordaunt. But, unlike Sunak, both may have a better connect with the 1.70-odd lakh Conservative party members. Moreover, unlike Sunak, at least one of them – Liz Truss – was significantly responsible for Boris Johnson’s elevation as PM after then PM Theresa May’s resignation in 2019. Will Johnson return the favour?

As it is, there are reports that Johnson has asked his group of MPs not to support Sunak, whom he accuses of being responsible for his downfall, under any condition.

Like most political parties, the Conservative party is also known for intra-party deals, pressure groups within the party, etc. Sunak, many feel, may not have a handle on these sub-groups within the party.

As for how the cadre will vote, there isn’t a clear read. But as per a YouGov poll of 725 Conservative members, Sunak would lose a two-way runoff vote. While this poll predicts that Liz Truss would beat Sunak 54 to 35, Mordaunt is seen as beating him 51 to 37.

Even the bookmakers, not a very dependable lot when it comes to politics, have Liz Truss as the favourite to succeed Johnson, followed by Mordaunt.

The big question on every Conservative member’s mind as he or she votes for one of the two candidates would be: Is the UK ready for a person of Indian origin to be the Prime Minister?

The answer to this question will be provided once the voting is done, votes have been counted and the result announced.