Tory tribes and ‘backroom deals’: how the final leadership candidates were chosen

Shortlist in the race to replace Boris Johnson is whittled down to two

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss at the ITV debate
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss at the ITV debate
(Image credit: Jonathan Hordle/ITV via Getty Images)

There have been claims of “dirty tricks and backroom deals”, with MPs voting against their tribal instincts, as the Tory parliamentary party whittled down its leadership shortlist to two finalists.

Penny Mordaunt was eliminated this afternoon, leaving Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to go head to head to win over grassroots members over the summer.

It has been the “many incongruous aspects to this election” that made the rounds of voting “so hard to predict”, said Oliver Wright, policy editor for The Times.

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Changing allegiances

MPs have had “an array of different and often conflicting motivations in deciding who to back” and then who to support when their first choice candidate fell short, said Wright. “Brexiteers are backing former remainers,” he wrote, while “centrists are backing candidates of the right”.

For example, when the “right-wing Brexit purity candidate” Suella Braverman left the race last Thursday she urged her supporters to back Truss, but instead they “fractured three ways” with Sunak apparently gathering the most votes, followed by Kemi Badenoch, with Truss picking up only seven votes.

Backroom deals

The Telegraph said there was “bafflement” after half of the votes for Tom Tugendhat, who was knocked out in the third round of voting on Monday, appeared to have gone to Truss in Tuesday’s vote.

With many of Tugendhat’s supporters thought to be in the “anyone but Liz” camp, one MP said: “There is vote-rigging going on. There is no way that Truss picked up 15 votes from Tom Tugendhat. Someone is moving votes around.”

The Tuesday tallies “set off a whole new wave of claims about dirty tricks and backroom deals”, said Politico's London Playbook.

Among the theories was that Sunak lent votes to the foreign secretary to give her momentum and keep Mordaunt at bay, or that Truss had previously lent votes to Sunak and called them back to give herself a “late boost”, said the site.

It was also speculated that “rogue elements” of Sunak’s campaign voted tactically for Truss.

Meanwhile, a Sunak campaign source told The Times that MPs were “thinking who they could live with and backing them to move them into second place rather than vote for Rishi”.

The Daily Mail said Tory MP Steve Baker, a Truss supporter, believed individual MPs were “occasionally voting tactically – which they are entitled to do”, while another Conservative MP said there had been a “concerted effort” to “try to make sure that Rishi doesn’t face Liz in the final”.

Rishi’s reallocations

Former cabinet minister David Davis, who had backed Mordaunt, claimed the opposite was true: that Sunak was helping Truss in order to knock Mordaunt out of the running.

“There’s clearly been some transfer of votes, presumably from Rishi to Liz,” he told LBC. “Rishi just reallocated some. He’s got his four or five chief whips that he has in a boiler room to reallocate them. He wants to fight Liz because she’s the person who will lose the debate with him.”

However, personal career ambitions were also at play, said Katy Balls, deputy political editor at The Spectator. “Those MPs looking for promotion – of which they are many” would have noted a recent YouGov polling of the membership that suggested Truss was well placed to beat both Sunak and Mordaunt in a final two run-off, she wrote for The i.

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