'Freelancing' politicians accused of lending votes in Tory leadership

What ARE Tory MPs doing? Truss lashes out at supporters of other would-be PMs as ‘freelancing’ politicians are accused of switching sides and campaigns of ‘lending’ votes to benefit weak opponents

  • Conservative MPs will today choose final two candidates for Prime Minister 
  • The Foreign Secretary benefited from a big bounce in support in the last ballot
  • It is rumoured Sunak’s supporters could conspire in favour of Penny Mordaunt 
  • A former minister suggested Sunak would prefer to go against Penny Mordaunt 

The Tory leadership campaign is embroiled in more accusations of dirty tricks today as MPs and campaigns are accused of gaming votes to benefit their candidates.

Ahead of the final round of voting by politicians today there were suggestions that supporters of Rishi Sunak could have voted for Liz Truss to make sure Kemi Badenoch was eliminated.

The former equalities minister, seen as a favourite with grassroots Tories, finished last in the fourth round ballot last night.

In head-to-head polling she beat all the other contenders if she made it through to the last two. 

But supporters of Tom Tugendhat, who was eliminated before her, expressed surprise that the number of MPs who seemed to move from the One Nation candidate to right-wingers Liz Truss and Penny Mordaunt. 

The Foreign Secretary picked up 15 votes to command the support of 86 Tory MPs on Tuesday.

Ms Mordaunt increased her share by 10 to sit on 92, while Mr Sunak gained an extra three votes to put him in 118, just shy of the number effectively guaranteeing him entry to the final phase.

But one Tugendhat backer told the Times: ‘From my conversations the number of people backing Liz from our team was seven MPs at most. There is something very, very odd going on.’ 

Team Sunak have rejected claims they are gaming the system to manipulate who he faces in the run-off vote by party members. 

It came as supporters of Liz Truss urged rival camps not to ‘lend’ votes to influence the Tory leadership ballot.

And Ms Mordaunt came in for criticism for retweeting a columnist who said votes for her rivals would ‘murder’ the Conservative Party – having previously claimed she was running a ‘clean campaign’.  

Ahead of the final round of voting by politicians today there were suggestions that supporters of Rishi Sunak could have voted for Liz Truss to make sure Kemi Badenoch was eliminated


Ahead of the final round of voting by politicians today there were suggestions that supporters of Rishi Sunak could have voted for Liz Truss to make sure Kemi Badenoch (right) was eliminated

Supporters of Tom Tugendhat, who was eliminated earlier, expressed surprise that the number of MPs who seemed to move from the One Nation candidate to right-wingers Liz Truss (pictured) and Penny Mordaunt.

Ms Truss and Penny Mordaunt are battling to win over Kemi Badenoch’s supporters after she was knocked out of the contest, and face frontrunner Rishi Sunak in the run-off.

The Foreign Secretary received a surge in support in the penultimate ballot, putting her within touching distance of Ms Mordaunt as the right of the party appears to be coalescing around her.  

Ms Truss last night warned Rishi Sunak against engaging in ‘dirty backroom deals’.

But her backers fear the former chancellor’s team may try to ‘fix’ the final vote today to ensure he does not face a candidate from the Tory Right in the run-off decided by party members.

The momentum of her latest result now puts her favourite to face Mr Sunak in the head-to-head competition to win a ballot of Conservative members, with that result being announced on September 5.  

Her supporters pointed to a YouGov survey showing that – head to head – she would beat Mr Sunak by a comfortable margin of 54:35. 

Ms Truss picked up 15 votes to command the support of 86 Tory MPs on Tuesday, after 31 votes were freed up by the elimination of Tom Tugendhat a day earlier. 

Ms Mordaunt increased her share by 10 to sit on 92, while Mr Sunak gained an extra three votes to put him in 118, just shy of the number effectively guaranteeing him entry to the final phase. 

Ms Badenoch came last in the ballot on 59 votes, with Ms Truss believed to be more likely to pick up a significant number of those votes than Ms Mordaunt. 

A former minister also suggested that Mr Sunak, who he is backing, would rather face Miss Mordaunt. ‘Rishi vs Liz is going to be the most feared contest,’ said Chris Skidmore. ‘That will be the battle for ideas, a battle of personalities.’

An ally of Miss Truss said her team was working flat out to secure every vote, adding: ‘The Tory Party has had more than enough of macho politics done in dirty backroom deals. We don’t want to see that again tomorrow.’

Another source said Miss Truss was ‘in the driving seat’ although ‘there’s a lot of work still to do’.

Yesterday’s vote left outsider Kemi Badenoch as a potential kingmaker after she was knocked out. Rival candidates were battling to secure the crucial backing of her 59 supporters.

Mrs Badenoch is on the Tory Right and the Foreign Secretary’s team believe at least 22 of her supporters are sympathetic to Miss Truss’s cause.

In an early sign of success, defence minister Leo Docherty switched from Mrs Badenoch to Miss Truss last night, saying: ‘I’ve seen at first hand her deep experience and sound judgement and know she has a credible plan.’

A former minister suggested that Mr Sunak would rather face Miss Mordaunt in the final round of the contest to become the next Tory leader

Mr Sunak’s team deny accusations that they are cooking up ‘dirty backroom deals’ to squeeze out Miss Truss and get Miss Mordaunt through to the head-to-head final round

A Truss campaign spokesman said: ‘Now is the time for the party to unite behind a candidate who will govern in a Conservative way and who has shown she can deliver time and again.

‘Liz has a bold new economic agenda that will immediately tackle the cost of living crisis, boost economic growth and continue leading the global fight for freedom in Ukraine.’

But the contest has been overshadowed by fears it could be undermined by ‘vote lending’ between the rival teams, with suspicions focused on Mr Sunak’s campaign aide Gavin Williamson. Mr Sunak’s team deny underhand tactics – and insist that Sir Gavin has no formal role.

But senior Tories yesterday said Mr Sunak’s supporters were making a ‘concerted effort’ to block the Foreign Secretary’s chances.

Tory MP Steve Baker, a Truss supporter, said he believed individual MPs were ‘occasionally voting tactically – which they are entitled to do’ rather than doing deals.

Another Conservative MP said: ‘There is a concerted effort I think to try to make sure that Rishi doesn’t face Liz in the final.’

But former Cabinet minister David Davis accused Mr Sunak of helping Miss Truss in order to squeeze out Miss Mordaunt.

‘There’s clearly been some transfer of votes, presumably from Rishi to Liz,’ he told LBC Radio. ‘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.’

A Sunak-supporting MP denied wrongdoing, saying: ‘We are encouraging every colleague who wants Rishi to win to vote for him.’

Yesterday’s result left the contest finely poised with Mr Sunak gaining only three supporters after the votes of moderate Tom Tugendhat were redistributed. This left him on 118, well ahead of Miss Mordaunt, who picked up votes to move to 92, with Miss Truss narrowing the gap on 86.

Former Tugendhat backer Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, came out in support of Ms Truss. 

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