Tory leadership rivals face being whittled down to three candidates as race for second place hots up

Conservative Party MPs will vote on Tuesday in the leadership contest, as the race for second place intensifies

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With Rishi Sunak’s place in the final two looking largely secure, the big question now is who will join the former Chancellor in the run-off vote among Tory members.

Penny Mordaunt, who last week built up a significant lead over Liz Truss, now faces a difficult two days as she tries to boost her support among MPs.

Her backers are agonising about her holding on after she dropped a vote in the third ballot on Monday evening.

Despite signs of slowed momentum, Ms Mordaunt was still able to fend off a challenge by Ms Truss, receiving 82 votes to the Foreign Secretary’s 71.

Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, Kemi Badenoch and Liz Truss remain in the Tory leadership race
Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, Kemi Badenoch and Liz Truss remain in the Tory leadership race
Sir Graham Brady of the 1922 Committee will announce the results
Sir Graham Brady of the 1922 Committee will announce the results

It left Kemi Badenoch as the remaining candidate with the lowest share of the vote after backbencher Tom Tugendhat was eliminated.

Mr Tugendhat is yet to formally back another campaign, but Ms Mordaunt was quick to stress her "admiration" for the military veteran after he dropped out of the race.

Ms Badenoch also tweeted that Mr Tugendhat would be an “asset” to any future Tory Government.

The other campaigns will likely be doing the same.

Mr Sunak, who got 115 votes, edged closer to the 120 votes required to guarantee a place in the final two, who will face a vote of the Tory membership to decide the next party leader.

Ms Mordaunt has been attacked from all sides, with allegations over her ministerial record and questions about her previous statements on trans rights.

She also faced accusations that she missed ministerial meetings because she was plotting her leadership bid.

On Monday evening, Ms Badenoch saw her vote jump from 49 to 58 in the latest round, claiming that it showed she had the “momentum” behind her.

She tweeted on Monday evening: “Continued momentum, closing the gap, I am the only change candidate left in the race. I’m in it to win.”

If she is eliminated next, her supporters could determine who faces Mr Sunak in the vote of Tory members.

Ms Mordaunt will continue into Tuesday knowing that her place behind Mr Sunak remains vulnerable.

After the ballot, she tweeted: “My vote is steady and I’m grateful to my colleagues for all their support and thrilled to be in second place once more.

“MPs know that I’m a strong candidate, running a truly clean campaign and putting forward a positive vision for the party and our country.”

Rishi Sunak is the early frontrunner
Rishi Sunak is the early frontrunner
Penny Mordaunt will be hoping to hold off Liz Truss and Kemi Badenoch
Penny Mordaunt will be hoping to hold off Liz Truss and Kemi Badenoch

Mr Tugendhat's exit from the contest was not unexpected, with the Tonbridge and Malling MP trailing behind rivals in the bid for backers.

Tweeting after the contest, he said: “Although it wasn’t to be today, I am immensely proud of the positive vision we put forward for our country.

“Thank you to all those who supported me and believed in #ACleanStart.

“This is only the beginning!”

A series of votes among Tory MPs this week will narrow the field down to a final two, who will then face a summer of campaigning for the support of party members in a final vote.

The new leader will be announced on September 5 and is expected to become prime minister the following day.