As the Conservative leadership contest kicks up a gear, what are we hearing from the candidates and their backers and what are they focusing on in their campaigns?

At the start of June, I wrote following Boris Johnson's narrow victory in a no-confidence vote in his leadership that the sharks were circling around him. In the end, the kind of mishap that had come to typify the last few months of his time in office, having to admit he 'forgot' how much he knew about Chris Pincher's behaviour, proved too much. It seemed for all the world that he would try and battle on, even without half a cabinet, but in the end he saw that he must resign.

I also began to muse on who may well be in the running to take over from Boris as leader of the Conservatives and as PM. Of the seven names I threw into the ring, four are in the running: Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat, and Jeremy Hunt. Dominic Raab, Michael Gove and Ben Wallace ruled themselves out of the race early on. Ah well, like Boris found in his confidence vote, a slim majority is still a majority.

Joining those four are Nadhim Zahawi, Suella Braverman, Penny Mordaunt, and Kemi Badenoch. Mordaunt is currently many bookies' frontrunner, as it appears her backing of MPs will be enough to take her into the run-off against her the current leader, Rishi Sunak, where she then looks to have the backing of the majority of party members.

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However, Kemi Badenoch has snuck up on many Westminster observers' radars, with her anti-woke agenda appealing to many of her fellow MPs. Michael Gove has called her "Keir Starmer's worst nightmare", while Lee Anderson told the BBC's Nick Watt she's 'absolutely fearless" and that "if we're going to win the next general election, we need somebody like Kemi running this country."

At the moment, the key issue MPs are felt to be assessing the candidates on is their approach to tax. The pandemic and the spending it necessitated has resulted in increases in National Insurance to pay for health and social care, and increases in Corporation Tax. These measures, from Sunak's stewardship of the red briefcase, have led to Rishi being labelled a socialist by former cabinet colleague Jacob-Rees Mogg, who is backing Liz Truss. While Rees-Mogg says Truss was staunchly against the tax rises when they were discussed in cabinet, Sunak has argued that the almighty deity Margaret Thatcher would approve of his approach to lower inflation before lowering taxes.

At Tugendhat's launch event yesterday, he said his leadership would rise to the challenges of the cost of living crisis in a way his cabinet rivals had not. Mordaunt and Truss will unveil their campaigns later today. Both are seeking to be 'stop Rishi' candidates, and hope to appeal to the broad mass of party members. Whilst not yet explicitly spelt out, Rees-Mogg's backing of Truss suggests policies of low tax, further post-Brexit deregulation, and support for businesses.

Despite Sunak moving ahead in the race, with the highest number of declared MPs backing him so far. There is still a lack of clarity which makes the race hard to predict. This comes in two forms. First, the simple lack of clarity over who might win. Rishi may be ahead, but the race currently lacks the sense of inevitability that Boris Johnson's run to Downing Street had in 2019. Second, there remains an uncertainty over which policies will appeal most to the party members. Is it Sunak's approach to get a grip on inflation, then bring taxes down? Is it the lower tax approach backed by those seeking a return to 'proper Conservatism'?

The next couple of days are of paramount importance. When Boris Johnson took over, he was seen as the man to 'get Brexit done', at the time the most important political issue. With that firmly behind us, and the economy returning as the top priority, the Conservatives need a leader who can restore the party's reputation as being fiscally responsible. The future success of the party, and of the country, will likely depend on it.

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