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Rishi Sunak a Favourite But it Doesn't Guarantee Victory, Previous Tory Leadership Fights Reveal

By: News Desk

News18.com

Last Updated: July 16, 2022, 11:08 IST

New Delhi/ London

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak despite being a frontrunner could face an upset as Mordaunt and Liz Truss gain support within the Tories (Image: Reuters)

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak despite being a frontrunner could face an upset as Mordaunt and Liz Truss gain support within the Tories (Image: Reuters)

Rishi Sunak has no time to rest as the race to the top remains wide open with Liz Truss and Penny Mordaunt gaining ground gradually

Despite being the frontrunner in the latest rounds, former chancellor to the exchequer Rishi Sunak could still lose the race for the role of UK prime minister. On several instances, either during the 60s and 90s and even in the last decade, Conservative leadership challenges have ended with a surprise winner.

The likelihood of this happening - a winner coming out of obscurity - with Rishi Sunak was high since he is an MP who became a common name across British households but was once an unknown figure.

However, he is the best bet for bookmakers after minister of state Penny Mordaunt, who is leading ahead of Liz Truss, Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat. Rishi Sunak is the leading contender in this race but the results, as history shows, could be unpredictable and anyone could be the winner.

Alec Douglas-Home, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, David Cameron and Theresa May were not favorites but they all became prime ministers of the UK.

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The public never voted for John Major, Theresa May and Alec Douglas-Home since they were selected through the leadership race since the Tories were in power. While Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron had to win the general election.

The leadership selection rules were not so democratic as it is now. Before 1965, according to a report by Sky News, the leader was picked after consultations by a ‘magic circle’ of Tory grandees. This led to the selection of Alec Douglas-Home (who was prime minister for one year and was defeated by Labour’s Harold Wilson in 1964).

However, Douglas-Home’s elevation was not something that was expected since he was not a candidate nor was properly available since he was a member of the Lords. Members of the House of Lords are occupied by the ranks of the English peerage - Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount and Baron.

The ones who hold a peerage cannot sit in the House of Commons or fight elections. Alec Douglas-Home won the byelection to Kinross and West Perthshire by abandoning his hereditary peerage through the Peerage Act 1963 introduced by left-wing Labour leader Tony Benn.

Conservatives following the 1964 defeat to Labour’s Wilson introduced rules which would make it easier to unseat the incumbent and introduced the election process.

Even in the case of Margaret Thatcher, no one foresaw her victory as tactical voting gave her the lead above heavy-hitters like William Whitelaw and Geoffrey Howe. She was chosen Conservative leader and went on to win the 1979 general elections by a landslide margin.

Thatcher’s exit also shows that the frontrunners may not always be the winner. Her exit, in a manner which was similar to Johnson’s, was precipitated by Michael Heseltine and Douglas Hurd but it was John Major who ended up defeating Heseltine to become the UK prime minister and Conservative party leader in 1990. He also pulled a shock election victory in 1992.

Even Iain Duncan Smith’s win to become Tory leader was unpredictable. Ministers like David Davis and Michael Ancram were leading to be the next Conservative Party leader and most had pegged Michael Portillo to be the one to lead the Tories but following the defeat to Labour’s Tony Blair, the Tories selected IDS only to vote him out via a no-confidence vote two years later in 2003.

The race for the leadership also saw unpredictable winners like David Cameron and Theresa May. When Cameron won, he was an obscure MP who shot out of nowhere to hurt David Davis’ chances. Cameron became the Conservative Party leader and went on to win the polls.

Even in the case of Theresa May, she was not among the favorites but sprung out of relative obscurity to become the Conservative Party leader and UK’s next prime minister defeating the likes of Andrea Leadsom and Michael Gove.

Rishi Sunak leads currently in the races, but the votes he acquired - 88 - were less than those of first-round leaders who went on to become the leaders of the Tories. This leaves room for unforeseen outcomes.

(with inputs from Sky News)

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first published:July 16, 2022, 09:00 IST
last updated:July 16, 2022, 11:08 IST