LONDON, July 12 (Reuters) – Eight Conservatives will fight it out to succeed Boris Johnson as party leader and British prime minister after winning enough nominations from their colleagues to go through to the first round of voting on Wednesday.
Only two hopefuls failed to secure the 20 necessary nominations, leaving a wide field of candidates seeking to win the backing of the party with promises of tax cuts, honesty and serious government – a contrast to Johnson who was forced to announce he would resign after a series of scandals.
Former finance minister Rishi Sunak is the bookmakers’ favourite, and among those he will be taking on are his successor Nadhim Zahawi and foreign minister Liz Truss in what is becoming an increasingly bitter and divisive contest.
The next British leader faces a daunting in-tray while support for the Conservatives is also falling, polls show.
Britain’s economy is facing rocketing inflation, high debt, and low growth as people grapple with the tightest squeeze on their finances in decades. All of this is set against a backdrop of an energy crunch exacerbated by the war in Ukraine which has sent fuel prices soaring.
As the contest intensifies, rival campaigns stepped up private criticism of each other and pointed to either financial or other questions hanging over their opponents.
Sunak kicked off his campaign by portraying himself as the serious candidate, promising “grown-up” honesty “not fairy tales”, seeking to contrast himself with the extensive tax cuts pledged by most of the other candidates.
“It is not credible to promise lots more spending and lower taxes,” Sunak said, saying tax cuts could only come after soaring inflation was tackled.
As finance minister, Sunak set Britain on course to have its biggest tax burden since the 1950s after he oversaw a huge rise in government spending during the coronavirus pandemic, and most of the other hopefuls have turned their fire on him by saying they would oversee cuts immediately.
Sunak has the widest support among colleagues who have publicly expressed their view.