After the resignation of Boris Johnson from the premiership of the UK, the ruling party decided to hold new elections within the party. The elections for the UK’s prime minister, which commenced on July 12th, would continue for around two months and the final decision will be announced on September 5th, 2022. These polls not only serve to elect a new prime minister for the country but also a new leader of the Conservative Party.
Boris Johnson’s Resignation
Boris Johnson, who assumed office as the prime minister of the UK in 2019, finally announced his resignation on July 7th, 2022. Johnson is known for leading the Conservative Party to its biggest victory (in terms of votes) since 1987. However, his two-year premiership is marked by several issues and scandals which ultimately led to his resignation.
For instance, the sky-high inflation, rise in taxes, Owen Patterson row, Partygate, the Chris Pincher affair, and the mass resignation of Johnson’s cabinet members played a pivotal role in his resignation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, despite imposing a strict lockdown for the public, Johnson himself was caught breaching the COVID protocols in various social gatherings.
Similarly, his wrong decisions like halting the suspension of MP Owen Patterson—found guilty of breaking lobbying rules—and later the appointment of Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip, despite serious allegations against him, resulted in a flurry of resignations from the cabinet members. These mass resignations forced Johnson who had survived the no-confidence motion earlier, to go for resignation. Even though Boris Johnson has announced his resignation, he will still serve as the UK’s caretaker prime minister until the new Tory leader is announced.
The Election Process
A new Tory party leader or, simply, the UK’s prime minister is going to be elected through elections. However, these elections are pretty different from the general elections since the votes will only be cast by the Conservative Party members. The election process takes place in two steps. The first step involves a series of rounds through which the top two contenders who would face each other in the second step of the process are elected.
Only those members of Parliament (MPs) who get nominated by at least 20 fellow MPs are eligible to compete for the premiership in the next rounds. On this basis, out of the Conservative Party’s 357 eligible MPs, 8 got nominated in the UK’s PM elections of 2022. The nominated candidates include former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, former Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, Attorney General Suella Braverman, Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
In the first round, voting took place among the Conservative Party MPs and the MPs who received less than 30 votes were eliminated from the race. This was followed by four other rounds, and in every round, one MP with the least votes was eliminated. After these successful rounds, only two candidates remained i.e. Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss.
The second step of the elections involves the ballots by the Conservative Party members from all over the UK. All the party members who have joined the party on or before 3rd June are eligible to vote, either by post or online. It is estimated that more than 160,000 people will participate in voting on the 2nd of September. The result would be announced on 5th September. After the announcement and approval of the Queen, the UK’s new prime minister would assume his/her office.
The Top Contenders
In the final round of the contest, Rishi Sunak and Liz Tress emerged as the top contenders in the race to become the new prime minister of the UK. Before the voting in early September, both the candidates are taking part in 12 hustings events around the UK, where they are reflecting on their policies and economic plans.
Rishi Sunak, who hails from a family of Indian immigrants, has served the UK as the chief secretary to the Treasury, before being appointed as the chancellor of the Exchequer in 2020. As a chancellor, Sunak is known for his financial policies like the Coronavirus Job Retention and the Eat Out to Help Out schemes which helped to sustain the economic impacts of the pandemic.
However, Sunak was also involved in the Partygate scandal and was fined for breaking the COVID protocols. In July 2022, due to the economic policy differences with then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Sunak resigned from his position as chancellor. In all the ballots in the first five rounds, Sunak secured the most votes among all the Conservative Party candidates.
His political campaign focuses on rebuilding the economy and reuniting the country. He is aware of the fact that inflation is the most important issue being faced by the UK in the current times. He is quite inspired by Margaret Thatcher and her policies in the 1980s, which include tax cuts.
However, Sunak pledges to bring inflation under control, before going for tax cuts. He also aims to scrap the 5% VAT rate on household energy for one year and control defense spending. If elected, Sunak would be the first man of color to assume the office of prime minister in the UK.
Mary Elizabeth Truss, the second candidate in the race to become the UK’s next prime minister, has also served in various Cabinet positions under the last three prime ministers. Since 2021, she has been serving as the secretary of state for the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office in Johnson’s cabinet. Moreover, she has also been performing the duties of chief negotiator with the European Union and UK chair of the EU–UK Partnership Council since December of last year.
She is widely recognized for her economic libertarian views and her strong support for free trade. Truss, like Sunak, also admires Margaret Thatcher as the UK’s prime minister. However, she pledges to cut taxes right after being elected by reversing the current rise in corporation tax. Moreover, she also plans to create new “low-tax and low-regulation zones” to assist enterprises. Truss also aims to bring the target of spending 2.5% of GDP on defense forward to 2026. If elected, Truss would be the third female prime minister of the UK and the first since Thatcher.
In the hustings across the UK, both contenders were questioned about their policies. Their views regarding policies and plans, as presented in the hustings, would play a crucial role in influencing the voters. Initially, Sunak was the most likely to win the UK’s PM elections as he emerged at the top in all rounds of the ballots conducted earlier. However, the surveys conducted during the past few days showed the opposite results.
In the most recent poll conducted by Opinium from 8th August to 13th August, 570 Tory members participated. According to the results of that poll, about 61% of members decided to vote for Liz Truss, while 39% aim to choose Sunak as the next PM. Nevertheless, a close contest is expected between these top contenders on the 2nd of September. The winner will not only be the new Tory leader but will also replace Boris Johnson as the new prime minister of the United Kingdom.
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