Rishi Sunak will be very satisfied with the latest leadership race results

Politics

The person showing the momentum tonight is undoubtedly Rishi Sunak.

When you reflect that the votes up for grabs this evening were from the arch-Brexiteer Suella Braverman, whose supporters are not necessarily the sort of backers you’d expect to naturally fall into the Sunak column, you can see why his team will be very satisfied with the results this evening.

The former chancellor now stands just five votes short of guaranteeing a place in the final two – he is close to nailing on that spot.

Tory leadership race narrows to final four – politics live updates

Being the frontrunner is not always an easy place to be.

His camp say they are taking nothing for granted, and that they keep trying to work every last vote, but privately they know Mr Sunak’s name will be one of only two now going to party members over the summer.

In a sense, Penny Mordaunt’s position going into this latest round should not have been too distant from Mr Sunak’s.

She was never expecting to pick up a swathe of Braverman-backers, and on the surface still stands quite strongly in second position.

But to actively slide backwards here – losing a vote – does not show the kind of pace that she needs to guarantee a place alongside him.

She will now be hoping to persuade some of the One Nation MPs, previously batting for Tom Tugendhat, that she is their torchbearer in the latter stages of this contest. Their support could be key to keeping the flame alive.

Read more:
Who is Rishi Sunak? The ‘maharajah of the Yorkshire Dales’
Tugendhat’s warning as he is knocked out of leadership race

Who is Liz Truss? The ‘new Iron lady’ vying for PM

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Highlights of second Tory leadership debate

And what about the foreign secretary Liz Truss? It’s a bit of a mixed picture.

Yes, she has put on seven votes, slightly closing the gap on Ms Mordaunt – though actually there is more movement behind Ms Truss.

Kemi Badenoch, the outsider attracting some on the right of the party, has actually swayed more Tory MPs in this round; MPs the foreign secretary will be disappointed not to have won over at this stage.

Ms Truss narrows the gap with Ms Mordaunt – but we are looking at a real slog now for that second place.

And between them, it is now Ms Mordaunt’s path that looks the more complicated.

One man who knows a thing or two about Tory leadership races is Sir Iain Duncan-Smith.

Now backing Ms Truss, he tells me that she is in “prime position”.

He sees this stage as “moving day” with the key decisions still to come – and insisting that a lot of MPs “went to Kemi because they want to stop Penny”.

And if Ms Badenoch does indeed fall at the next hurdle, you would still expect to see a lot of that support head towards Truss.

But despite the increasing attention on Ms Badenoch, and her supporters, Mr Tugendhat’s supporters could hold the key tomorrow.

Though no sign from his camp of an endorsement in the offing just yet, one of Ms Mordaunt’s backers tells me “there are lots of conversations going on”.

And in so many ways this is a remarkable race. Just this morning, the trade secretary (and Tugendhat backer) Anne-Marie Trevelyan was taking to the airwaves and accusing Ms Mordaunt, a minister in her own department, of neglecting her government duties in the role to plan her leadership campaign.

Yet, speaking to her in central lobby after Mr Tugendhat’s elimination, she did not exactly dampen speculation that he could endorse her campaign.

And her prediction on the team’s next steps – “we will be travelling, I think, as a pack” – could yet see her ending up rooting for her junior in the next stages.

Publicly, all camps still in the race are insisting that they have had a good night.

But – aside from Mr Sunak – none of the remaining candidates will feel wholly confident about what is still to come.

As with so much of this contest, it is a murky, unsettled picture that has emerged from committee room 14.

And that’s what makes this race so exciting.

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