Supporters of two failed Tory leadership candidates are believed to be planning a ‘revenge plot’ against frontrunner Liz Truss.
Loyalists of Penny Mordaunt and Tom Tugendhat are thought to be backing Rishi Sunak, believing he would beat Sir Keir Starmer in the 2024 general election.
A new poll among the general public suggests the former Chancellor would have a slightly better chance at beating the Labour leader.
One Tory source told The i newspaper there was a ‘lot of hurt within the camp’ at briefings against trade minister Ms Mordaunt by Truss supporters.
‘Several of us will now urge our members to vote for Rishi,’ they said.
‘That’s not because we support him, but because he is the better option than Liz. I have several hundred members in my local association and I will be suggesting they back Rishi.’
Jeremy Hunt is one of the senior Tory MPs who announced his backing for Mr Sunak.
Writing in his local newspaper, the Farnham Herald, he said: ‘His willingness to tell Conservative Party members this is not the time for tax cuts shows he also has the courage to lead with messages that may not be welcome.
‘Most of all, he has been through the ups and downs of politics as a senior cabinet minister (including the criticism of his wife) through which he showed he has an inner core that is rock solid.’
However, Ms Truss is still the current favourite among Tory members, who will vote on the final two contenders.
She also has some notable backers within Westminster, including Michael Fabricant, Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees Mogg.
There has also been blue-on-blue fighting between International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Ms Mordaunt.
Ms Trevelyan criticised her work ethic in an interview with LBC and said she she was backing Ms Truss.
She said that colleagues had sometimes ‘picked up the pieces’ because Ms Mordaunt ‘hasn’t been available’.
The comment clearly hit a nerve with the minister, responding to a question from her ally Andrea Leadsom on Thursday by saying: ‘I am sort of amazed to find myself here this morning given my reported work ethic. But I am here.’
Currently, Mr Sunak has fallen behind in the overall leadership race because he is under pressure to announce swift tax cuts like his rival Liz Truss.
But he is so far avoiding mimicking his rival’s economic policy of swingeing cuts to levies including National Insurance and corporation tax.
The Treasury has said Ms Truss’ fiscal plans for after entering No10 would cost £30 billion, but she has insisted they will not impact public spending.
Each candidate will now tour the UK over the next six weeks and take part in 12 hustings for Tory members, who will vote for their next leader.
The result is set to be announced on September 5, at which point the nation will know who its next Prime Minister will be.
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