Contenders bidding to succeed Prime Minister Liz Truss were on Oct. 21 to open a hectic weekend of campaigning, but opposition parties demanded that UK voters get their own say to end months of political chaos.
After only 44 days in office, packed with economic crisis largely of her own making, the Conservative leader announced Thursday she was stepping down.
Truss admitted she “cannot deliver the mandate” on which she was elected by Tory members, after her right-wing platform of tax cuts disintegrated and as many Conservative MPs revolted.
Truss succeeded Boris Johnson on September 6 after a weeks-long campaign against Tory rival Rishi Sunak, vowing a radical overhaul as Britons struggle with a cost-of-living crisis.
Having warned correctly of the disastrous consequences of her debt-fuelled tax promises, former finance minister Sunak has emerged as an early favourite to succeed Truss.
But the scandal-ridden Johnson may also be in the mix for a dramatic comeback bid, despite leaving Downing Street with dismal poll ratings.
Likely contenders were keeping their powder dry in the immediate hours after party managers announced Thursday a truncated election process leading up to a result on October 28.
But supporters of Sunak and Johnson were quick to promote their merits — while others such as senior cabinet members Penny Mordaunt and Ben Wallace were reportedly mulling their own runs.
Some including new finance minister Jeremy Hunt have already ruled themselves out.
Former minister Tim Loughton urged the four “big beasts” of Sunak, Mordaunt, Hunt and Wallace to agree on a unity candidate so that “we can get back to some degree of normality”.
Other candidates could include a representative of the party’s right such as Suella Braverman, whose resignation as interior minister on Wednesday helped trigger Truss’s downfall.
But Brexiteer right-wingers and other factions “need to park all those egos” and work together given the gravity of the economic situation, Loughton told BBC radio.
“We need to have a united and talented cabinet of grown-ups who come together and get us back on course,” he said.
Whoever does stand will not have long to make their case, and will have to overcome a high bar to run.
They have until 2:00 pm (1300 GMT) on Monday to produce at least 100 nominations from their fellow Tory MPs.
That means a maximum of three candidates will emerge from among the 357 Conservatives in the House of Commons.
The MPs will vote to leave two candidates standing, and hold another “indicative” vote to tell the party membership their preferred option.
The rank-and-file will then have their say in an online ballot over the course of next week, unless a single candidate emerges from the MPs’ deliberations in an effective coronation.
But for Labour and other opposition parties, the governing party is showing contempt towards the electorate.
Demanding an immediate general election, more than two years ahead of schedule, Labour leader Keir Starmer said Britain “cannot have another experiment at the top of the Tory party”.
“This is not just a soap opera at the top of the Tory party — it’s doing huge damage to the reputation of our country” and to people’s livelihoods, he said.
The ultimate winner of the Tory race will be Labour, according to many pundits, pointing to the opposition party’s runaway lead in the polls.
“You’d have to hope, if you’re the Tory party, that you really have reached a nadir and the only way is up from here,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London.
Friday’s editions of the right-wing Daily Telegraph, Sun and Daily Express newspapers all talked up Johnson’s chances.
But Bale told AFP that the former premier’s return “would just be the final joke that the Conservative party tried to play on the country, and the country wouldn’t be laughing”.
“We need to climb out of the hole the Tories have dug us into. That probably does mean a change of government,” he added, as the left-leaning Daily Mirror demanded: “General election now.”