London: Former UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak is closing the gap to catch up with rival, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, in the race to 10 Downing Street, with only five points separating the two in a latest poll of the Conservative Party members on Tuesday. The data tables for a survey of 807 Conservative members, conducted by Italian public affairs company Techne for a private client and concluded last week, show Sunak at 43 per cent, Truss at 48 per cent while 9 per cent undecided in the election to replace Boris Johnson as Tory leader and British Prime Minister.
It is in sharp contrast to a YouGov survey carried out at the end of the knockout stages last month, which suggested that Truss had a 24-point lead over the 42-year-old British Indian former minister.
“It really hasn’t felt to us like Liz was doing as well as the polls have been suggesting. Wherever he goes he is getting really good feedback and an awful lot of people are still making up their minds,” ‘The Times’ newspaper quoted a Sunak campaign source as saying.
“Liz’s support feels very soft,” the source said.
The survey asked Tory members their views on the two finalists and their policy plans. It found that on most issues Truss, 47, was ahead of Sunak among party members and voters who supported the Tories in 2019.
However, Sunak led Truss on being ‘qualified’ to be Prime Minister by 10 points, 52 per cent to 42 per cent, and being authoritative, 51 per cent to 43 per cent.
Sir John Curtice, a polling expert, said it was possible that the race was closer than had been assumed.
“We have to bear in mind that since Tory MPs decided that this was the contest between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, we have had one opinion poll of the people who will actually have a vote, that is Conservative members,” he told ‘GB News’.
“That poll put Liz Truss well ahead, once you took out the one in five or so who did not express a view, she was on 62 per cent, way ahead of the 50 per cent that’s required. But that poll is now nearly a fortnight old,” he said.
Curtis also flagged a more recent poll of Conservative councillors suggesting that Truss was on 31 per cent and Sunak 29 per cent, with 30 per cent undecided.
It came as another party heavyweight and former candidate, Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, endorsed Truss as the “hope candidate” in the leadership election.
She was the latest in a number of new high-profile supporters for the Foreign Secretary, including the former leadership candidates Nadhim Zahawi and Tom Tugendhat, as well as the ex-cabinet minister Brandon Lewis and the West Midlands mayor, Andy Street.
Meanwhile, as ballot papers are being posted to the Conservative Party card-carrying members to cast their votes, there are worries of Boris Johnson loyalists registering a protest vote in the election.
According to ‘The Daily Telegraph’, more than 10,000 members are thought to have backed a so-called ‘Boris ballot’ campaign to change the leadership rules to insert Boris Johnson as a candidate in the final round.
But now one of those behind that campaign is urging members to not spoil their ballots by writing Boris as a protest against his early departure as party leader.
“I ask all those who have supported the Boris ballot campaign not to spoil their ballots. Please don’t write Boris on the ballot etc, don’t destroy the ballot or just not vote,” said David Campbell-Bannerman, a former Tory member of the European Parliament (MEP) who was coordinating the drive with Conservative peer Lord Peter Cruddas.
“We cannot allow the man who brought down Boris – Rishi Sunak – to win under any circumstances,” he said.
Campbell-Bannerman said that although the ‘Boris ballot’ had not materialised, ‘efforts do continue’ to reinstate him as Prime Minister.
Johnson, who is on holiday celebrating a gala wedding party with his wife Carrie over the weekend, is not believed to have supported the campaign to give members a vote on his leadership.