If your head is reeling after the breathless psychodrama of the last few days, you are not alone. Yet, even before the black door of Downing Street had shut behind Boris Johnson, the contest for his successor was well under way.
By Wednesday afternoon, the field had been narrowed down to two candidates:
Best known for: Being a super-rich former chancellor who wears expensive flip-flops, and once gave us all a half-price Nando’s.
The pitch: A serious man for serious times, who won’t give MPs a tax cut just because they want one – and trying to remind us we used to love him.
Backers: 137 including Dominic Raab, Jeremy Hunt, Gavin Williamson and Grant Shapps.
Where does he stand on …
Tax and spending: Sunak has indicated he will focus more on fiscal prudence than immediate tax cuts, with his video taking aim at other candidates who may offer “comforting fairytales” rather than face the hard economic reality.
In a field populated by other candidates promising cuts, that may become a challenge. Arch Johnson loyalist Jacob Rees-Mogg has dismissed Sunak since the contest began as “a high-tax chancellor”.
Boris Johnson: Sunak was a close ally of Johnson, and stuck with him throughout Partygate, but his resignation was seen as the straw that broke the camel’s back and launched a flurry of resignations. After this perceived treachery, the anyone-but-Rishi camp has gone on a war footing. One senior No 10 official was quoted in the Financial Times as calling Sunak “a treacherous bastard”, while a Johnson supporter in the cabinet told the paper: “Rishi will get everything he deserves for leading the charge in bringing down the prime minister.”
Culture war: For a former chancellor whose budget last October was criticised for devoting more time to alcohol duty than to policies on care, housing, climate or violence against women, Sunak’s insiders nonetheless found time to stress that he was committed to protecting women’s rights from “gender-neutral language” in a article in the Daily Mail. “Rishi believes in people’s freedom to choose how they live and who they love, but that women’s rights must be protected as well,” the source said.
Climate crisis: Insiders say Sunak was very resistant to spending money on climate measures when he helmed the Treasury. He has, however, previously spoken out in support of net zero and made the case for a greener economy. Green Tories fear he could be swayed by the supporters of the many rightwing candidates as they get knocked out during the contest, and look for a credible candidate to back.
Best known for: Being a hawkish foreign secretary, a pork markets obsessive with a hatred of disgraceful cheese imports.
The pitch: Told the Telegraph on Sunday: “It isn’t right to be putting up taxes now. I would reverse the national insurance increase that came in during April, make sure we keep corporation tax competitive so we can attract business and investment into Britain, and put the Covid debt on a longer-term footing.”
Backers: 113 including Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Where does she stand on …
Tax and spending: Truss has been at pains to paint herself as an heir to Thatcher, with her allies stating that her economic pitch, rooted in “low-tax principles”, higher defence spending and trade deals would set her apart from other heavyweight contenders. She memorably hailed younger people as a generation of “Uber-riding, Airbnb-ing, Deliveroo-eating freedom fighters”.
Boris Johnson: Seen as a Johnson loyalist, her allies nonetheless reportedly lobbied the frontbench to back her to replace him at the height of the Partygate scandal.
Culture war: Truss, who holds the equalities brief alongside being foreign secretary, has said people should not have the right to self-identify as a different gender without medical checks, adding that she believed it was “dehumanising to be treated as a woman, rather than a person”.
Climate crisis: Many have privately joked that it shows what a dire situation the contest is in when the main climate hope lies in libertarian Truss, who did not include climate commitments in many trade deals when she ran the trade department. However, she is backed by the energy secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, who is relatively strong on renewable energy, and another backer, Vicky Ford points out that she was very supportive of Cop26.
Who’s dropped out?
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, dropped out on 12 July and pledged support to Rishi Sunak’s bid.
Sajid Javid, the former health secretary, dropped out on 12 July, though didn’t immediately endorse any other candidate.
Rehman Chishti, a backbencher, pulled out on 12 July after failing to gain a single public endorsement.
Jeremy Hunt (18 votes) and Nadhim Zahawi (25) failed to reach the threshold of 30 votes in the first round of voting on 13 July and were knocked out of the contest.
Suella Braverman (27 votes, down five) was knocked out in the second round of voting on 14 July.
Tom Tugendhat (31 votes) was eliminated from the race in the third round of voting on 18 July.
Kemi Badenoch (59 votes) was eliminated from the race in the fourth round of voting on 19 July.
Penny Mordaunt (105 votes) was eliminated from the race in the fifth round of voting on 20 July.