Next Prime Minister: Liz Truss moves into pole as history shows Rishi has it all to lose

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History tells us the favourite from hustings of Conservative MPs goes on to win the leadership. The same is true of the candidate with a consistent lead in the polls and favourable odds from bet makers. In the 2022 Conservative leadership election, these statements apply to separate contenders. 

Before 1965, Conservative Party leaders emerged from discussions between Tory MPs. 

The present rulebook states a leadership contest can only be triggered if the leader loses a no-confidence vote or resigns.

Having weathered a no-confidence vote the previous month, Boris Johnson resigned on July 7 amid a flurry of ministerial resignations.

The process of replacing him consists of multiple ballots of Conservative MPs, whittling down the field by eliminating the one with the least votes each time, before Party members across the country are balloted to select between the final two.

Prior to the ongoing Conservative leadership race, 11 had been triggered since 1965, 10 of which required an election – in 2003 Micheal Howard was the only nominee.

Of these, 70 percent were ultimately won by the candidate who came out on top in every hustings of Tory MPs. 

Rishi Sunak was ahead in all five rounds of balloting during the 2022 contest.

If Liz Truss were to win from this position, it would be the first time since Kenneth Clarke in 2001 that the MPs’ favourite subsequently lost the membership vote.

Since 1965, in contests where multiple hustings were required, the average lead of the eventual winner over their closest rival was 55.1 percent.

Mr Sunak exceeded the number of votes cast for Ms Truss by an average of 49.8 percent.

However, over the course of the balloting rounds, Ms Truss has been reducing this deficit by winning over new votes at almost double the rate of her rival, gaining an average of 22.9 percent votes each time, to Mr Sunak’s 11.8 percent.

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Only from 1998 onwards has it fallen upon the mass party membership to decide the winner between the final two candidates. 

Since then, only Iain Duncan Smith in 2001 was able to overturn a deficit in the final hustings of MPs to go on to win the Party member vote.

David Cameron in 2005 and Boris Johnson in 2019 won by significant margins after finishing ahead in the final ballot.

More often than not, the preferences of Tory MPs are in line with those of the wider Party membership.

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Official figures are no longer made available, but given 160,000 were eligible to vote for the 2019 leader and the Party claims the number has grown since, the Conservative Party membership is estimated to be just under 200,000. 

This means the next Prime Minister will be selected by at most 0.3 percent of the UK population.

Although anyone can join for £25 a year, research in January 2020 by the Economic and Social Research Council’s Party Members Project found the membership group distinct from the general population.

A near-total 97 percent of them were white, 63 percent were men, 58 percent were over 50 years old and roughly 80 percent were thought to be part of the highest-paid and most-educated demographic group.

The fact that they are unique from the broader electorate to which Conservative MPs must answer, explains why the messaging from the leadership candidates has been changed tone in the second phase of the election.

56 percent of Party members lived in London and the South East, to just 20 percent in the North, pushing levelling up plans further down the agenda.

76 percent backed Brexit, hence Ms Truss’s desire to distance herself from the fact she voted Remain.

According to YouGov polling conducted between July 12 and 13, 61 percent of Party members thought taxes were too high, explaining the enduring emphasis on cuts throughout the debates.

Every Conservative leadership winner subjected to a vote of Party members enjoyed a consistent lead in the polls, save Iain Duncan Smith who was perceived as an outsider until a late endorsement by Margaret Thatcher.

YouGov polling conducted from July 20 to 21 puts Ms Truss ahead by a margin of 24 percent. 

Similarly, the eventual winner was also the bookie’s favourite throughout the race.

As of July 26, Ms Truss is the clear frontrunner with odds implying an 80 percent probability of her becoming Prime Minister according to Ladbrokes, to Sunak’s 26.7 percent.

The present leadership contest is therefore unique in that the Party membership throughout the UK seem to be at odds with their MPs in Westminster, making predicting the outcome all the more difficult.

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