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Votes are being counted ahead of the announcement on Monday confirming whether Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak will enter No 10. Frontrunner Ms Truss said she believes in a “brighter and better future” for the country and vowed to do “everything in my power” to make sure the UK succeeds.
“It has been fantastic meeting and speaking to thousands of members across the whole of the UK over the last six weeks,” she said.
“Our members make our Party great, and I would like to thank all the volunteers who have helped along the way.
“I believe in a brighter and better future for Britain. I have a bold plan that will grow our economy and deliver higher wages, more security for families and world-class public services. I’ll do this by cutting taxes, pushing through supply-side reform and slashing red tape that is holding businesses back.
“If I am elected Prime Minister, I will never let anyone talk us down and I will do everything in my power to make sure our great nation succeeds.”
The next premier’s options for going to the polls are limited, with strategists insisting it is a “matter of numbers” and there are only four or five options.
October 5 is being talked about in political circles as the most likely date as it would allow boundary review changes to be implemented in July.
The changes, carried out by independent bodies across the UK’s four nations, could be worth ten seats to the Conservative party.
Economic turbulence is expected to continue well into next year as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine wreaks havoc on global energy markets.
But delaying an election beyond October means you are “waiting for something good to turn up but it won’t and you have run out of road”, according to a well-connected source.
The maximum electoral term of five years ends on December 17, 2024.
Labour is also expected to continue to struggle to have a chance of winning an outright victory because it is showing little sign of winning back the number of seats needed in Scotland to dominate in Westminster.
It would leave the party reliant on the Scottish nationalists or smaller parties to prop it up in government.
Voting closed on Friday night on the Conservative leadership campaign that started in July after Boris Johnson was ousted by the party.
Political betting market data from Smarkets said Ms Truss is 96 per cent favourite to win with no signs of any late betting support for Mr Sunak.
It forecasts the vote share would be 64 per cent to 36 per cent in the Foreign Secretary’s favour.
But a Conservative pollster said that while Ms Truss is on course for a “clear victory” over Mr Sunak it will be by a tighter margin than expected.
Lord Hayward, a former MP and current Tory peer, said he is not convinced Ms Truss’s victory will be by such an emphatic margin but she remains on course to become the next prime minister.
He added a tighter win will mean it is “absolutely necessary” for Ms Truss to appoint a cabinet that brings together all sides of the Tory parliamentary party.
Lord Hayward said: “My overall sense is Liz Truss will win but I am not convinced it will be by the margin that the polls are predicting.
“It will be clear, she will have a clear victory, but I would be surprised if it’s by the margin the polls are predicting.”
He said his prediction of a tighter margin of victory for Ms Truss is rooted in the conversations he has had with those who have attended the hustings.
“The party and the individuals will be bruised by the experience, there’s no question, and it will take time to recover,” he added.
“At the moment it appears from all the leaks that all the positions seem to be going to Truss supporters in the cabinet.
“Now that would be bad even if there was a very clear margin of victory, but if there’s a narrower margin of victory it is absolutely necessary that right at the top the sides are brought together.
Mr Sunak has consistently acknowledged he is the underdog and his supporters continue to hope he can cause a surprise.
Kevin Hollinrake, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, said: “I’ve seen some of the polls and national polls. I think it’s quite hard for pollsters to determine who is a Conservative member and who is not because there’s not an open database.
“But I know who mine are. I polled my 700 members, 239 of them responded, so about a third of them responded, and Rishi got an eight-point lead.
“I’ve seen similar kinds of polls around different constituencies around the country. So I don’t think he’s cut and dried. I think he’s probably neck and neck.”
The leadership contest has been characterised by infighting among Conservative MPs, with blue-on-blue attacks continuing up until the final days.
The new arrival in Downing Street will face an in-tray piled high with challenges, writes David Hughes. Here are some of the key issues:
The Bank of England has warned that inflation is set to soar to more than 13 per cent and the economy will be plunged into the longest recession since the financial crisis.
Interest rates last month were raised by the Bank from 1.25 to 1.75 per cent, the biggest hike for 27 years, adding pressure for mortgage-holders.
Gross domestic product, a measure of the economy’s size, is forecast to shrink in every three-month period from October to the start of 2024, falling by as much as 2.1 per cent, the Bank said.
The grim state of the economy is already having an impact on consumers. Average annual energy bills will rise by 80 per cent in October from £1,971 to £3,549 while there is anger over wages failing to keep pace with inflation.
Industrial unrest has hit the transport networks, criminal barristers in England and Wales are going on strike, and further action could be taken by nurses, teachers and civil servants.
The UK’s commitment to supporting Ukraine is expected to continue, but after six months of war there is a risk that fatigue will set in among Western allies.
The new Prime Minister will have to play a leading role in ensuring the allies maintain support for Kyiv at a time when the conflict is pushing up gas prices.
Boris Johnson has labelled China a “systemic competitor”, while Nato’s new strategic concept has branded Beijing a “challenge” to “our interests, security and values”.
But China’s economic clout means it will be necessary to balance trade benefits with caution over Beijing’s political motivations.
The risk of tensions between China and Taiwan boiling over will also feature highly among foreign policy concerns.
Covid backlogs, record waiting periods in A&E and unprecedented pressures on ambulance services are just some of the challenges the NHS in England is facing.
The new PM will also have to oversee the introduction of the new social care system from October 2023, which will see nobody pay more than £86,000 for their personal care, while also coping with an ageing population.
The next Prime Minister will risk further strained relations with Brussels by pushing ahead with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, allowing Britain to override part of the UK-EU deal.
Meanwhile, taking advantage of Brexit opportunities by tearing up Brussels red tape could boost business but also risks erecting barriers with the UK’s nearest trade partner.
Support for renewables and nuclear power are seen as ways to both improve energy security and meet commitments to reduce carbon emissions – but Tory opposition to onshore wind means that one of the cheapest forms of generation is off the table.
The new Prime Minister will also face the challenge of improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock and supporting the transition to electric vehicles.
The number who risk crossing the English Channel has already hit more than 23,000 and is on course to beat 2021’s record number, despite efforts to crack down on the problem.
But there will also be demands for more migrant workers to be given visas, with labour shortages one of the main concerns voiced by employers.
The leadership contest has seen weeks of vicious “blue-on-blue” infighting involving some of the party’s biggest names.
Finding a way to end the enmity among senior figures who have been tearing strips off one another will be a challenge, as will managing the bruised egos and simmering resentment among those who miss out on a seat at the Cabinet table in the new administration.
He may now have more time to spend writing his long-awaited Shakespeare book, but, like Banquo’s ghost, Mr Johnson has the potential to haunt his successor.
Never one to avoid the limelight, Mr Johnson has made little effort to conceal his resentment at being forced out of office and could make life very difficult for his replacement in Downing Street.
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The ballot of Tory members closed.
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