Rishi Sunak | Photo: AP
London: Ben Wallace, who was the Secretary of State for Defence in underfire British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government and is still holding the portfolio as a caretaker, has emerged as a possible favourite in an opinion poll to succeed Johnson.
Bowing to the inevitable after mass resignations across his government, including that of top Cabinet ministers, Johnson on Thursday announced he is stepping down as leader of the Conservative Party, but will remain the UK Prime Minister till his replacement is chosen.
The BBC reported: "A YouGov poll of 716 Conservative party members placed Ben Wallace just ahead of Penny Mordaunt, who was followed by Rishi Sunak."
The sample was small and therefore the response is not entirely reliable. At the same time, the findings are not unexpected.
Wallace did his prospects no harm in handling the situation arising out of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Mordaunt is Minister of State for International Trade in the outgoing government. Her name has, though, been doing the rounds for some time. She is said to have support among a section of the rank and file as well as Members of Parliament.
Sunak, who is of Indian origin, was in surveys earlier in the year being touted as a front-runner for the PM's post.
But after he introduced taxes to reduce the borrowings caused by bailing out lives and livelihoods during the Covid-19 pandemic, his popularity was dented. A controversy over his Indian wife's tax affairs further damaged his reputation. There is no certainty that he will put himself up for the test.
The YouGov poll put Wallace's support at 13 per cent, Mordaunt's at 12 per cent and Sunak's at 10 per cent. They are followed by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss at 8 per cent; Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab at 7 per cent; Tom Tugendhat, Chair of the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee, at 6 per cent; Jeremy Hunt, former Foreign and Health Secretary who lost the leadership contest to Johnson three years ago, at 6 per cent; Nadhim Zahawi, who took over as Chancellor of Exchequer after Sunak's resignation and is of Kurdish background, at 5 per cent; former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who is of Pakistani descent, at 4 per cent; Priti Patel, who is of East African Indian extraction, at 3 per cent; and Steve Barclay, who was Johnson's Chief of Staff, at 1 per cent.
Twelve per cent of the respondents said 'None of the above', while 9 per cent reacted by saying 'Don't know'.
Interestingly, Suella Fernandes Braverman, who is also of Indian heritage and had announced she would throw her hat into the ring on BBC Radio, did not elicit any support.
The intentions of others were until Thursday afternoon not officially known. However, Truss, who was in Indonesia attending the G20 foreign ministers' conference, decided to cut short her participation and rush back to, reportedly, organise her campaign.
Under Conservative Party rules, a candidate needs the support of at least eight fellow MPs to contest. If there are more than two candidates, the Conservative parliamentary party holds elimination votes until just two runners remains. At that point, a ballot among the entire Conservative Party membership decides the winner.