Tory leader war rages ahead of key hustings and TV debate TODAY

Tory leader war rages ahead of key hustings and TV debate TODAY 2
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Penny Mordaunt complained that Tory rivals are deploying ‘black ops’ to block her from the last two in the contest because they know she will win.

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The trade minister – a surprise bookies’ favourite – demanded her opponents tone down their tactics as she boasted about polls suggesting is the most popular with party members.

She also tried to quell a rising backlash about her stance on gender issues, saying ‘Westminster is tying itself in knots’ about the topic and she believes women have a right to exclude trans people from single-sex spaces.  

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The intervention, in a Sky News interview, came as the fight for the keys to No10 intensifies again, with the five surviving candidate prepare to go head-to-head in hustings and a live TV debate.

Rivals have been engaged in a wave of brutal briefing as Liz Truss tries to claw back ground, with allies of the Foreign Secretary branding Ms Mordaunt ‘utterly incompetent’ and warning her becoming PM would be ‘akin to a Corbynite takeover of the Conservative Party’. 

Former Brexit minister Lord Frost drew a furious response after urging the other right-winger left in the contest, Kemi Badenoch, to pull out and get behind Ms Truss – something she has flatly dismissed. 

Senior backbencher Simon Hoare, who is supporting Mr Sunak, swiped at the peer saying no-one ‘gives a flying f***’ what an ‘unelected, failed minister’ thinks. 

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Ms Mordaunt’s supporters have struck back by predicting that Ms Truss will be ‘aggressive and Marmite’ in the first televised debate on Channel 4 tonight, with one telling The Times she could end up looking like ‘Cruella de Vil’.

Ms Truss has been boosted by an endorsement from right-wing rival Suella Braverman, who was knocked out of the contest in the second round last night.

Ms Braverman also laid into Ms Mordaunt over her stance on gender issues, accusing her of trying to keep the word ‘woman’ out of maternity legislation.

Penny Mordaunt (pictured) has been installed as the surprise bookies' favourite due to polls showing she would beat frontrunner Rishi Sunak - and all the other contenders - in a run-off ballot of party members

Penny Mordaunt (pictured) has been installed as the surprise bookies’ favourite due to polls showing she would beat frontrunner Rishi Sunak – and all the other contenders – in a run-off ballot of party members

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Rishi Sunak

Liz Truss

Rishi Sunak (left) still has most support from MPs, while Liz Truss (right) is trying to claw back ground 

Ms Truss has been boosted by an endorsement from right-wing rival Suella Braverman (pictured), who was knocked out of the contest in the second round last night

Ms Truss has been boosted by an endorsement from right-wing rival Suella Braverman (pictured), who was knocked out of the contest in the second round last night

Senior backbencher Simon Hoare, who is supporting Mr Sunak, hit back at interventions from Lord Frost backing Liz Truss, swiping that no-one 'gives a flying f***' what an 'unelected, failed minister' thinks

Senior backbencher Simon Hoare, who is supporting Mr Sunak, hit back at interventions from Lord Frost backing Liz Truss, swiping that no-one ‘gives a flying f***’ what an ‘unelected, failed minister’ thinks

Tory leadership race: Round two vote result 

Rishi Sunak: 101 (+13)

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Penny Mordaunt: 83 (+16)

Liz Truss: 64 (+14)

Kemi Badenoch: 49 (+9)

Tom Tugendhat:  32 (-5)

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ELIMINATED 

Suella Braverman: 27 (-5) 

Ms Mordaunt said: ‘People obviously are trying to stop me getting into the final because they don’t want to run against me.’ 

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She insisted that her campaign was ‘not engaging in any of these black ops’, and said her competitors ‘might like to think about doing the same’ because ‘the worst thing would be is if we come out of this contest not in good shape’.

Ms Mordaunt also tried to put the gender debate to one side, saying that she is ‘genetically a woman’ and trans women are not. She insisted it is not fair for biological men to compete in women’s sport. 

But she added: ‘I think we should be concentrating on the big issues that are worrying – and terrifying in some cases – the public.

‘The huge cost of living issues that we have, access to health care, just the services that they want to see run really efficiently from the state.

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‘I understand why people are trying to stop me getting into the final two, but I am going to stay focused on the things that matter to the public and the people we’re here to serve.’

The identity of the top two contenders who will go forward to the run-off ballot of Tory activists is still far from clear after the second round of voting by MPs. 

Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak came top with 101 votes and Ms Mordaunt was second with 83 – adding 16 to her previous tally.

Ms Truss was still well behind on 64 – up 14 – while Ms Badenoch received 49, up nine. Tom Tugendhat is also still in the battle with 32 votes despite losing support.

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The candidates will take part in hustings for the grassroots ConservativeHome website at 1pm, before facing off on Channel 4 at 7.30pm. There will be another ITV debate on Sunday night and MPs then vote again on Monday to eliminate another hopeful.

Ms Braverman came out in support of Ms Truss after they held talks last night, describing the Foreign Secretary as the ‘best person to unleash the opportunities of Brexit’ and deliver tax cuts, as the right of the party seeks to rally round a single candidate.

Taking influential Tory Steve Baker’s vote with her, it was a blow to Kemi Badenoch, who was facing pressure to pull out and back Ms Truss to keep Mr Sunak or Ms Mordaunt out of No 10.

In a statement, Ms Braverman said: ‘Liz is the best person to unleash the opportunities of Brexit, and deliver much needed tax cuts.

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‘I’m confident she will defend free speech, champion equality of opportunity and take a robust line on illegal immigration.’

Meanwhile, Lord Frost urged Ms Badenoch to withdraw from the Tory leadership race and back Ms Truss.

Writing for the Daily Telegraph, Lord Frost said: ‘We need unity among free marketeers. Kemi and Suella Braverman set out convincing programmes, with differing emphases, for change. 

Lord Frost urges Badenoch to pull out 

Former Brexit minister Lord Frost has thrown his support behind Liz Truss as he urged Kemi Badenoch to pull out of the Tory leadership contest so there can be ‘unity among free marketeers’.

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‘Kemi and Suella Braverman set out convincing programmes, with differing emphases, for change,’ the 57-year-old wrote in The Daily Telegraph.

‘But Liz’s depth of experience, her energy and ideas – as well as the simple fact she has the most votes of the three – put her in the lead.

‘It is now time for pragmatism. I urge Kemi to stand down in return for a serious job in a Truss administration.’

Ms Badenoch was under pressure early on Friday to withdraw and back Ms Truss to keep Rishi Sunak or Penny Mordaunt out of No 10.

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Ms Badenoch’s campaign, however, said she is ‘in it to win’.

Her spokesman said: ‘Kemi has brought interesting ideas and a new approach to this leadership contest. She is looking forward to the debates this weekend.

‘She has no intention of stepping down and is in it to win.’

‘But Liz’s depth of experience, her energy and ideas – as well as the simple fact she has the most votes of the three – put her in the lead.

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He added: ‘It is now time for pragmatism. I urge Kemi to stand down in return for a serious job in a Truss administration.’

Former health minister Ed Argar, Home Office minister Tom Pursglove and defence minister James Heappey also endorsed Ms Truss yesterday.

The Foreign Secretary used her campaign launch yesterday to promise continuity on Mr Johnson’s key pledges such as levelling up, while breaking with the economic policy pursued by Mr Sunak.

There had been fury at the refusal of Mrs Braverman to step aside and lend her supporters to Miss Truss. 

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One ally said: ‘If she had dropped out in the morning we could have expected a significant number of her people to come across, giving Liz momentum into the weekend. It was a golden opportunity missed.’

In her speech in central London yesterday, Miss Truss highlighted her experience as a former chief secretary to the Treasury, and said she was the only candidate with the experience to offer a credible economic alternative to Mr Sunak.

‘We are at a critical moment for our country,’ she said. ‘Now is the time to be bold, we cannot have business-as-usual economic management, which has led to low growth for decades.’ 

She pledged to introduce ‘bold supply-side reforms’ including ‘cutting taxes’.

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Ms Truss also said she had opposed Mr Sunak’s hike in national insurance and would scrap it if elected.

And she defended her decision to stand by Boris Johnson when others were deserting him. 

‘I am a loyal person. I am loyal to Boris Johnson,’ she said.

‘I supported our Prime Minister’s aspirations and I want to deliver the promise of the 2019 manifesto. 

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‘What we need to do now is deliver, deliver, deliver, and I am the person in this race who has the record of delivery.’

Tom Tugendhat is still in the contest despite losing ground in the latest round of voting by MPs

Kemi Badenoch (pictured) has dismissed calls to stand aside and support Liz Truss

Tom Tugendhat (left) is still in the contest despite losing ground in the latest round of voting by MPs. Kemi Badenoch (right) has dismissed calls to stand aside and support Liz Truss

A YouGov poll found the run-off margin for Penny Mordaunt against Rishi Sunak could be 67 per cent to 28 per cent, while the former Chancellor could lose 59 per cent to 25 per cent against Liz Truss

A YouGov poll found the run-off margin for Penny Mordaunt against Rishi Sunak could be 67 per cent to 28 per cent, while the former Chancellor could lose 59 per cent to 25 per cent against Liz Truss

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