British Indian former Cabinet minister Rishi Sunak maintained his lead as the race to replace Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and next UK Prime Minister widened on Sunday with a total of nine candidates in the fray, with Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt emerging as an early second favourite.
Mordaunt shared a #pm4pm video to announce her candidacy, following Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Pakistani-origin former Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
The complete line-up so far for the leadership race includes Goan-origin Attorney General Suella Braverman, Iraqi-origin Nadhim Zahawi, Nigerian-origin Kemi Bedanoch and Tory backbencher Tom Tugendhat.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is expected to declare her candidacy soon too, taking the total to 10 potential candidates in one of the widest battlefields for a Tory leadership race.
"Our leadership has to change. It needs to become a little less about the leader and a lot more about the ship," said Mordaunt, who is now second ranked in the bookmaker’s odds with Sunak still ahead.
“If I become Prime Minister, I will protect women’s rights and ensure women and girls enjoy the same freedom most males take for granted in feeling safe from assault and abuse,” the UK-born former Chancellor said on Sunday.
The 42-year-old son-in-law of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy had launched his bid with a pledge to restore trust, rebuild the economy and reunite the country.
He is yet to lay out his plans in full but has so far not indicated any immediate tax cuts if elected leader.
For a traditionally low-tax favouring Conservative Party, the focus of the race is expected to be on the candidates’ plans to cut taxes.
Javid—the UK-born son of British Pakistani bus driver who has also served as a former Chancellor in the Cabinet—promised wide-ranging tax cuts, including cancelling next year's scheduled hike in corporation tax from 19 per cent to 25 per cent and instead gradually reduce it by 1p a year to 15 per cent.
"I don't believe in unfunded tax cuts. This is a funded proposal," he told the BBC soon after launching his bid.
Hunt, who came second in the last Tory leadership race when he lost to Boris Johnson, has set out a rival plan to reduce corporation tax to 15 per cent in the Budget later this year if elected.
He also revealed that if he becomes leader, he would make former minister Esther McVey, who founded the "blue collar" group aiming to target working-class voters, his Deputy Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, Nadhim Zahawi has also said he wants to cut taxes for "individuals, families and businesses" and Shapps has promised to cut personal tax for the poorest.
The timetable for the leadership contest is expected to be announced next week after a meeting on Monday of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbench MPs, who set the rules for the race.
It will be a two-stage process, with Conservative MPs whittling down the field to two candidates through successive rounds of voting, before the wider Tory party membership elect their winner.
It is expected that the new Conservative Party leader would be known by early September.