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Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi out of contest to be new prime minister

NADHIM Zahawi is out of the running to be the country’s next prime minister after he yesterday (Wednesday) failed to secure enough backing from MPs to challenge for the leadership of the Conservative Party.

The Stratford MP and chancellor was among eight candidates looking for votes from their colleagues in Westminster.

But when the results of the vote were announced at 5pm, Mr Zahawi had only secured 25 – the target to reach the next round was 30.

Six challengers will now go forward to the next round of voting, with former chancellor Rishi Sunak leading the way with 88 votes. Penny Mordaunt received 67 votes, Liz Truss 50 votes, Kemi Badenoch 40 votes, Tom Tugendhat 37 votes, and Suella Braverman 32 votes.

Tory leader race candidates R1 result (57972266)
Tory leader race candidates R1 result (57972266)

Jeremy Hunt was also eliminated from the race.

Mr Zahawi said in a statement: "I stood for the position of leader of the Conservative Party because I have a passionate vision for the United Kingdom that I want to see. One where ability, skills and productivity are to key to achieving success and where there is opportunity for all.”

He added: “I am very grateful for the support of colleagues in this leadership election and to Conservatives up and down the country who have got behind me and sent me best wishes.

“Clearly my part in the contest has now ended.”

He said his priority is his work as chancellor.

His campaign was built around five pledges, one of which saw him join some rivals in offering tax cuts to win across fellow MPs, giving them something positive to take back to their constituencies.

Mr Zahawi said: “I do think we need to look at how we can cut taxes to help with the cost of living.

“I’ve made a pledge that I will bring forward the reduction in the basic rate of income tax to 19p to next year and then go further the following year with a reduction to 18p.”

The offering of tax cuts in general had its critics, concerned that putting more money in people’s pockets will increase spending and push inflation higher still.

Mr Zahawi hit back that his cuts would not be until next year. Inflation would be among the first priorities.

Nadhim Zahawi (57941861)
Nadhim Zahawi (57941861)

Another part of his tax pledge was to keep corporation tax “where it is today at 19 per cent”. The government’s focus, he said, needs to be on making the country the best place in the world to do business and attract international investment.

Closer to many people’s hearts was his third pledge to lower energy bills and provide energy security by “pausing VAT and green levies on energy bills for two years”.

However, the commitment to net zero would remain, he stressed.

Under Mr Zahawi the MoD would have seen its budget raised by 2025 to £57bn while his fourth pledge was to be “a partner with business” allowing business to take a lead in sweeping away the “bureaucracy inherited from the EU”.

The final pledge involved another traditional Conservative policy of tackling crime.

“We have to be tough on criminals,” Mr Zahawi said. “Police are doing a great job, but if the court system is not working properly we can’t get those people behind bars, so I will make sure we invest in the court system and the legal services to clear the court backlog.”

He added that police would be told to focus on violent crime and fraud.

All of the pledges, he declared, had been costed – they could be delivered and one of his methods for balancing the books would be to shrink the size of government departments.

When he appeared before Conservative MPs on Tuesday, Mr Zahawi added another priority he would deliver as PM: support for the family.

“Family has become a taboo word in Westminster, and this has to change. Children thrive when they grow up in happy and healthy home environments, and we shouldn’t be shy about recognising that,” he said.

However, while his work in government has been acknowledge as successful, Mr Zahawi’s association with Mr Johnson and a government which bounced from scandal to scandal is likely to have left him tainted.

There have also been accusations that Mr Zahawi has Mr Johnson’s blood on his hands. While many MPs – and members of the public will see that as positive thing, but not perhaps the way it came about.

Mr Zahawi was on LBC radio on Tuesday (12th July) explaining his elevation to chancellor and his quick transformation to assassin – or, as he would refer to it, a friend telling someone it was time to go.

He and Mr Johnson, the radio listeners were told, were to work on a speech for a strategy to help with cost-of-living. The prime minister and his new chancellor working on their first project together.

“Of course, that speech didn’t happen because on Wednesday late afternoon it became obvious to me that so many ministers had resigned it was becoming nigh on impossible to form a functioning government and I decided to go to No 10 and meet with the prime minister, a friend who I have known for 30 years, and to say to him it is going to be impossible to continue as a functioning government,” explained Mr Zahawi.

“I felt it was right, and my responsibility, to say to my friend he needed to think about his position, decide on that and control that situation rather than have it transcend into chaos.”

The next day, Mr Zahawi said he felt he needed to write the letter to Mr Johnson, reminding him of the conversation the night before and asking him to do the right thing.

He did not offer to resign himself, adding that the stewardship of the economy had to be the priority.

“I have always put country and party before everything else in everything I’ve done,” he said.

However, later in the programme his association with Mr Johnson was raised by a listener who questioned the integrity of everyone in government over the last two years.

Should he stand for leader when he defended the behaviour, he was asked.

There was no direct answer, more of a recounting of what had taken place around the Chris Pincher allegations (past and present) and a pledge to restore transparency and bring in the private sector to provide “better quality training preparing people for responsibility of ministerial office”.

Mr Zahawi did admit that the government had lost its way; its message wasn’t reaching the public and Conservative voters.

“People couldn’t really describe our economy strategy,” he said. “Yes, the government did well through the pandemic – furlough was a brilliant scheme – and that was really, really clear.

“I think since then we have not really articulated what is a Conservative economic strategy and what I would do if elected as leader of the party and prime minister is explain to people what the strategy is.”

That may still happen as chancellor, but not as prime minister.

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