A number of big names have gone public with their endorsement of Liz Truss over the past fortnight, with carefully timed announcements by her campaign strategists at opportune times to grab headlines.
But to keep the momentum going over the next few weeks as political news dry up, the Foreign Secretary’s team wants to go further by unseating those who have already declared their support for his rival in the Tory leadership, Rishi Sunak. .
They still hope to reduce the already shaky morale of his camp by convincing MPs to back a winner, underscoring Truss’ meteoric lead in many opinion polls.
But the higher his chances of becoming prime minister, the less reward there is for those who jump ship and are accused of rank opportunism.
The most coveted endorsements are from fellow leadership candidates, given the attention they attract and the fact that they often bring their allies with them.
Penny Mordaunt stole the show at the second hustings in Exeter by taking the stage to introduce and support Truss. However, some of his supporters felt betrayed and did not follow suit, given that they blamed the Foreign Secretary’s team for a series of smears that left Mordaunt left out of the membership ballot by potentially only four votes of deputies.
Earlier in the contest, Tom Tugendhat was waiting with open arms to welcome Truss to a campaign event held at a military base. A few weeks ago, an ordinary backbench MP but now seen as a heavyweight for his fifth-place finish in the Tory leadership race, his support was crucial in bringing other MPs “with one nation”.
Another useful endorsement for Truss came from Sajid Javid, who, although he had to drop out of the race early on after failing to garner enough nominations, held several cabinet positions. The sting in his snobbery of Sunak, his friend and former Treasury protege, left Truss’s team rubbing their hands in glee.
After getting most of the cabinet back – Defense Secretary Ben Wallace; Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and Boris Johnson loyalists such as Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg – there is one more former leadership candidate who has yet to give her endorsement.
Kemi Badenoch, touted as a rising star by the conservative right, has been wooed but has so far kept her powder dry.
A Truss ally complained that if Badenoch didn’t go “beyond that, it could determine [whether] she gets a job at the firm.” They said other MPs had to endure media rounds, taking criticism for Truss on his behalf and added: ‘You would be wronged if someone who couldn’t be bothered was parachuted to the top.’
Sunak has failed to win major new endorsements since his cabinet’s seven supporters emerged early in the campaign. His latest backers have mainly included the old guard – former Tory leaders like William Hague and Michael Howard, as well as Thatcher-era cabinet ministers, including his chancellor, Nigel Lawson.
Given the way the contest is going, several outspoken Sunak supporters said they were quietly encouraged by Truss’ team to switch sides.
James Evans, a Tory member of the Senedd in Wales, said after this week’s roundups in Cardiff that he initially backed Sunak “but as it has gone on there is only one person to unite the country and party and it’s Liz Truss”.
In the beaming photo next to her in the post announcing her decision, Evans hadn’t tweeted any expressions of support for Sunak. And an ally of the former Chancellor insisted he had “never come out to us”.
Another source from Sunak’s team accused Truss of “desperately” trying to suck up his supporters. “It’s the only way she can keep her momentum going, and it’ll be toxic to us,” they sighed. “It’s sucking momentum.”
“If someone changes their mind, it won’t be because they changed their mind, it will be because they lost their temper and collapsed,” said a third.
Truss’ campaign argues that they are simply trying to prepare for the end of the contest, which has caused some damaging blue-on-blue attacks.
About two dozen Truss supporters will sign a letter published later this week stressing the need for the party to unite, as Sunak’s team grows increasingly frustrated and seeks to land more blows on him to avoid a he does look like a waiting loser. .
An MP who refused to endorse either candidate predicted there would soon be ‘rats jumping the sinking ship’.
But even if Truss manages to score even more points on Sunak by knocking down the fans, she will inherit a restless party.
“She may have the associations on board, but she will suffer the same fate as [former Labour leader] Jeremy Corbyn and not being able to gain control of the parliamentary party,” warned another Conservative source, who has yet to say. “She might win this battle, but not the war.”