Battle is on to be next PM with Rishi Sunak & Liz Truss among contenders – and there’s a surprise frontrunner

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BEN Wallace and Rishi Sunak have emerged as early frontrunners to be next PM as Britain braces itself for an intense Tory leadership contest.

At least ten candidates are likely to join the race for the top job, with jostling for position underway within minutes of the PM’s resignation.

Conservative Party bosses fear a series of nasty “blue on blue” clashes, as bitterness over the ousting of Boris Johnson spills over.

In an early sign of trouble, the vanquished PM’s loyal lieutenant Jacob Rees-Mogg last night twisted the knife into Mr Rishi Sunak — accusing him of wrecking the economy.

He raged: “Rishi Sunak was not a successful Chancellor. He was a high tax Chancellor, and he was a Chancellor who was not alert to the inflationary problem.”

He added: “We are facing internationally the greatest crisis in relation to inflation and I’m afraid the Treasury has not been tackling that properly. It has not been focusing on the inflationary issue. It has not taken charge of quantitative easing.”

Party elders expect the leadership contest to be a straight up fight between Mr Wallace and Mr Sunak, with new Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi a lively outsider.

Polling yesterday gave Defence Secretary Mr Wallace the an early lead among Tory members. He topped a YouGov poll of 716 Tories, with 13 per cent saying he would be their first choice.

And the 52-year-old MP for Wyre and Preston North in Lancs beats all of his rivals in a series of head to head match-ups. Mr Wallace trounces Liz Truss by 48 per cent to 29 per cent, according to the survey.

He wins 48 per cent to 26 against Penny Mordaunt and beats closest rival Mr Sunak 51 to 30. Backers say Mr Wallace, a decorated former Army Captain who served in Northern Ireland, is the man to steady the ship after months of bitter Tory wars.

He is weighing up a run at the top job. Meanwhile, Mr Rishi Sunak — the former Chancellor known for his giant Covid bailouts — has been telling fellow Tories he is the “Vote Leave candidate” in a bid to hoover up Brexit votes.

His replacement in the Treasury, Mr Zahawi, is also putting together a team to catapult him into No10. Trade policy minister Ms Mordaunt, a former magician’s assistant who appeared on telly show Splash!, is also planning to run.

‘Fizz with Liz’

And Foreign Secretary Ms Truss was in a frantic 8,000-mile dash back from Bali last night to schmooze her colleagues as she plans to throw her hat into the ring.

She has been tapping colleagues up for their backing in a leadership contest for some time — throwing cosy dinners and “fizz with Liz” events.

Resigning on the steps of No10 yesterday lunchtime, Mr Johnson urged his successor to carry on his mission to level up Britain.

Admitting defeat after an explosive 48 hours in which more than 50 Tories quit his frontbench, the PM said that while he is out of No10 his party must stick to the promises he made during the historic 2019 landslide election.

He added: “If I have one insight into human beings, it is that genius and talent and enthusiasm and imagination are evenly distributed throughout the population.

“But opportunity is not.

“And that is why we need to keep levelling up, keep unleashing the potential of every part of the United Kingdom, and if we can do that in this country, we will be the most prosperous in Europe.”

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