Tory leadership hopefuls cut from five to four amid shockingly anti-LGBTQ+ contest

Tom Tugendhat during the ITV leadership debate

Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt have continued their lead in the Conservative Party leadership contest as Tom Tugendhat is knocked out of the race to replace prime minister Boris Johnson.

After the third round of voting among Tory MPs on Monday (18 July), only four candidates now remain in a contest that has been defined by hopefuls trying to outdo the other’s anti-trans remarks and policies.

Former chancellor Sunak, trade minister Mordaunt and foreign secretary Liz Truss sailed into the next round, with former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch just about squeaking into the finishing line in fourth place.

Tugendhat, a senior backbencher, got the boot after shoring up the least amount of votes with just 31 MPs. His support had slowly languished during the first two rounds of voting, falling from 37 to 32 MPs in his corner.

The Tonbridge and Malling MP has generally supported LGBTQ+ rights and was one of the few Tory leader hopefuls to not dedicate a chunk of his leadership bid to punching down trans people.

He told Sophy Ridge on Sunday that politicians should “move on” from the endless debates over trans lives.

“A woman is an adult human female, but that doesn’t mean in any way that trans women have any less respect or any fewer rights,” Tugendhat said when asked if trans women are women.

Conservative leadership candidates Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat and Penny Mordaunt during Britain’s Next Prime Minister: The ITV Debate. (Jonathan Hordle / ITV via Getty Images)

Other contenders, however, have had slightly different approaches. Sunak’s first policy pledge was to crack down on trans rights when it comes to sports and gender-neutral language.

Mordaunt, meanwhile, has flip-flopped on her support for trans rights. She quickly clarified that she opposed the “trans orthodoxy”, made crude jokes about trans people’s genitalia and U-turned on her apparent backing of self-ID for trans Britons.

During the second televised debate on ITV, Badenoch clashed with Mordaunt as they squabbled over trans rights. Badenoch said she and Truss, the current women and equalities minister, “reversed” the pledge to roll out self-ID as part of Gender Recognition Act reforms.

Like Truss, Badenoch quickly pitched her leadership campaign as one against “identity politics”, not at all surprising LGBTQ+ campaigners.

Badenoch has long faced heat from the LGBTQ+ for her track record in the Government Equalities Office. Activists have accused her of doing little to advance LGBTQ+ rights, especially on GRA reforms and the conversion therapy ban.

The 1922 Committee of Conservative Party backbenchers is determined to whittle down the number of candidates to two by Wednesday evening with two more ballots to be cast before Parliament breaks for summer recess.

Yet a third live televised debate was set to be hosted by Sky News before it was cancelled on Monday. Truss and Sunak both pulled out at the last minute, raising concerns about the “damage” being done by the debates as party divisions become all too clear.

This means that those still standing will not have to throw any more televised punches before the final two are chosen.

They will then face a vote of around 150,000 Tory party members across the Summer.

The winner, who will both become Conservative Party leader and the prime minister of Britain, will be announced 5 September just in time for Parliament’s return.