Theresa May demands competition not coronation as Tory lead widens

Home Secretary Theresa May attends a boat race during day three of the 2016 Henley Royal Regatta.

Home Secretary Theresa May attends a boat race during day three of the 2016 Henley Royal Regatta.

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THERESA May has demanded a “proper contest” for the Conservative leadership, as polling suggests she is racing towards victory.

The frontrunner to replace David Cameron dismissed suggestions that one candidate should be given a clear run if they receive overwhelming support from Tory MPs in the early rounds of voting.

Andrea Leadsom arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in London to appear on the BBC One current affairs programme, The Andrew Marr Show.

Andrea Leadsom arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in London to appear on the BBC One current affairs programme, The Andrew Marr Show.

Mrs May said she was not taking “anything for granted”, adding there is a need for the arguments to be heard by Tory members.

Bitter recriminations over rival Michael Gove’s decision to pull the rug from under Boris Johnson’s leadership bid appear to have dented his prospects of taking on the Home Secretary in the final vote.

YP Comment: A spineless dereliction of duty and act of betrayal - why Boris turned his back on No10

Q&A: How and when new Prime Minister will be chosen

Theresa May is racing towards victory with six in 10 Conservatives backing her to replace David Cameron

Theresa May is racing towards victory with six in 10 Conservatives backing her to replace David Cameron

Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Theresa May enter race for No10

Kate Proctor: The case for Michael Gove succeeding David Cameron

Sketch: Stephen Crabb on unity, opportunity and rugby

The Justice Secretary faces being pushed into third place by fellow Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom, whose support is growing.

Michael Gove speaking at the Policy Exchange in London, where he set out his case for becoming leader of the Conservative Party

Michael Gove speaking at the Policy Exchange in London, where he set out his case for becoming leader of the Conservative Party

Mrs May told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “I think there should be a contest.

“I think it’s important members have their opportunity to have their say and I think that what people want to hear is what the arguments are and people putting those arguments together.”

She added: “I believe there should be a proper contest. I think there should be a proper contest and obviously I hope I’m one of the candidates that will go forward to the membership.

“I don’t take anything for granted, I never do in elections, but I think it’s important the arguments are heard.”

Mrs May also dismissed an early general election for the new prime minister as “another destabilising factor” for the economy.

With levels of support stronger than the combined total of her four rivals, Mrs May appears to be on course to take the keys to No 10.

She was backed by 60% of Tory voters, with Mr Gove second on 10 points and Mrs Leadsom on six, according to the ICM poll for The Sun on Sunday.

Among party members, who will vote to decide the winner of the leadership contest, some 46% say she would make the best prime minister.

Mrs May has also been backed by more MPs, who select the final two candidates to go on to the ballot paper, than any of the other candidates.

Although the poll puts Mr Gove, who has wider name recognition, ahead of Mrs Leadsom, bookies have slashed the odds on the junior minister making it through the knock-out stages in Parliament to go up against Mrs May in the head-to-head.

The first round of voting to whittle down the field of runners is being held on Tuesday.

More than half of those polled - 55% - by ICM were unable to give any view on Mrs Leadsom or Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb, who have lower profiles than the long-standing Cabinet ministers, and 42% had the same problem with former frontbencher Liam Fox.

Former City worker Mrs Leadsom has likened herself to Margaret Thatcher and praised the late prime minister’s ability to mix toughness with “personal warmth”.

She told The Sunday Telegraph: “As a person, she was always kind and courteous and as a leader she was steely and determined.

“I think that’s an ideal combination - and I do like to think that’s where I am.”

Bitter recriminations over rival Michael Gove’s decision to pull the rug from under Boris Johnson’s leadership bid appear to have dented his prospects of taking on the Home Secretary in the final vote.

The Justice Secretary faces being pushed into third place by fellow Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom, whose support is growing.

Former City worker Mrs Leadsom has likened herself to Margaret Thatcher and praised the late prime minister’s ability to mix toughness with “personal warmth”.

She told The Sunday Telegraph: “As a person, she was always kind and courteous and as a leader she was steely and determined.

“I think that’s an ideal combination - and I do like to think that’s where I am.”

But details emerged today of a speech Mrs Leadsom made three years ago, saying leaving the EU would be a disaster.

According to the Mail on Sunday, she told the Hansard Society’s Annual Parliamentary Affairs Lecture: “I’m going to nail my colours to the mast here: I don’t think the UK should leave the EU. I think it would be a disaster for our economy and it would lead to a decade of economic and political uncertainty at a time when the tectonic plates of global success are moving.

“Economic success is the vital underpinning of every happy nation. The well-being we all crave goes hand in hand with economic success.”

YP Comment: A spineless dereliction of duty and act of betrayal - why Boris turned his back on No10

Q&A: How and when new Prime Minister will be chosen

Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Theresa May enter race for No10

Kate Proctor: The case for Michael Gove succeeding David Cameron

Sketch: Stephen Crabb on unity, opportunity and rugby

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