When last June it seemed that, once and for all, Boris Johnson would emerge exonerated and victorious from the Partygate scandal and his own party's confidence motion, the scandal of the sexual abuse accusations against the Tories' number two knocked on the doors of 10 Downing Street. The problem that ended up dealing the coup de grâce to an executive that had been walking a tightrope for more than half a year.
And, as happened with John Major in 1995 and with Theresa May in 2019, the call for the vote of confidence, although passed, became the fulfilled prophecy of the fall of the British premier.
When Johnson admitted, days after the scandal was revealed, that he was aware of the past of Chris Pincher, the Tory disciplinary officer, and of his records for inappropriate attitudes towards different men, the beginning of the end was hastened. In less than a week, nearly 60 members of the Tory Executive presented their resignations to the Prime Minister, breaking the two records held until then by the Conservative Theresa May: the highest total number of resignations on record, and the most in a single day. As well as becoming the fourth longest-serving prime minister in power.
With this list of scandals behind him, and without the support of his own party members, on 7 July Johnson announced to Downing Street his decision to step down as leader of the Conservative Party and resign as British prime minister. "The party has made clear that there should be a new leader and therefore a new prime minister," he said, asserting that the process of choosing a new leader should begin "now".
That now is now. And the race to succeed the Tory has formally begun, although Boris Johnson's political corpse still remains in the official residence. A sort of reminder of what already seems to be a British custom: writing the biography of the new Conservative premiers on the epitaph of their predecessors.
Thus, the first results of the ballots that will narrow down the list of candidates already give a general idea of the major rivals from which the Conservative militancy will most likely have to choose. This list has initially emerged as one of the most diverse to date, initially including three ethnic minority contenders and four women, which could leave the first minority premier, or the third female leader.
The first ballot, held on Wednesday 13 July, began with eight candidates who had to pass the 30-vote threshold to continue as candidates in the second round. The new finance minister - who, two days after taking office, asked Johnson to resign - Nadhum Zahawi, and the former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, failed to make the cut, and were left out of the race for Downing Street. A similar fate befell Attorney General Suella Braverman in the second round of voting on Thursday. With a total of 27 votes, making her the lowest-voted candidate, the Tory, who is of Kenyan and Mauritian descent, also dropped out of the race.
The Tory list is now down to five.
The Tories' favourite candidate until the scandal over the special tax status of his wife, Akshata Murty, Rishi Sunak has presented himself as the candidate of "fiscal probability", advocating, like the rest of his competitors, for tax cuts. Along with Sajid Javid, another of the heavyweights of Johnson's executive, Sunak was one of the first ministers to resign after the Chris Pincher scandal and now leads the list of contenders to succeed the Tory premier.
The UK "needs honesty and accountability, not fairy tales" to overcome the crisis after the Ukraine war and COVID-19, Sunak said.
The first ballot put the candidate at the top of the race with 88 votes, and the second ballot, in which he received 101 votes, only consolidated his position. Closely followed by the stellar rise of Penny Mordaunt, the first woman at the helm of the Ministry of Defence in 2019.
Sunak's unexpected great rival, Mordaunt was one of the most repeated names during Theresa Mey's tenure, when she became the first woman in the Defence portfolio. But in the years that followed, the Tory kept a low profile that has not re-emerged to the forefront until now, when she seems to have emerged as the figure capable of bringing a hugely divided Conservative Party back together again.
In line with a YouGov poll which claims that Mordaunt is the favourite of 27% of the military (ahead of Sunak, Truss and Badenoch), the MP maintains a growing trend among her supporters. In the first ballot, Mordaunt received 69 votes, which rose to 83 in the second ballot.
Third in the race so far is Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. With 50 votes in the first round of voting and 64 in the second, the head of British diplomacy initially seemed to be the ideal candidate for the hard right wing of the Tories and - until Mordaunt's landslide - the favourite of the Conservative militancy thanks to her rejection of state interventionism.
Among Truss's main arguments are her willingness to cut taxes and her promise to increase defence spending to 3% and, as a plus point, her "experience in fulfilling the mandate from day one", the minister has argued.
The last two places on the second ballot were taken by former Equalities Secretary of State Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat, the chair of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, with 49 and 32 votes respectively.
The latter is the representative of the more moderate wing of the Tories in One Nation, a group that brings together around 50 MPs, which accredits him as a candidate, although one of the problems he faces is Johnson's failure to resign as an MP. On the other hand, he will use this to justify his responsibility for the functioning of the government and his feeling of duty to the country's politics.
After the first two ballots, which followed the official closing of nominations on 12 July, the next rounds of consultation with MPs are expected to narrow the list of candidates until only two remain. These votes, which will resume on Monday 18 July, will gradually eliminate the candidate with the fewest votes.
From Friday 22 July, the last two candidates will begin campaigning around the country to win support among the nearly 160,000 members, so that on 5 September - when the post-holiday parliamentary sessions resume - the 1922 Committee (which brings together Conservative MPs without government posts) will announce the name of the winner, who will become the new Conservative leader.