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The race to replace Liz Truss

CHERYL W THOMPSON, HOST:

Well, that's the million-dollar question. Who will replace Truss? The Conservatives are scrambling to settle on a new leader by the end of next week. It is the second search for a new leader in less than four months. Boris Johnson resigned in July, clearing the way for Truss. And now that she is out, he is even being mentioned as a possible successor. As Willem Marx reports, Johnson is just one of three likely contenders.

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: By the end of next week, when she formally steps down, Liz Truss will have served less time in office than she spent campaigning for the premiership. After Boris Johnson resigned in early July amid a swirl of scandals, she spent the summer doing battle for the keys to Downing Street with a range of rivals. Among them was Rishi Sunak, Johnson's longtime finance minister, who came to prominence in the pandemic for his free-spending approach to public finances. He is now the front-runner to replace Truss, but besides a former defense minister, Penny Mordaunt, he may also have to beat his old boss, Boris Johnson. To get on the ballot, the two men and one woman would need 100 backers confirmed by Monday from among their fellow conservative legislators. But as Johnson jetted back from a Caribbean vacation in his West London constituency of Uxbridge, some people are far from thrilled at the prospect he may return as prime minister.

EILEEN COKDEGER: He might be a very prominent person, but I don't find him reliable.

MARX: Outside the local subway station, Eileen Cokdeger says Johnson's behavior lost him the job earlier this year and is unlikely to change if he wins it back.

COKDEGER: Ever since he's been in politics, it's not a new thing. He has had scandal upon scandal upon scandal upon scandal.

MARX: Like many voters, Eileen says a general election seems the most reasonable route out of the current political chaos. All of the U.K.'s opposition politicians agree. But the Conservatives have a majority in Parliament. They're a mess in the polls and so have no interest in an election. None of the three likely leadership contenders have spoken publicly about their bid, but Penny Mordaunt has released a slickly shot video that plays up her relatively humble origins compared to her two very privileged competitors.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PENNY MORDAUNT: But ask yourself this - do they understand the life you live? Have they experienced it? Will they make that experience count? I have, and I will.

MARX: Johnson clearly has experience but will soon face a parliamentary investigation into his behavior during COVID lockdowns. And his former deputy, Dominic Raab, told the BBC that made Rishi Sunak the best option for Britain.

DOMINIC RAAB: I think the country needs a prime minister that is focused 100% on them, and I just don't see, as a practical matter, that that can be Boris if he's then dealing with all of those issues.

MARX: It was financial markets, along with her Conservative colleagues, that ultimately put an end to Truss as Prime Minister. Whoever replaces her next week, those same markets may be more focused on another moment later in the month when an updated tax and spending budget for the U.K. is finally unveiled. For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Willem Marx