Theresa May demands a ‘proper’ leadership contest

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

The frontrunner to replace prime minister 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.

Ms May said that 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 Ms May in the final vote.

Mr Gove faces being pushed into third place by fellow Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom, whose support is growing.

Ms May told ITV: “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.”

Ms 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, Ms 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 Ms 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, 46% say she would make the best prime minister.

Ms 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 Ms Leadsom, bookies have slashed the odds on the junior minister making it through the knock-out stages in parliament to go up against Ms May in the head-to-head.

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

More than half of those polled — 55%— by ICM were unable to give any view on Ms 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.

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