Penny Mordaunt has become the favourite to become the next Conservative party leader, a poll has suggested. 

The trade minister has gained the backing of 27 per cent of the 879 party members surveyed - almost twice that of second-placed Kemi Badenoch (15%). 

Trailing closely behind Ms Badenoch were Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, both backed by 13 per cent of those questioned in the YouGov survey. 

Meanwhile, Tom Tugendhat had the support of 8%, Suella Braverman of 5% and Jeremy Hunt was backed by 4%. 

The newly promoted Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi was supported by just 1% of those surveyed. 

The survey comes as Ms Mordaunt launched her pitch to take on the top role, telling Conservative MPs that she is the candidate “Labour fear the most”.

“I’m the candidate that Labour fear the most – and they’re right to,” she told the room at Westminster’s Cinnamon Club.

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She promised a return to traditional Conservative values of “low tax, small state and personal responsibility”.

Ms Mordaunt said her key economic policy would be that debt as a percentage of GDP, a measure of national income, would fall “over time”.

She has pledged a 50% cut in VAT on fuel to help ease the cost-of-living crisis but has not gone as far as others in the race to offer tax cuts.

While insisting she would be “very different” from her predecessor Boris Johnson, she argued that having stood on the same platform as him in the 2019 election there was no need for an early general election.

Ms Mordaunt also addressed sexist attacks against her from within her party by individuals trying to scupper her campaign.

“Well, they’re very sensible people because I’m a threat to their campaign,” she said, but added that the only people she will take the fight to is the Opposition.

The poll also showed the former defence secretary dominated in a head-to-head contest against all the other confirmed candidates. 

When pitted directly against one other candidate, she beat others including Liz Truss by 55% to 37%, Kemi Badenoch by 59% to 30%, Rishi Sunak by 67% to 28% and Jeremy Hunt by 77% to 16%.

If she were to battle it out against Kemi Badenoch, Tom Tugendhat or Nadhim Zahawi the poll also suggested she would win by a wide margin.

Meanwhile, it was sore news for former Chancellor Rishi Sunak who performed poorly in the head to heads. 

The Richmond MP only beat Mr Hunt by 57% to 25% and effectively tied with his successor Mr Zahawi and the attorney general.

The current size of the Conservative membership is unknown, but at the last leadership election in 2019 there were around 160,000 members, and insiders expect it to have grown since then, meaning the poll is not representative of the party as a whole.