A “battle of ideas” was how the second round between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss came to me on Wednesday as MPs made their choices.
And it is true that this contest will be about two very competing economic visions. Mr Sunak’s insistence on staying on course and cutting taxes once inflation is under control is in contrast to Ms Truss, who wants to cut taxes radically later this year.
But the risk in this battle is that both candidates further undermine the party and the government as they push them out. All you had to do was look Prime Minister’s questions and a video of the Labor attack on social media to see the damage done.
Political center. Truss v Sunak could get “pretty nasty”.
Ms Truss, Mr Sunak, Penny Mordont and Cammy Badenoch wrote the script for Sir Keir Starmer in recent days.
Mr Sunak accused Ms Truss of “fantasy economics” and “socialist” plans to borrow to finance the tax cuts. He in turn criticized Mr Sunak’s “highest tax economy in 70 years” and told him his policies were pushing the UK into recession.
The condemnation of the case they registered with the government was something to behold. “Why should society trust us? We have not basked in glory,” Ms Bademock said to Labor’s delight.
David Davies, a former cabinet minister and Mordaunt supporter, told me after the results came in that blue-on-blue battles should stop, arguing that members of the public won’t appreciate it and it will work against any candidate who perpetuates it.
It’s also true how bitterly the party is split, with all three candidates polling more than 100 votes, splitting it in three. If five more MPs moved into Ms Mordont’s column, the trade secretary would be pushed past Ms Truss.
As it is, some of Ms Mordaunt’s vote may have come from Mr Sunak, as some MPs organized the ‘Stop Liz’ campaign. As a senior party figure told me on Wednesday. “It’s anyone but Liz. He’s Johnson’s go-to candidate without the charm.”
But now he’s made it to the final two, will he stop?
Ms. Truss directs Mr. Sunak with party members. He is also a candidate who has not taken a stab at Boris Johnson, which will be important to many of the 200,000 party members who will decide this race.
He’s also a tax cut, something the public will like too. His speech will be: “I may not be as clever as Sunak, but I’m a real Tory and I’ll cut your taxes.”
Mr Sunak’s team believe their candidate will win over party members over the next six weeks as the most credible candidate to appeal to a wider electorate.
“He will definitely stand out among the members and it will become clear that he is the winner of the election,” they say.
But the attack on Ms Truss is clear, and it fell flat in the ITV Candidates Debate; Ms Truss is a Remainer who was once a Liberal opposition.
Mr Sunak is also likely to announce plans for tax cuts once inflation, which is set to peak later this year, comes back under control.
And what about dirty tricks too? Westminster is abuzz with rumors of scandals and secret dossiers that could be released in an attempt to torpedo a candidate.
An investigation is also underway alleged leak designed to undermine Ms Mordon’s election campaign, which protested the release of internal government communications about her stance on the vexed issue of trans rights. Whichever of the two finalist teams is held responsible could be very damaging.
Ms. Truss now has the upper hand, but it’s still unclear who will win in the end. What’s more clear is that this battle is going to be an all-out war, and whoever wins will have a big task in making this party manageable once again.
But the biggest question of all will be whether Mr Sunak or Ms Truss can secure the kind of Conservative majority that Mr Johnson did in 2019.
As one of his more ardent supporters told me the other day. “They killed the golden goose.”
In six weeks we will have a new prime minister. But beyond that, everything is in play now.
Conservative leadership competition. the risk is that Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will drag down the Tory party even more | Political news
Source Conservative leadership competition. the risk is that Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will drag down the Tory party even more | Political news