Liz Truss survived a knife-edge vote. Now she’s leading the race for No. 10

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss speaks during a briefing in Liverpool, England, December 12, 2021 Truss is now the favorite to replace outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (Jon Super/WPA Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

LONDON (Tribune News Service) – In the final hours before Tory lawmakers choose the two candidates who will compete to become Britain’s next prime minister, anxious supporters of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss have engaged in an operation desperate to scare off the votes.

Truss, 47, was third in successive polls when his radical Brexiteer allies began warning MPs of the potential consequences of his elimination. According to people familiar with his tactics, Truss supporters have told wavering MPs his defeat will open the door for former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage to make a comeback that could cost them their seats.

Truss added 27 votes to his previous ballot tally to edge Penny Mordaunt by just eight votes and join former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak in the party membership run-off. But despite only managing to cringe in the MP ballot, Truss is now the clear favorite to be the UK’s next prime minister, with a YouGov poll suggesting 62% of members want she wins, against 38% supporting Sunak.

The two candidates are embarking on a six-week campaign this weekend before the result of the MPs’ ballot is announced in early September. Whoever comes out on top will face a dangerous road to the next election, due in about two years, with the country in the throes of a brutal cost of living crisis and a growing list of complaints against the conservatives in power after 12 years power.

Up to six Tory MPs are set to leave their seats next year for reasons ranging from scandal to early retirement, a senior Tory figure has said, with each triggering a tough by-election that will give Labor a chance to show the tide is rising. turns to a Keir Starmer government.

In a sign of the confused state of Tory party politics, Truss is positioning himself as the natural successor to protect Boris Johnson’s Brexit legacy and as a candidate for change.

Sunak is something of a continuity contender, promising to continue the gradual fiscal consolidation effort he pursued alongside Johnson. But he is also fighting to refute allegations that he betrayed the former prime minister and helped bring him down.

Truss promises to break the economic status quo with immediate debt-financed tax cuts, while Sunak says he won’t cut taxes until inflation is brought under control.

When the Times and Financial Times published articles this week appearing to favor Sunak, a Truss supporter sent them on WhatsApp to celebrate, believing the headlines would encourage party members to support their candidate.

Truss’s team are less interested in supporting the old British establishment represented by the Times and the FT than in the Daily Mail, the newspaper of choice for thousands of Tories in small towns and villages across England who will determine the competition.

The Mail has published a series of unflattering stories about Sunak, who is struggling to shake off the idea that he encouraged the wave of resignations that forced Johnson to announce his departure earlier this month. Sunak’s team denies that his decision to leave Johnson’s firm was part of any type of conspiracy.

Nonetheless, the entrenched nature of this narrative touched an ally of Sunak’s when he picked up a copy of the latest Spectator magazine, a right-wing weekly, to see Sunak depicted in a knife-wielding cartoon.

As Truss begins the campaign with the advantage, both teams insist the outcome is not a foregone conclusion.

A Sunak supporter pointed to the volatility of recent polls to say that many members could still change their minds. They said while Truss might have been able to make a strong start with populist tax announcements, the implications of her economic policies and her own performance as a potential leader would come under scrutiny. during the televised debates over the next two crucial weeks before the ballot. the papers come out.

Team Truss is optimistic, however, after the last-minute push that secured them a place in the second round.

They argue that it wasn’t just Farage’s scare tactics that worked for them.

They also managed to win unexpected support from around 10 MPs who had previously backed another moderate candidate, Tom Tugendhat, helped by Mordaunt’s long-running feud with Tugendhat campaign leader Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

It also contributed to the implosion of Mordaunt’s campaign – an MP who supported her described her as the worst they had ever seen and an aide said the campaign had to remove 15 tweets posted on the account of the candidate over the past two weeks, as a sign of their amateurism. Even more famously, one of them suggested that MPs would “murder” the Conservative Party if they put Sunak and Truss on the final ballot.

It provides insight into the toxic vibe of the divided parliamentary party that will be a key part of Johnson’s legacy.

If it is Truss, the majority of his MPs will have opposed his candidacy, either because they were swayed by Sunak’s argument that his economic policies are a “fairy tale” or by public opinion. of Mordaunt that she is a dirty and dishonest activist.

For Sunak, the parliamentary poll suggests that around a third of MPs – those who backed Truss – want revenge on him for Johnson’s downfall, or think he’s an establishment figure who doesn’t represent the right .

Neither candidate will have the easy task of creating a united front. But the economic challenge is arguably even more difficult.

Sunak has been very outspoken about the specter of inflation and the scale of the problems ahead, meaning there is little time to turn things around before the next election.

As one party strategist put it, the next prime minister will ultimately have to explain why 14 years of Conservative government ended with a low-wage, low-growth, high-tax economy and declining public services.

The only consolation for the winner is that he will have a working majority of 71 to lose.

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