A month before the new Conservative leader and British Prime Minister is announced on September 5, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has a commanding lead over ex-Chancellor Rishi Sunak among the Tory party members who determine the outcome – after they enter the economic policy debate. in its favor amid an acute crisis in the cost of living.
The latest polls show Truss has widened her lead over Sunak: 58 percent of the roughly 180,000 Conservative Party members support her, compared with 26 percent who support Sunak and 12 percent who have not yet made a decision, according to a Tory survey. activist website ConservativeHome published on August 4.
Sunak’s campaign focused on his reputation for competence, after he steered the UK economy through the Covid crisis as Chancellor of the Exchequer, pouring out more than £300 billion to keep jobs and demand afloat. But this response to a once-in-a-century pandemic has left the UK with a record budget deficit and the highest tax burden since Clement Attlee’s 1945-51 Labor government – while more than a decade of dismal productivity growth bodes ill for Britain’s underlying economic health.
These economic prospects turn the premiership into something of a poisoned chalice — but in terms of the leadership contest, Liz Truss has turned the stormy situation in her favor so far.
The Foreign Secretary says she will cut taxes to boost Britain’s economic dynamism and ease the rising cost of living. This classic liberalism plays well with Tory members, who are generally older, affluent, and Southern. It’s a markedly different constituency from the party’s new, second electoral base – those large numbers of northern ex-Labour voters, some of whom gradually won the Tories over the decades, many of whom flocked to the Conservatives in 2019 when Labour’s Red Wall came down.
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TSWT spoke to Sir John Curtice, a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, about the race to Downing Street a month before Boris Johnson’s successor is announced.
Why does Truss have such a commanding lead over Sunak among Tory members?
Truss has tapped into the party’s fears about the tax level and government spending it’s presiding over in the wake of Covid — and has effectively used the cost of living crisis as a reason to pursue tax cuts. It was Sunak’s accident that he was at his post when the music stopped. Sunak has trouble with that.
Truss has also managed to create stories that put her in a good light and question Sunak. to Winchester [one of the UK’s grandest private schools] and who is there now, with his wife? [Akshata Murthy]worth a fortune.
This story can be questioned. Obviously having a father who was a professor of mathematics is no more disadvantaged background than having a father who was a general practitioner [a general practitioner doctor]. The parts of Leeds she grew up in are relatively prosperous. But it’s a smart story and she does seem a bit more ordinary, while Sunak’s politics can make him seem a bit more distant.
The third factor is that Sunak has suffered from the effects of Partygate [he was fined] along with the non-dome issue [it was revealed that Murthy has non-domiciled status, meaning she did not pay tax on income earned overseas while residing in the UK].
Had this match taken place six months ago, Sunak would have won it relatively easily. He is still suffering a significant decline in popularity in the wake of those two issues.
Sunak has liked to portray himself to Tory members as more of the public’s chosen one. Why does this tactic seem to be gaining traction? Is he really more electable?
Neither has the advantage here. I can find polls where slightly more people among the general public prefer Truss, I can find others where the balance is slightly in the opposite direction, and quite a few where it is essentially even. Polls also show them by level pegging when people are asked who they prefer [Labour leader Sir Keir] star.
Most importantly, Tory members think Truss has a better chance of winning.
Sunak scores relatively well when it comes to perceptions of competence; questions about who looks more prime minister. You could see that during last night’s televised debate – he clearly impressed the audience with his mastery of detail.
But the problem is, if you watch last week’s debate on the TSWT, he showed a strong debating ability, but to some it looked a little aggressive. So [that performance] didn’t necessarily work – because he could be portrayed as a Winchester public school boy who engages in Oxford Union-style debates, as opposed to regular Liz who understands people’s concerns and who you can relate to.
So even if last night’s debate format was in favor of Sunak, it was probably too little, too late for him.
What are the prospects of one of them taking another Tory general election victory before the end of 2024?
The Tory party is in a crisis of confidence because it is in a situation where it presides over a very high level of government spending and taxes. It has not quite been noticed that it is gradually at risk of taking charge of the biggest drop in living standards since World War II.
And it’s very, very hard for a government to survive that electorally. The only thing that gives the Tories a chance of survival is that people are not convinced that the Labor Party has the answers.
Whether it’s Truss or Sunak taking over, there’s a parallel with Gordon Brown [Labour prime minister from 2007 to 2010]. You become prime minister in the second half of a parliament and you are not there yet when an all-powerful economic crisis hits you. In Brown’s case, he came in at number 10 before the crisis hit [before he ended up losing the 2010 general election]while in this case the crisis has been signaled very clearly before the next person steps in. But in many ways this is a very similar scenario.
On the other hand, Starmer just struggles to construct an alternate story about the direction he would take the country. And if he can’t do that when the government faces an all-powerful economic crisis, you wonder if he’s ever going to do it.