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Tory leadership: Sunak and Truss begin pitch to be next PM

Tory leadership: Sunak and Truss begin pitch to be next PM

By Christy Cooney

BBC News

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss on stage at a televised debate as part of the Tory leadership raceImage source, PA Media

The two candidates in the Conservative leadership race are setting out their pitches to the party members who will choose Boris Johnson’s successor.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss topped the final ballot of MPs on Wednesday.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Sunak said he would introduce “a set of reforms as radical as the ones Margaret Thatcher drove through in the 1980s”.

In the Daily Mail, Ms Truss promised “tax-cutting, enterprise-boosting, business-friendly Conservative policy”.

The pair emerged as the final candidates after Ms Truss overturned a narrow lead held by Trade minister Penny Mordaunt, at one point the favourite, to secure the backing of 113 Tory MPs to Ms Mordaunt’s 105.

Former Chancellor Mr Sunak, who consistently led among MPs, topped the ballot with 137 votes. Polls suggest he is less popular among the Conservative Party membership who will vote for their preferred candidate next month.

The two finalists will now set out their stalls at 12 hustings to be held around the UK. The first will take place in Leeds on 28 July, while the last will be in London on 31 August.

Just weeks to charm the membership

The race to be our next prime minister is now broadening and slowing down. Well, just a little bit.

The daily democratic process involving 350-something Conservative MPs is done. Now it widens to 160,000-ish Conservative Party members.

I went to see half a dozen or so at a pub in Chesham, Buckinghamshire.

There were gasps at how close the election to make the final two was and a real awareness of the responsibility party members now carry, on behalf of the country.

And so the persuading of them begins.

There will also be two televised debates, one hosted by the BBC on 25 July, the other hosted by Sky News on 4 August.

The party’s roughly 160,000 members will vote online or by post and are expected to receive their ballots by 5 August, with a final result to be announced on 5 September.

Polls currently suggest Foreign Secretary Ms Truss, who has criticised Mr Sunak for raising taxes during his time as chancellor, is the favoured candidate of the membership.

Media caption,

I’ve run a positive campaign, says Liz Truss

Writing in the Daily Mail, Ms Truss said “the central issue at the next election is going to be the economy” and “we have been going in the wrong direction on tax”.

“The central battleground will be about whether we go for growth and cut taxes, or carry on with business as usual and tax rises,” she said.

“I am the tax-cutting candidate who will help squeezed families by reversing April’s national insurance rise and suspending the green levy on energy bills.”

She also pledged to bring in an emergency budget to get the changes through quickly and to announce a spending review to “find more efficiencies in government spending”.

In the Daily Telegraph, Mr Sunak wrote that he believed in “hard work, family and integrity”, adding: “I am running as a Thatcherite, and I will govern as a Thatcherite.”

“The best way to achieve economic growth is cutting taxes and bureaucracy, and boosting private sector investment and innovation,” he said.

Mr Sunak has previously said the tax burden needed to be reduced but not immediately, saying it was a matter of “when not if”.

He also wrote that he believed he is the candidate best placed to beat Labour at the next general election.

Speaking on BBC Newsnight, Tory MP Simon Hart, who is backing Mr Sunak, said: “Some people have just a little bit of value added, a little bit of something extra.

Media caption,

Rishi Sunak: I want to be honest about challenges we face

“And I think, with Rishi, as soon as he [entered Parliament], it was quite obvious that he was a class act.”

Former Scottish Conservative Party leader Baroness Davidson, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said Mr Sunak was “the person best placed to steer us through those choppy economic waters”.

Truss supporter Vicky Ford told Newsnight that the foreign secretary was “extremely thoughtful, sets very clear priorities, and gets things done”.

Chloe Smith, another MP backing Ms Truss, said she was experienced across different departments and “absolutely fierce and determined when she sets her mind on what needs to be done”.

Wednesday also saw the final appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions by Boris Johnson, who said of his time in office: “Mission largely accomplished, for now”.

He also advised the next prime minister to “focus on the road ahead, but always remember to check the rear-view mirror and remember above all it’s not Twitter that counts, it’s the people who sent us here.”

Mr Johnson thanked House of Commons staff, friends, and colleagues before concluding with the phrase “Hasta la vista, baby”, a quote from the sci-fi film The Terminator.

Some commentators have said that raises questions about his future ambitions, given the character’s other famous line: “I’ll be back”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer focused his attack at PMQs on the candidates vying to replace Mr Johnson as leader, saying that they “got us into this mess and have no idea how to get us out of it”.

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