Truss plays down lead over Sunak in make-or-break weekend for Tory contest

31 July 2022, 00:42 | Updated: 31 July 2022, 10:43

Liz Truss has played down her lead over Rishi Sunak in the contest to become PM
Liz Truss has played down her lead over Rishi Sunak in the contest to become PM. Picture: Getty

By Emma Soteriou

Liz Truss has played down claims she has a clear lead over rival Rishi Sunak on a crunch weekend in the Tory leadership contest.

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It came despite the Foreign Secretary's campaign receiving the backing of key Tory figures in recent days, including Ben Wallace and her former rival Tom Tugendhat.

She insisted it was a "very, very close race," while trumpeting her "support from right across all parts of the Conservative Party".

Mr Sunak, who was an early frontrunner in the contest, has consistently trailed Ms Truss in polls of party members, facing an uphill battle to win them over.

However, both contenders are continuing to fight for the support of Tory members, flitting across the country to meet voters.

Read more: 'Feisty' Truss is my choice for PM, says Ben Wallace as he reveals endorsement
Read more:
Sunak says he had 'no choice' as he is accused of 'stabbing Boris in the back'

Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak's latest plans in a policy blitz designed to revive his campaign include slashing the number of shuttered shops on Britain's high streets, allowing tougher punishment for graffiti and littering, and expanding police powers to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Mr Sunak intends to remove hurdles for properties to be quickly converted into new businesses or cafes.

He would also allow local authorities to double the fine for littering and graffiti and consider lowering the damage threshold for offenders to be jailed.

The latest pledges come on top of the introduction of a £10 fine for patients who miss GP and hospital appointments.

Mr Sunak told the Sunday Telegraph he would levy it as part of a "transformative" overhaul of the NHS.

He earlier attacked "woke nonsense" in a speech in West Sussex too, in an apparent attempt to outdo Ms Truss on so-called culture war issues that appeal to the right of the party.

Meanwhile, during a campaign stop in Bromley, Ms Truss was asked whether her advantage over Mr Sunak in member surveys meant the contest is hers to lose.

She said: "This is a very, very close race, and I am fighting for every vote."

She said she was "absolutely delighted" about Mr Tugendhat's support, but described it as "extremely premature" to say whether she would appoint him Foreign Secretary, a job Mr Tugendhat indicated he hoped to get while insisting he had been "promised nothing".

Ms Truss continued: "He is a very, very talented person and I'm very grateful to have the support from right across all parts of the Conservative Party because we need to reunite after this leadership election."

Ms Truss has pitched herself as the "education Prime Minister" with a plan that includes replacing failing academies with "a new wave of free schools" and improving maths and literacy standards.

She unveiled a six-point strategy on Saturday "to get Britain's education system back on track", which includes expanding existing academies which are high performing and replacing failing ones with free schools.

Ms Truss once again reiterated that she had seen first-hand "how children were failed and let down by low expectations" during her comprehensive state schooling in Leeds.

The remarks have previously drawn criticism from political leaders in the city, and former pupils and staff of her former school, the Roundhay School.

Ms Truss also pledged to drive up the quality of maths teaching and meet the "target for 90% of primary children to reach the expected standard in literacy and numeracy".

She would aim to give working parents access to childcare around the school day and extend the range of providers who accept government childcare entitlements.

The Foreign Secretary also said she would follow through on government plans to change staff-to-child ratios for young children, bringing England into line with ratios in Scotland, proposals Labour has branded "pathetic".

Ms Truss, who studied at Oxford, promised to reform admissions procedures for Oxbridge and other top universities "so students who get top grades in their A levels would be automatically invited to apply".