Return to 'Thatcherism' as Sunak and Truss battle to win to over Tory members' support

21 July 2022, 10:05 | Updated: 21 July 2022, 17:52

Rishi Sunak sets out his Thatcherite credentials and Liz Truss has appeared in numerous photo opps that seem to paint her as Thatcher’s heir
Rishi Sunak sets out his Thatcherite credentials and Liz Truss has appeared in numerous photo opps that seem to paint her as Thatcher’s heir. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are bidding for the support of Tory party members after making the final ballot in the contest to be PM, with pledges of a return to Thatcherite values.

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Mr Sunak firmly set out his stall today, writing in the Telegraph that “my values are Thatcherite. I believe in hard work, family and integrity. I am a Thatcherite, I am running as a Thatcherite and I will govern as a Thatcherite.

“I am sure Liz Truss, who I like and respect, shares some of these values.”

Thatcher-channelling Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will spend the rest of the summer with horns locked against Mr Sunak as they attempt to woo Tory members, who will decide which of them will gain the keys to No10.

Latest polling from YouGov suggested Ms Truss had extended her lead over Rishi Sunak by 24 points - up 20 from earlier in the week.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have locked horns in the race for PM
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have locked horns in the race for PM. Picture: Alamy

Ms Truss denied she was trying to channel Margaret Thatcher in an interview this morning, but she has appeared in numerous photo ops that seem to paint her as Thatcher’s heir.

Ms Truss criticised comparisons between her and Margaret Thatcher, saying “it is quite frustrating that female politicians always get compared to Margaret Thatcher, whereas male politicians don't get compared to Ted Heath,"

Suggestions have been growing in recent weeks that Ms Truss has intentionally cultivated comparisons with the former Conservative prime minister.

But she rebuffed any suggestions this morning, saying “I think we need to equalise the scales.”

Ms Truss also said she was ‘wrong’ to back Remain in the Brexit vote, saying that the “portents of doom” of leaving Europe didn’t happen.

Ms Truss said in another interview this morning: “When people voted for Brexit in 2016, I fully embraced the choice people had made.

“I was wrong, and I’m prepared to admit I was wrong.

“Some of the portents of doom didn’t happen and instead we’ve actually unleashed new opportunities and I’ve been one of the leading figures driving those opportunities.”

She has vowed to bring in an emergency budget to swiftly axe the national insurance rise if she wins the race to be the next Prime Minister.

Ms Truss has overtaken Rishi Sunak as the frontrunner by bookmakers, with early indications suggesting she is more popular with Tory members ahead of a summer of campaigning.

The pair will battle it out to become PM after Penny Mordaunt was eliminated from the Tory leadership race on Wednesday.

In her pitch in the Daily Mail, Ms Truss vowed to "hit the ground running by immediately cutting taxes, growing our economy and unleashing the potential of everyone".

And she attacked the Government's tax record, which was overseen by Mr Sunak until he resigned, triggering Mr Johnson's ultimate downfall.

"We have been going in the wrong direction on tax, with the tax burden at its highest in 70 years," she wrote.

"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.

"I will move to bring in an emergency budget to get on with doing this quickly, and announce a spending review to find more efficiencies in government spending."

She added: "This is a key part of my mission to build an aspiration nation, where people from all parts of Britain, from all backgrounds, can succeed on the basis of their talent and hard work alone."

Read more: Sunak brands Truss 'socialist' over tax cuts as Tory rivals clash in second TV showdown

Read more: Sunak vows to scrap EU red tape in 100 days as Tory leadership race tightens

What Sunak needs to do to overcome polling deficit to Truss

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak has argued that his rival would not be able to beat Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at a general election.

"I'm confident that we can do that and we've got a really positive message to take out to all our members now - crucially, who is the best person to beat Keir Starmer and the Labour Party at the next election?" he said.

"I believe I'm the only candidate who can do that."

Later writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Sunak tried to dial down the bitter attacks that have dogged the Westminster leg of the contest, saying Ms Truss is someone "I like and respect".

He insisted he "will govern as a Thatcherite" after facing repeated criticism from the Tory right for wanting to hold off on tax cuts until after inflation is under control.

After a series of votes between the Conservative party's MPs, Mr Sunak came out on top on Wednesday with 137, and Ms Truss received 113. Penny Mordaunt was only able to win over 105 MPs to her campaign.

The final winner will be chosen by September 5, giving the pair the summer to build larger followings for their campaigns.

Speaking to LBC's Iain Dale on Wednesday, former Brexit minister Lord Frost said he believed the final two being Ms Truss and Mr Sunak was the "right result".

"We've got now the chance of a genuine argument between the two sides and a good argument about different Conservative philosophies to take the country forward," he said.

"I think that's a good thing and having that argument is going to be good for us."

Read more: 'Hasta la vista, baby': Boris leaves final PMQs to tears, cheers and jeers

Lord Frost backs criticism of Penny Mordaunt

The result followed a fiery final PMQs with Boris Johnson, who branded Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer as a "human bollard" as he claimed he was useless.

Sir Keir had joked that the public's opportunity to hear from the candidates during televised debates had been disastrous, with Mr Sunak and Ms Truss deciding to pull out of a Sky News debate that was slated for Tuesday. A new debate between Ms Truss and Mr Sunak has been scheduled for August 4.

Mr Johnson said the Tory candidates would "wipe the floor" with Sir Keir, likening them to "some household detergent" - though Mr Sunak was noticeably absent from Mr Johnson's farewell.

The Prime Minister is due to stay in role until a winner between Mr Sunak and Ms Truss is chosen to replace him, having previously pledged to remain in post until September at the latest.

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