LONDON, Aug 2 — British Conservative frontrunner Liz Truss won further heavyweight endorsement yesterday as party members began a month of voting to decide the next occupant of 10 Downing Street.
Truss’s lagging rival, Rishi Sunak, vied to make up lost ground with a plan for future tax cuts — and potentially to host a future women’s football World Cup in Britain after England’s “Lionesses” won the European championship.
Truss also invoked Sunday’s final against Germany, vowing: “I will channel the spirit of the Lionesses” at a members’ hustings in the southwestern city of Exeter — the second of 12 such events before the winner is announced on September 5.
Truss said the women’s team “fought bravely against the odds and got things done and delivered a massive massive victory. And that’s what we can do”.
Sunak, a polished debater, needs to recapture momentum after Truss steamed into a strong polling lead on a platform of immediate tax cuts to address Britain’s worst cost-of-living crisis in generations.
‘Status quo isn’t an option’
In a blow to his campaign, international trade minister Penny Mordaunt, who narrowly came third to Truss in a run-off, announced she was supporting Truss as “the hope candidate”.
Speaking at the Monday hustings, Mordaunt praised Truss for “her authenticity, her determination, her ambition for this country”.
At the event, Truss stressed her policy of swift tax cuts.
“I do think the Treasury needs to change. And it has been a block on progress,” she said, talking about Britain’s finance ministry where Sunak had been chief until his July resignation which laid the way to Johnson standing down.
“I’m prepared to break eggs to make the omelette.” Sunak maintained his more cautious position: “Yes, of course I want to be responsible in managing inflation — that’s the sensible Conservative thing to do.” This came after Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi joined other luminaries of Boris Johnson’s cabinet in backing the foreign secretary against Sunak.
“Liz understands that the status quo isn’t an option in times of crisis,” Zahawi wrote in The Telegraph, attacking Sunak’s plan to prioritise fighting inflation now, before cutting taxes later.
“We need a ‘booster’ attitude to the economy, not a ‘doomster’ one, in order to address cost-of-living woes and the challenges on the world stage,” the new chancellor said.
As they began receiving postal and online ballot forms, a large minority of the roughly 200,000 Tory members is said by pollsters to nurse a grievance against Sunak — one shared by Johnson.
The prime minister is not formally taking sides, but has told aides that he intends to give his successor some words of advice, “whoever she may be”, The Sunday Times reported.
‘Distasteful, even dangerous’
Despite her endorsements from the likes of Mordaunt, Zahawi, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, former Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis and Tory centrist Tom Tugendhat, Truss has warned against complacency.
Returning to her former field, the Remainer-turned-Brexit zealot promised to “unleash” farmers from European Union regulations to improve the UK’s food security.
Truss also vowed to tackle labour shortages in agriculture, partly caused by post-Brexit restrictions on immigration which have forced UK farmers to leave fruit rotting in fields and to slaughter healthy pigs.
Both the contenders have stressed the need for unity once the election is out of the way, aware that the opposition Labour party is riding high in the polls amid the economic crisis and political tumult of Johnson.
But their supporters have not been holding back, especially combative Truss ally Nadine Dorries.
The culture secretary retweeted an image portraying Johnson as Julius Caesar, being stabbed in the back by Sunak.
Last year, Conservative MP David Amess was stabbed to death by an Islamic State group follower.
In view of that, Dorries’ retweet was “distasteful and even verging on dangerous”, Sunak supporter Greg Hands, a government minister, told Sky News.
Truss’s campaign manager, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, distanced the campaign from Dorries.
“I’ve made her aware that many colleagues were upset by it,” Coffey told Times Radio.
Sunak meanwhile received his own fulsome endorsement from former Conservative leader William Hague, his predecessor as MP in their northern English constituency.
“I have campaigned with literally thousands of candidates. I have mentored dozens,” Hague said in a video message.
“It was soon apparent that this one was the most assiduous and effective I had ever known,” he said, calling Sunak “highly disciplined” and “rational”. — AFP