Shropshire Star

Tory leadership contest: race between a pair who are yet to inspire confidence

After a fortnight of backstabbing, squabbling and cloak and dagger tactics, the Tory leadership race today starts in earnest.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss in the second TV debate

Over the next six weeks a party membership thought to number around 200,000 will choose between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, a pair of seasoned operators determined to reach this country’s highest political office.

The two hopefuls are embarking on their first full week of campaigning. And, to put it politely, neither exactly inspires confidence.

Former Chancellor Mr Sunak – one of the key players in Mr Johnson’s downfall – comes across as untrustworthy and superficial in the eyes of many Conservatives.

He is viewed as the snake in the grass who spent months plotting to remove the PM before delivering a devastating blow in the form of a scathing resignation letter.

There is a strong suspicion that Mr Sunak is a politician whose ambition far outweighs his ability.

He’s now promising to sort the economy out, glossing over the fact that his decisions during a two and a half year spell heading the Treasury contributed to the dire situation we now find ourselves in.

Despite his claims to the contrary, it is questionable whether his track record stands up to scrutiny.

The Covid loans scheme he launched was a disaster, resulting in billions of pounds being lost to fraud, while his ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme could well have driven a Covid surge.

And many will query how someone with such enormous personal wealth and, as he once put it, no working class friends, can truly understand the pressures facing people in a cost of living crisis.

Members are also, quite understandably, asking whether a low growth, high tax leader is really what the country needs right now.

Mr Sunak’s potential rise to Number 10 is certainly causing sleepless nights among some Tory MPs in the West Midlands, who from the start of the contest have been squarely in the ‘Anyone But Rishi’ camp.

It is hardly surprising, as a commonly held view is that under a Sunak premiership the Black Country, Shropshire and Staffordshire would fade into the rear view mirror.

As for Ms Truss, despite being a Lib Dem for a short period in the dim and distant past, there is little doubt when it comes to her commitment to the Tory cause.

A long-serving Cabinet minister under three PMs, she has shone at times, particularly in securing post-Brexit trade deals.

However, she is considered a poor communicator having endured some truly awful times in front of the microphone.

Ms Truss has been likened to Margaret Thatcher but often comes across more like Theresa May. She has attempted to gain support by pledging tax cuts, without really explaining how they will be funded.

It is also true that in the eyes of some members her candidacy will suffer due to her position as a former Remainer – although it could be argued she has done more for Brexit than most since the referendum.

It is all food for thought for grassroots Conservatives up and down the country. They know that that wrong choice could propel Sir Keir Starmer – the man who was willing to serve in a Jeremy Corbyn government and who concocted Labour’s terrible Brexit policy – into Number 10.

Some have clearly already made their minds up.

Several thousand of them have already written to contest organisers demanding the return of Boris Johnson.