One month before the new Conservative leader and British prime minister is announced on September 5, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has a commanding lead over ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak among the Tory Party members who decide the outcome – having framed the economic policy debate to her advantage amid an acute cost of living crisis.
The latest polls show Truss has widened her lead over Sunak: 58 percent of the approximately 180,000 Conservative Party members back her, compared to 26 percent who back Sunak and 12 percent who have not yet made up their minds, according to a survey by Tory activist website ConservativeHome published on August 4.
Sunak’s campaign has focused on his reputation for competence, after he steered the British economy through the Covid crisis as chancellor of the exchequer, splashing out more than £300 billion to keep jobs and demand afloat. But this response to a once in a century pandemic has left the UK with a record budget deficit and the highest tax burden since Clement Attlee’s 1945-51 Labour government – while more than a decade of dismal productivity growth augurs badly for Britain’s underlying economic health.
This economic outlook makes the premiership something of a poisoned chalice – but in terms of the leadership contest, Liz Truss has so far turned the stormy situation to her advantage.
The foreign secretary says she will cut taxes to boost Britain’s economic dynamism and ease the amplifying cost of living crisis. This classical liberalism is playing well with Tory members, who tend to be older, affluent and southern. It is a markedly different constituency from the party’s new, second electoral base – those vast numbers of northern ex-Labour voters, some of whom the Tories gradually won over the past few decades, many of whom flocked to the Conservatives in 2019 when Labour’s Red Wall came crashing down.