Badgers and backslapping as Truss and Sunak make their case to be next UK PM

Last two candidates in battle for Tory leadership face six intense weeks of campaigning to convince Conservative members of their credentials

Liz Truss made her way to the LGA through people dressed as badgers campaigning against a cull of the animals in which an estimated 170,000 killed. Getty Images
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Free of the almost daily knockout rounds which saw the Tory leadership field culled from 12 to two, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss on Thursday began their charm offensive on the party faithful who hold their futures in their hands.

The two finalists now face a bruising six weeks of campaigning to win over the 160,000 Conservative members, the only people allowed a vote.

They opened their campaigns to become the next British prime minister by attending a hustings with London councillors.

Both candidates appeared in the heart of London’s political landscape in Smith Square, where they were questioned rigorously by Tory councillors in the Local Government Association (LGA) building.

Mr Sunak arrived with Lord Gary Porter, former LGA chairman and a close friend and backer of the former chancellor. “Rishi should be the next prime minister because he is highly presentable, articulate, diligent, clever and smart,” he told The National. “Those are all the things you need to make a good a prime minister. That’s not to say Liz Truss doesn’t have them, in fact there were three really good candidates if you include Penny Mordaunt.”

He referred to the last candidate to be knocked out of the race on Wednesday night after Ms Truss managed to edge past her by eight votes in the final Conservative Parliamentary Party ballot.

Despite winning fewer votes from MPs, the Foreign Secretary is ahead of Mr Sunak in polling of the membership in what could prove to be a tight race.

Dressed in cream jacket, black trousers and gold-coloured shoes, she made her way to the LGA through people dressed as badgers campaigning against a cull of the animals in which an estimated 170,000 killed.

The image of her close protection officers clearing the path ahead gave her an almost presidential aura of authority that will not be lost on the electorate.

Mr Sunak, who having resigned as chancellor currently does not have government protection, is now embarking on a two-week whirlwind campaign to show he has the clout to lead the country.

His campaign team hinted to The National that a number of major policy announcements were imminent that would persuade the Tory membership he was a leader who “gets things done”.

Rishi Sunak arrives for a hustings event in Westminster, central London. PA

His considered economic strategy is likely to contrast with Ms Truss’s bold pledges to cut £30 billion ($35.68bn) in taxes, a proposed policy that has already drawn questions.

Her avalanche of cutting will include cancelling the planned corporate tax rise to 25 per cent, reversing the 1.25 per cent National Insurance increase, pausing the £153 green levy on homes and increasing defence spending from 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent.

In her first public interview of the leadership campaign, triggered by Mr Johnson’s resignation as Conservative leader two weeks ago, she told the BBC her cuts would cost £30 billion a year, without detailing how they would be funded.

She argued that such cuts would bring down inflation, boost growth and prevent a recession.

Her economic strategy is likely to make her vulnerable to Mr Sunak’s experience in running the Treasury for more than two years.

This could come to the fore when the pair meet for their first head-to-head television debate on the BBC on Monday night.

Mr Sunak will be hoping that his smooth, reassuring style and sound economic arguments will trump Ms Truss and allow him to be voted in as Britain’s first ethnic minority prime minister.

On the campaign trail - in pictures

Updated: July 21, 2022, 2:13 PM