Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss look to woo Tories at second-last hustings

Conservative leadership candidates will go head-to-head again in Norwich on Thursday

British Conservative leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. PA
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Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak pushed economic policies to deal with the slowing economy and rising energy costs to local Tory voters in the penultimate hustings of the Tory leadership race on Thursday.

Mr Sunak, a former chancellor of the exchequer, hit out once again at the economic plans put forward by his rival during a trip to his home city of Southampton ahead of the event. In the region she represents as a MP, Ms Truss put her focus squarely on the issues facing the East Anglian area, citing her plans of tax cuts, supply-side reform, better regulation and targeted investment zones.

Inflation has got to be the priority and that is why I will grip it in a way that no one else will,” said Mr Sunak.

“Actually, alternative plans that are complacent about the risk of inflation pretend that we can just borrow tens of billions of pounds and that there are no hard choices for government, I don’t think are realistic."

Mr Sunak is continuing in his bid to drum up last-minute support among about 150,000 Tory Party members who are electing a new leader. The winner is to be announced on September 5 and will be Britain's next prime minister.

The Daily Telegraph carried details of an interview he gave to The Spectator magazine, in which he said that one of the major mistakes of the government’s handling of the pandemic was “empowering” scientists.

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“We shouldn’t have empowered the scientists in the way we did,” he is quoted as saying. “And you have to acknowledge trade-offs from the beginning.

"If we’d done all of that, we could be in a very different place. We’d probably have made different decisions on things like schools.”

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Before the Norwich hustings, Ms Truss put her focus squarely on the issues facing the East Anglian area, with her plans for tax cuts, supply-side reform, better regulation and targeted investment zones.

The Foreign Secretary also pledged to tackle trade union strike action, such as that at the Port of Felixstowe this week.

But as the Tory leadership contest enters its final stages after a long summer of party in-fighting, calls are growing for urgent government action to support households through what is predicted to be a difficult winter.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in Ukraine for a surprise visit to Kyiv, his third.

“If we’re paying in our energy bills for the evils of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, the people of Ukraine are paying in their blood,” Mr Johnson said.

Supply problems linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are one reason behind rapidly rising UK power bills.

Recent warnings suggest the average amount UK households pay for their gas and electricity could reach £6,000 ($7,000) next year.

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi on Wednesday insisted “nothing is off the table” when it comes to action on soaring energy bills, but he said a freeze in the price cap would not deliver “targeted help” for those who need it most.

Labour has called on both Tory leadership candidates, should they become prime minister, to increase the windfall tax on oil and gas companies.

Shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said it was “intolerable” that Mr Sunak and Ms Truss had not offered “serious proposals” to address the crisis.

His call for action comes as energy regulator Ofgem is set to announce the autumn price cap for energy bills on Friday.

“We are now less than 24 hours away from the energy price cap rising yet again, but we have heard no serious proposals from the Conservative leadership candidates on how to stop this national emergency,” Mr Miliband said.

Updated: August 25, 2022, 11:46 AM