They say Brits love to support an underdog, but could that hold true for a former Chancellor whose resignation brought down the government?
Rishi Sunak reckons so, and told supporters today that the ‘forces that be’ had thrown their weight behind his rival in the Tory leadership contest.
He travelled to Margaret Thatcher’s birthplace to make a speech pitching himself as the country’s best hope as PM.
‘The forces that be want this to be a coronation for the other candidate,’ he told a crowd in Grantham.
‘But I think members want a choice and they are prepared to listen.’
Pressed by reporters to be more specific about these forces, he said he was talking ‘generically’.
His journey to Grantham means that both candidates now seem to be positioning themselves as the heir to Thatcher, the UK’s marmite first female prime minister.
In one of the TV leaders’ debates, Liz Truss wore an outfit very similar to one worn by the Iron Lady when she was herself gunning for election in the 1980s.
Mr Sunak laughed when pressed on whether the choice of location was a coincidence, telling reporters he believes what he is proposing is ‘common sense Thatcherism’.
Polls of Tory voters have indeed suggested that Mr Sunak is fighting an uphill battle, with grassroots Conservative members saying they prefer Ms Truss, seen as more right wing.
The former Remainer turned ardent Brexiteer is also the favoured candidate among the remaining Johnson loyalists in the party.
Ms Truss vowed to review all EU laws retained after Brexit by the end of next year in a ‘red tape bonfire’ if she becomes prime minister, and to scrap or replace those that are deemed to hinder UK growth.
There are fears this could lead to employment and environmental proctions being undermined.
She said that if elected, she will set a ‘sunset’ deadline for every piece of EU-derived business regulation and assess whether it stimulates domestic growth or investment by the end of 2023.
Asked if that might reduce workers’ rights, she said: ‘Absolutely not. What I’m about is about cutting people’s taxes, reversing the national insurance increase to put more money in people’s pockets and making sure those who work hard, go out to work, are rewarded.’
Mr Sunak took aim at his rival’s Brexit credentials in his speech on Saturday morning, which was heavy on warnings about the dangers of inflation and the need for a new ‘radicalism’ in government.
Speaking to a mostly friendly crowd, he called himself the ‘underdog’.
Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Sunak sought to create a clear dividing line between himself and Ms Truss, who he did not name outright, as he implicitly criticised her proposed tax cuts, which she says will help decrease inflation.
‘If we are to deliver on the promise of Brexit, then we’re going to need someone who actually understands Brexit, believes in Brexit, voted for Brexit,’ he told the crowd, to cheers.
In a speech punctuated by frequent applause, he also said: ‘We have to tell the truth about the cost of living.
‘Rising inflation is the enemy that makes everyone poorer and puts at risk your homes and your savings. And we have to tell the truth about tax.
‘I will not put money back in your pocket knowing that rising inflation will only whip it straight back out.’
He said he would tackle NHS backlogs, driven in part by a so-called ‘vaccines-style’ taskforce.
Warning against ‘privatisation by the back door’, Mr Sunak announced plans to eliminate one-year NHS waiting times six months earlier than planned by September 2024, and to get overall numbers falling by next year.
Ms Truss was also on the campaign trail today and in an interview with the Telegraph, she robustly defended her economic vision.
Describing herself as an ‘insurgent’ who wants to change things, she told the newspaper of her vision of the UK as a ‘high growth, high productivity, powerhouse’.
On her plan to bring down inflation, she said: ‘I believe it is right that inflation will come down because inflation was caused by a global supply shock.
‘But it was exacerbated by monetary policy. What I have said is in the future I’m going to look at the Bank of England’s mandate. It is set by the Treasury. It was last set by Gordon Brown in 1997.’
Pressed on her thinking on the Bank of England’s mandate, she added: ‘What I want to do is look at best practice from central banks around the world, look at their mandates, and make sure we have a tight enough focus on the money supply and on inflation.’
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