LONDON: Few members of the ruling Conservative Party supported Foreign Secretary Liz Truss when the leadership contest started this month, but now there is a sense of inevitability that she will become Britain’s next prime minister.
“It’s up to her to lose” is the usual refrain from party members, who will vote in the coming weeks to name the new Conservative leader and successor to Boris Johnson.
But for many members, the driving force behind their support for Truss is less about her and more about her rival, former Treasury Secretary. Rishi Sunakwho, according to some, can’t get the keys to 10 Downing Street after “cutting” Johnson.
After Johnson was forced to announce his resignation on July 7 amid waves of scandal, party lawmakers narrowed the contest from 11 hopeful candidates to Truss and Sunak – and now it’s up to membership to decide, with the result set to be announced on July 5. to be announced in September. .
With Britain facing a potential recession, rising inflation and a summer of strike action, most in the party want their next leader to bring stability, tired of the chaos caused by the Johnson administration and a bitter leadership contest.
Member polls put Truss, 47, well ahead of Sunak, 42. Truss was 24 points ahead of Sunak last week, according to YouGov, even as she had chased Sunak among lawmakers’ votes. But having a less-than-enthusiastic constituency in the party could leave her vulnerable if she fails to stabilize the ship quickly.
“Of course I want Liz Truss if it becomes one of the two,” said Paul Donaghya Conservative councilor for the Washington South ward in Sunderland, a northern English town that became synonymous with Brexit when it was the first region to fall to the “leave” side in the results of the 2016 referendum on European Union membership.
“She was one of the few who didn’t put the knife in Boris and I think that applies to a lot of people,” said Donaghy, who initially supported another candidate.
Donaghy’s views reverberate among many party members, some of whom have joined the party because of Johnson and are skeptical of Sunak, whose resignation as chancellor on July 5 has sparked more revolt from conservative lawmakers against the prime minister.
“So I think it’s an anti-Rishi vote, which is a shame in a way,” said Antony Mullen, a Conservative councilor for the Barnes Ward in Sunderland.
“I think it’s sad that it’s inevitable that it will be her, because he’s seen as someone who wielded the knife, because I think he was right and should have done it sooner.”
Truss and Sunak have traded barbs in particular due to the timing of any tax cuts, with Sunak describing Truss’ plans for immediate cuts as “comforting fairy tales,” though he changed course this week by providing relief from rising utility bills.
Truss, in turn, has called Sunak, a longtime party member and former Goldman Sachs banker, a “socialist” whose plans would send Britain into recession.
Who are the Conservatives?
Amid the Conservative Party’s third leadership race in six years, it’s not clear how many people are party members, but by 2021 it was around 200,000 and the number could have fallen since then, with councilors saying many were left of so-called partygate events held at Johnson’s Downing Street office that broke Covid-19 rules.
According to 2020 research by Queen Mary University of London and Sussex University Party Members Project, party membership tends to be older, male, Southern English and Brexit-supportive, meaning a leadership election could shift more towards a right-wing agenda than the rest of the country.
Anecdotally, more younger adults, often men, from northern England have joined.
The system of electing a new leader has been criticized by the opposition Labor party, which says the electorate should determine the prime minister, and also by some Conservative members, who believe they should be given greater choice.
“I won’t vote for any of them,” said John Strafford, president of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy.
“The MEPs elected the leader and they should have decided whether he was fired. It should not have been left to the MPs and the MEPs were not given a choice of candidates.”
Sean Donovan-Smith, president of the South West Surrey Conservative Association, agreed, saying: “I think there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with the last two at the moment.”
Many members hope the crowds across the country can help them make a decision.
Sunak’s latest pledge to temporarily eliminate taxes on household energy bills did little to resonate with members in Sunderland, with councilors saying all aid should be better targeted at lower-income households.
Some are won by Truss, who would be the country’s third female prime minister after Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May. She has served in various positions in Cabinet for most of the past eight years and they say she at least has the experience and should be able to make the tough decisions to steer the UK economy through tough times.
“Conservative ladies are good leaders, strong leaders, tough leaders and sensible leaders,” said Pam Mann, councilor for St Anne’s Ward in Sunderland.
“That’s what we need, we need it now, we need stability, we need control and we need solid direction and clear ideas.”