As this week the country basked (or baked) in a heatwave, many of us will already have one eye on our summer holiday. Yet the two remaining candidates in the Conservative Party leadership election will be turning up the heat on each other as they vie for the keys to Number 10.
We’ll know the identity of the next Prime Minister in early September. The last two candidates standing are graduates of Oxford and have experience of two of the great offices of state, Rishi Sunak as a former Chancellor and Liz Truss as the current Foreign Secretary. Whilst, to some extent, that demonstrates their credentials for high office – it does not exactly represent a fundamental change in direction for the Conservative Party. We may be poised for an interesting contest ahead.
It would appear inconceivable that either candidate could be overly critical of the current direction of political travel given their senior roles in Government and the fact they are in part responsible for where the country finds itself today. Yet, we’ve already seen an opening salvo from Liz Truss who claims that Rishi Sunak’s economic plans would drive the country into recession. Rishi’s retort? That Truss’s economic plans belong in the realms of fantasy.
While the opening exchanges may be tame, rest assured the next six weeks could see a lot more political blood on the carpet. Ordinary party members will want a limit on the blue on blue attacks, whilst the political neutrals and those in opposition will be hoping that the gloves come off and the Tories damage their chances of winning the next general election. If the opposition get their way, the true winner of the Conservative leadership election could be Keir Starmer.
Although Sunak and Truss might share an educational background and have sat around the same cabinet table, there remain a few key areas on which we might see some divergence. On the economy, Truss has already committed to an emergency budget with a view to reversing the recent national insurance rise. Sunak will see this as an opportunity to embarrass his opponent into explaining how such a tax cut will be funded. On the cost of living, it’s near impossible for both candidates to fail to acknowledge the issue and to propose action – yet neither seem to have proposed any tangible action which will bolster the purses and wallets of people across the UK.
On Brexit, Sunak is seen as a true be-leaver whose voting record backs this up. Truss, who voted to remain, has never appeared totally convinced on Brexit but knows that anything other than full throated support for Brexit in this contest would almost certainly hand her opponent victory.
Turning to domestic policy and there is little to separate the pair on health, foreign affairs or the environment – somewhat unsurprising given both were elected on the same manifesto less than three years ago. On the constitutional issues here in Scotland both candidates have distanced themselves from another referendum on Scottish independence.
The battle may come down to the ‘X factor’ – the issue or issues that emerge during the course of a campaign, or the unscripted gaffes. Both are no strangers to controversy, Sunak’s personal wealth and the perception of being out of touch has been well documented, whereas the truly cringe-worthy ‘Pork Markets’ speech which catapulted Liz Truss into the public consciousness is likely to be shown a few more thousand times this summer.
No matter how the next six weeks play out, it is certain to have no shortage of intrigue and cringe – perhaps in equal measure. Enjoy.