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Sunak has his work cut out if he is to win over Tory voters

26 July 2022

9:53 PM

26 July 2022

9:53 PM

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak barely have time to catch their breath after last night’s scrappy debate: today they’re back on set for a TalkTV hustings. Sunak had hoped to use yesterday’s BBC head-to-head to close the 24-point lead that Truss has with Conservative members, but his tactics have left many wondering if he’s damaged his cause even more. His constant interruptions and refusal to let Truss finish her points might have seemed a good idea in rehearsals, but they have allowed a ‘mansplaining’ narrative about the normally overly polite politician to take hold. In a previous debate, Truss claimed her weakness was that she was too enthusiastic, but last night Sunak was the one with an excessive amount of energy. It didn’t work – even if his arguments about sound money were important.

A poll from YouGov of 507 Conservative party members just published found Truss still has a 11-point lead over Sunak, with 50 per cent thinking she did best to Sunak’s 39 per cent. And how about the wider electorate? A snap poll from Opinium last night found that the Foreign Secretary was leading the former chancellor by ten points among Conservative voters. The pair were neck-and-neck for all voters (Truss 38 per cent, Sunak 39 per cent) and Sunak came out on top with Labour voters (41 per cent to Truss’s 30 per cent).

A bigger question that neither candidate will currently care that much about is the impact on the party of these furious scraps. As Truss was saying, she’d be happy to have Sunak in her cabinet – a ‘spokesman’ (later downgraded by colleagues to an ‘ally’) for her campaign told the Times’s Steve Swinford that Sunak’s ‘mansplaining’ rendered him unfit for office. It was hard to get to the end of the debate last night – harder still to believe the faux friendship between the two final candidates. Both say they are running positive campaigns, but neither wants to be the weaker contender. So the attacks and scrapping will continue, with the general electorate watching keenly – and wondering if the Conservative party is having a nervous breakdown.

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