World

Is Liz Truss too comfortable?

2 August 2022

7:03 AM

2 August 2022

7:03 AM

After England scored their first goal last night, the team visibly relaxed and had a spell of playing happily until Germany equalised. Liz Truss was in the crowd and saw that sudden surge in confidence up close. Tonight we saw the same from the frontrunner. She enjoyed the latest hustings in Exeter, making jokes about how all the popular misconceptions of her were true. At times it seemed as though the interviewer (Seb Payne, formerly of this parish) and the audience were trying to find out more about what she’d do when she was in No. 10, not if. By contrast, the questions to Rishi Sunak were more about why members should give him a hearing when he had been disloyal to Boris Johnson and had put up their taxes.

Truss was in a particularly buoyant mood because her former rival Penny Mordaunt came out not just to endorse her but to introduce her to the audience. This is a real coup for Truss’s campaign given Mordaunt and her allies were seething about what they saw as dirty tricks and personal attacks during the parliamentary stages of the contest. It gives the impression that Truss is the candidate who can unite the party after this torrid time. At its most basic level it gives Truss authority because Mordaunt, Nadhim Zahawi, Tom Tugendhat and the others who’ve backed her in the past few days are part of a tide of Tories who think the result is now sufficiently unquestionable for them to start thinking about their own positions within a Truss government. Sunak by contrast had Liam Fox: someone who is well-loved by many Tory members who’ve been wearing down their shoe leather for the party for years, but who is also not exactly a fresh face.


That’s not to say that Truss trounced Sunak: these hustings aren’t head-to-head anyway. The former Chancellor had to play in a more defensive position, at one point referring to ‘the orthodoxy I’m accused of’, but he stood his ground when being attacked by members for his corporation tax policy, and when being asked why people should trust him given he wasn’t loyal to Johnson. But he was also relaxed. This contest was just getting started, he insisted, even though the ballots go out this week.

The problem with being the one who feels more comfortable is that it can lead you to say things that aren’t well-judged. It’s easy in a room where people obviously like you to come out with memorable lines such as ‘Nicola Sturgeon is an attention-seeker’ who it is best to ignore. But is it best to ignore Nicola Sturgeon? It might seem tempting to many Devon Conservatives who feel the attention in Westminster is far too often turned towards Scotland, not the south west of England. But this leadership contest has suggested that neither candidate has spent enough time thinking about how to hold the UK together. Ignoring Nicola Sturgeon won’t mean Scottish nationalism disappears. In fact, it will more likely make it even easier for her to argue that the Westminster government doesn’t even want to listen to Scotland. With a Times poll putting Sunak just five points behind Truss among members tonight, could there still be a chance of a change in the game again, just as people are getting comfortable?

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