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No one was surprised when Liz Truss entered the race to be the Conservative Party’s new leader and our next Prime Minister. An MP since 2010, Truss is one of the government’s most experienced Cabinet members. Having worked her way up through ministerial posts in Education, the Environment, Justice, International Trade, Women and Equalities, and now as Foreign Secretary (one of the ‘big four’ offices of state), she was an obvious candidate.

What’s been less obvious is how she became the bookies favourite.

A former Lib Dem nuclear disarmament campaigner turned-traditional Tory, known for some bizarre media gaffs on pork markets, imported cheese and possums, she didn’t start this race as the clear frontrunner. Although, when it comes to Conversative leadership races, they almost never do.

Looking back to mid-July when Truss officially entered the race, alongside 7 other MPs, YouGov polling showed only 13% of members backed her (tied with Sunak). She had moderate support among Conservative MPs, but in the MP knock-out voting rounds was consistently coming in third behind Sunak and Penny Mordaunt (remember her?). Only when Kemi Badenoch fell out of the race did she gain enough backing to steal ahead into second place.

Fast forward to this week, POLITCO’s Poll of Polls shows that 56% of Conservative Party members favour Truss over Sunak’s 32%. Sunak may have more MPs backers in numbers but she has secured the support of many more Cabinet big hitters and former leadership rivals. One MP has even defected from #ReadyforRishi to #LizforLeader with rumours of others following suit.

Should we be surprised that Liz has emerged out front? It’s well known that she has spent years building relationships with grassroots conservative members and constituency associations, and more recently for holding ‘Fizz with Liz’ meetings with MPs to drum up support. You’d almost think she’d been planning a run at the top job.

She has seemingly been rewarded by Party members for remaining loyal to Boris Johnson as his administration crumbled around him, while avoiding association with the ‘partygate’ and pandemic government contract scandals that weakened it. In contrast, Sunak may be punished by members for initiating the end of the Johnson era with his resignation.

When it comes policy, Liz has been playing directly into the hands of Party members by promising to break away from the approach of Conservative governments past that the UK must live within its means. Instead, she promises to cut taxes from the off and completely rewrite the cautious economic approach set by her rival, the former Chancellor. Once a staunch Remainer, she has positioned herself as the anti-EU candidate and appears genuine in her change of heart about the benefits of Brexit.

She suffered a minor setback when forced to U-turn on public sector pay last week, but her campaign seems to be going from strength to strength as polling shows Sunak is losing his advantage with the general public. In contrast, Sunak appears stuck between his desire to be the candidate of realism and ‘sound money’ by avoiding sweeping tax cuts in the near term, while trying to appease the Tory right by saying he will scrap VAT on energy bills and then slash taxes by 20% by the end of the decade.

From this standpoint Truss’ success may seem inevitable, however it’s worth remembering that Sunak does ultimately have the backing of more MPs, and the advent of the ‘Shy Tory’ may still swing the result in his favour.

Liz Truss: Policy Summary


Truss has vowed to hold an emergency budget within the first days of becoming Prime Minister but has since commented she would not write any form of budget in advance to “see the situation in Autumn.” As well as reversing the planned rise in corporation tax, she would review the taxation of families to ensure people are not penalised for taking time out to care for children and elderly relatives. Her attitude has been summarised as “tax cuts over handouts.” 

Cost of Living

Truss stated she would tackle the cost of living through a reverse of the national insurance increase and pause green levies on energy bills.

Climate Change and Energy

Truss has also committed to achieving Net Zero by 2050. She also shared plans of reviewing the ban on fracking as an alternative solution to the ongoing energy crisis. There has been continued speculation Truss would create an international development strategy prioritising spending on women and girls over climate change but denied spending on this and global health would be defunded.


Truss would implement new low planning zones in key areas of the UK with clearer planning rules for those zones. She would also scrap local authority housing targets and replace tax and regulatory incentives for firms to build homes. In a bid to improve infrastructure, Truss also pledged to deliver the Northern Powerhouse Rail in full.


Truss said she would bring the 2.5 per cent defence spending target forward to 2026, and by the end of the decade, increase spending to 3 per cent. She would further review the government’s current plans to cut the size of the army to 72,500 in 2025.

Levelling Up

Truss would create low tax zones across the country with lower business rates and limited planning restrictions, to encourage investment in those areas. She has also committed to amending the Levelling Up Bill itself to replace centralised targets with tax cuts and reduced red tape in “opportunity zones.” This would include making it easier for developers to build on brownfield land in those areas.

Brexit and Europe

Truss has stated she would reform the European Convention of Human Rights. If not, she has stated she would be prepared to leave completely. She has also committed to the reform of all EU law, including EU’s Solvency II, by the end of 2023. Truss has maintained the drawing up of new legislation in regards to the Northern Irish Protocol would not breach international law and would uphold the Good Friday Agreement.

Tech and Digital

By overhauling EU Solvency II rules, Truss would hope this would allow pension funds to invest in high-tech start-ups. She has also shared her support to re-introduce the Online Safety Bill and legislation.

Foreign Affairs and Trade

Truss has indicated the need for a ‘New Commonwealth Deal,’ to strengthen economic ties across the Commonwealth through bilateral trade agreements. She would maintain her ‘hawkish’ approach to China.

Food and farming

Truss is anti ‘nanny state,’ and would scrap the planned junk food taxes as well as the ‘buy one get one free’ ban. She confirmed there would be no new HFSS levies as part of this plan. On farming, Truss would develop a stronger British biodiversity target, moving away from the EU’s habitat directive. She would also extend the seasonal workers scheme to allow farmers to recruit migrants for labour and allow them to use drones to spread fertiliser and chemicals. Truss added she would promote the use of precision breed technologies to include gene editing, to increase food production.

Rishi Sunak had a strong start in the Conservative Party Leadership contest. After playing a pivotal role in toppling Boris Johnson’s premiership, he sailed through a series of ballots of Conservative MPs to emerge comfortably at the top of the table as the first choice of the parliamentary party.

But the numbers in these initial rounds are only a small part of the picture. It has long seemed a forgone conclusion that Liz Truss, polling well amongst the wider party membership who are now casting their votes, would have the upper hand in this second stage. 

From the beginning, Sunak faced an uphill battle to win over this audience. While Truss has by all accounts spent years courting members and associations, Sunak has had some catching up to do. It doesn’t look like his approach is working – he’s trailing far behind in the polls of party members (currently on 32%, compared to Truss’s 56%). 

Perhaps too many Conservative party members are unwilling to forgive him his role in Boris’ downfall? He has had to repeatedly deny that he “wielded the dagger” that brought him down. Positioning himself as the “safe” choice, Sunak has leaned heavily on his recent experience in the top Treasury job, making the difficult decisions to get the country through the pandemic, much like he would do to weather a recession. But it appears that his confident, polished delivery has not been enough, leaving the door wide open for Truss to present herself as the more exciting option. 

Possibly the simplest explanation lies in his ideological approach. This, after all, has been a contest defined almost completely by each candidate’s economic policy and their plans to address a cost-of-living crisis that seems to worsen by the day. Barring a few relatively short-lived media storms on both sides, this debate has drowned out much of the discussion on other issues. 

While both have ultimately promised tax reductions, Sunak has resisted calls for immediate cuts, insisting that the country needs “honesty and responsibility, not fairy tales”. His approach was to prioritise getting inflation under control before cutting taxes, with a laser focus on balancing the books. His fiscal prudence has been painted in stark contrast to Truss’ pledge to borrow more in order to fund £30billion worth of tax cuts “from day one”. If the polls are to be believed, this hasn’t been a winning argument so far. 

In recent days, however, as the news of further increases to energy bills has dominated headlines, Sunak has been far more forthcoming than Truss about additional support for vulnerable households. Setting out plans to find up to £10bn in support, which could cover the cost of rising bills for up to 16 million people, he admitted that “temporary, one-off borrowing” may be required as a last resort. He would also be willing to enter talks now with the current Prime Minister and Chancellor about more urgent action to address the crisis – something which Truss’ team have resisted. Whether this attempt at a campaign reset will be enough to turn the tide for Sunak remains to be seen – no doubt some still believe he can do it, but the momentum is far from in his favour. 

Rishi Sunak: Policy Summary


The former Chancellor said he would cut the basic rate of income tax in 2024 from 20 per cent to 19 per cent, to be followed by further cuts, to reach a 16 per cent reduction by 2029. He added that he would implement a new business tax reform in 2023. Sunak has said he would wait until public finances had improved and would continue with the planned corporation tax rise from April, a policy implemented in his time as Chancellor.

Cost of Living

As a temporary measure, Sunak would scrap VAT on energy bills for a year in October, as well as expand on direct payments to households.

Climate Change and Energy

As well as backing the 2050 net zero target, Sunak has committed to introducing a legal target to make Britain energy self-sufficient by 2045. Part of these plans includes no further expansion of onshore wind farms, but a focused effort on increasing offshore wind supply. On a broader approach, Sunak would re-establish a separate Department for Energy, as well as create a new Energy Security Committee to reform the energy market to cut future bills.


Sunak stated he wanted to see more houses built in the North and the Midlands, rather than the South of England, with plans to review official projections of local housing needs. He has also committed to protecting green belts, reviewing planning laws to stop local authorities from requesting changes to the belt boundaries to release land for development. Sunak would also plan a crackdown on developers with a “use it or lose it” tax if they fail to build homes on land they secure planning permission for.


Sunak says he would maintain defence spending levels, rising to 2.5% in 2030. Controversially, defence secretary and Truss supporter, Ben Wallace, has now accused the former Chancellor of blocking vital defence money in 2019. 

Levelling Up

Sunak has been seen as pro-levelling up through private investment and is not keen to use public money in Levelling Up efforts. After stating to party members, he would drive public funding from urban areas to towns and rural areas. His campaign team have claimed he aims to give non-metropolitan areas better transport services, broadband and schools, with backing from Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, this has always been a commitment of the Levelling Up agenda.

Brexit and Europe

Through a newly established ‘Brexit Delivery Department,’ Sunak would reform all EU law and bureaucracy still one statute book. This would be done in time for the next General Election. Sunak has stated he acknowledges challenges posed by the Northern Ireland protocol, and the government’s preference is a negotiated settlement with the EU and did not vote on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill’s second reading.

Tech and Digital

As part of his plans for Brexit, Sunak would also replace GDPR with a ‘dynamic’ data protection regime. He has further committed to re-introducing the Online Safety Bill and legislation to manage digital competition and online consumer protection. Sunak stated he would examine the need to prevent Chinese acquisitions of key British assets including "strategically sensitive tech firms."

Foreign Affairs and Trade

Sunak would create a new “Nato-alliance” to monitor and counter China’s activity, with the aim to influence international standards on cybersecurity, as well as help businesses and universities counter possible China industrial espionage.

Food and Farming

Sunak has stated he wants to make British farmers a “priority” in any trade deals. Furthermore, would set new targets for domestically produced food and regulations to prevent high-quality farmland from being given over to “rewilding” and solar farms. Sunak would launch an advertising campaign to encourage shoppers to “buy local” and hold an annual “food security summit” in Downing Street. There would be a further ban on farmland being sold to property developers for housing, to prevent Britain’s stock of agricultural land from shrinking.

by Victoria McNish and Charlie Wells

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