It’s been quite a week in the Tory leadership contest with Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss continuing to knock ten bells out of each other. Sometimes the person who wants something most is the person who prevails, at least that is how it seemed last Sunday in the ITV debate. Rishi Sunak came out of the traps firing on all cylinders, barely allowing Liz Truss to get in a word edgeways in the discussion on inflation and growth. Unfortunately, he was so dominant, it often came across as domineering mansplaining.
The trouble is, Liz Truss had few believable answers. Cut a tax here, cut a tax there, borrow a bit more here, don’t pay any of it back for three years. This is the antithesis of ‘sound money’ Thatchernomics, a point Sunak drove home well. Truss then called Faisel Islam 'Fayzell' twice, before falling into Rishi Sunak’s trap of using the phrase ‘Project Fear’, allowing him to point out that it was she in the Brexit referendum who was part of ‘Project Fear’. Her rather limp reply of ‘perhaps I have learned from that’ was just that – limp. However, she did improve.
I wrote aftert the debate that Sunak was on fire and that few who were watching this debate could surely come to any other conclusion that Sunak would be the better Prime Minister. I then posed this question: Can any of them truly believe that Liz Truss is more likely to win an election than Sunak? That was Monday.
On Thursday Nick Ferrari chaired the first members’ hustings in Leeds. Rishi Sunak did a Cameron style ‘look no notes’ ten minute speech which was highly polished. I didn’t think Liz Truss was capable of doing that but boy was I wrong. She absolutely smashed it. She did not stand behind the lecturn. She was fluent, funny, imposing, got three lots of claps and frankly smashed it. She then answered questions well. She’s also announced some interesting policies and attracted the support of Tom Tugendhat, Ben Wallace and Brandon Lewis. She’s transformed her campaign within five days. I don’t know what someone has put in her tea, but it is working.
I said some time ago that Rishi Sunak’s campaign was making many of the same mistakes we made in 2005 on the David Davis campaign. I think it’s worse than that now. Every new policy announcement is seen as a bit desperate. He’s failing to talk to the electorate that he’s trying to win over. He’s fighting a general election campaign.
So am I switching my support? Frankly, my support matters not a damn. I don’t even have a vote. My candidate, Penny Mordaunt, isn’t in the race any longer. Also, there is a temptation for many to follow who they think is going to win, and I think that is an issue for many politicians now. I suspect many Sunak supporters are having buyers regret but don’t quite know what to do about it. What I will do over the next month is call it how I see it, and at the moment I think Liz Truss has the momentum. She’s got the support of three big hitters ust as ballot papers land on members’ doormats. That counts for something. Rishi Sunak can’t claim any big name new supporters.
Sometimes, cometh the hour comenth the woman. In the last few days Liz Truss has displayed qualities I, and many of her other critics, had not seen before and did not imagine were there. Well, that could just be a flash in the pan, but the last few days have led me to question whether I have misjudged her.