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The election by Conservative members will decide if Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak will replace Boris Johnson as party leader and Britain’s next prime minister.

Members of Britain’s Conservative party had until 5pm on Friday UK time to choose their next leader and therefore decide who will succeed the outgoing, ousted Boris Johnson as the next prime minister.

But after a process that makes choosing a pope look streamlined, who are the candidates, how did they get here, and what do they stand for?

Who are the candidates?

The frontrunner in the leadership contest is current foreign secretary Liz Truss, 47, the daughter of a Labour-supporting maths professor and teacher who went to a state school but made it to Oxford where she took the course studied by many future prime ministers: philosophy, politics and economics (PPE). After a brief career as an accountant she became an MP in 2010 and rose steadily through the Tory ranks despite her past membership of the centrist Lib Dems. She campaigned in favour of remain in the fateful 2016 EU referendum campaign. But she made up for this by quickly becoming a hardline Brexiter and leveraging her loyalty to one Tory election hero – Boris Johnson – and by often being compared to another, Margaret Thatcher, even down to the pussybow blouses.

Rishi Sunak, 42, is the son of east African parents of Punjabi descent who moved to Britain in the 1960s. Their work as a GP and pharmacist enabled them to send their boy to one of Britain’s most expensive private schools, Winchester. He also went to Oxford and also studied PPE, before making millions in hedge funds and becoming a Tory MP in 2015. A Brexit supporter, he was soon picked out as a future leader and became chancellor of the exchequer soon after Johnson won his big election victory in February 2020. Also like Truss, he is married with two daughters.

How has the campaign panned out?

A year ago, Sunak had the world at his feet, basking in the success of the Treasury’s Covid furlough scheme. But his reputation has waned – not helped by revelations about his billionaire wife’s tax status – and he went into the leadership fight being blamed for everything from the cost of living crisis to knifing Johnson in the back. Truss, on the other hand, started from the back of the pack but the invasion of Ukraine gave her the platform to do her best Iron Lady impersonation with tough anti-Putin rhetoric. This delighted the Tory press and the older, middle-class men who largely make up the party members who are choosing the new PM. Once she made it into the final two to take on Sunak, she has never looked like losing.

What are the issues?

The cost of living crisis, what the government should do about it and how that should be paid for has dominated the hustings. Truss launched her campaign with promises of big tax cuts and suggested her government could increase borrowing to pay for them. Her plan to tell people what they want to hear – see this week’s ruling out of energy rationing – has left Sunak with no other choice than to stick to his orthodox stance that the country can’t afford tax cuts given the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. He hasn’t been able to make his accusations of fantasy economics stick, nor has he benefited from reminding everyone that his rival was a remainer. Truss has made the Ukraine issue her own, and has also profited from the press narrative that Johnson was shafted by the “Westminster elites”, for whom read “Sunak”.

Have there been any controversies?

As you might expect in British politics, class has played a big part and was unexpectedly overt when clips emerged of a young Sunak on a TV documentary joking about how he didn’t have any working-class friends. This played out while the professor’s daughter criticised her (actually very good) state school for failing working-class kids. Truss’s much less polished style has been marked but she has avoided any eccentric moments on a par with her infamous “blessed are the cheesemakers” speech at party conference in 2014. Her potentially damaging failure to describe France as an ally was straight from the Johnson playbook and she also escaped too much damage from a leaked tape of her calling British workers lazy.

What happens now?

The longest leadership race in living memory will end when the winner is announced on Monday lunchtime UK time, although despite the buildup it’s not much of a cliffhanger. Truss has had a huge lead in the polls throughout the contest, with the most recent roundup of surveys giving her 59% of the vote to Sunak’s 32%. Victory will make her the third woman to lead Britain after Thatcher and Theresa May, all Conservatives. If Truss wins as expected, she – and Johnson – will then have to travel 500 miles to Balmoral on Tuesday for the traditional audience with the Queen who is unable to leave her Scottish redoubt because of an “episodic mobility issue”.

Source: The Guardian 


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