MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: Trust in Truss – to prevent a travesty

As Tory MPs prepare to vote in the third round of the leadership contest tomorrow, an awesome weight rests on their shoulders.

They are not merely installing a new head of their party but also a new Prime Minister.

That person will have a little over two years to turn around Conservative fortunes and prevent a Labour-led coalition of chaos sweeping to power. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

It should have become clear to those MPs that there are only two credible candidates.

From being favourite, Penny Mordaunt has seen her image become more tarnished by the day, as her record and views are put under the microscope.

In various Cabinet roles she has stood up to the EU over Northern Ireland and Putin over Ukraine. She has negotiated tricky post-Brexit trade deals in record time

Two of her former bosses – including Brexit warrior Lord Frost – cast grave doubts on her competence last week.

And she has now been challenged over whether she controversially supported transgender self-identification.

If this Election is about restoring trust and stability, she is emphatically not the solution.

Tom Tugendhat is clearly a decent man but he doesn’t even have junior ministerial experience. Choosing him would be an act of recklessness.

And while Kemi Badenoch is undoubtedly a star of the future, she isn’t ready for the top job. But there’s no doubt her drive and intelligence will enhance the next Cabinet.

Which leaves two candidates who have shown they are qualified for high office.

The first is Rishi Sunak. He guided the economy through the worst pandemic in a century with skill and sure-footedness and was the right man for that crisis.

His propensity for tax-raising since has the raised many hackles among Tory voters, especially the National Insurance (NI) hike, which this paper passionately opposed.

Freezing personal allowances and plans for a swingeing rise in corporation tax have led some to question if his instincts are truly Conservative. Many will also find it impossible to forgive his betrayal of Boris.

Which leaves two candidates who have shown they are qualified for high office. The first is Rishi Sunak. He guided the economy through the worst pandemic in a century with skill and sure-footedness and was the right man for that crisis

By contrast, Liz Truss, the other stand-out candidate, was loyal to Boris to the end. Firmly on the party’s Centre-Right, she has imaginative plans to ease the cost of living burden on families with targeted tax cuts and by scrapping the NI rise.

Ms Truss lacks Mr Sunak’s glossy style, as we saw with her rather wooden performance in the opening debate. But there is no doubting her true-blue Toryism – or her resolve.

In various Cabinet roles she has stood up to the EU over Northern Ireland and Putin over Ukraine. She has negotiated tricky post-Brexit trade deals in record time.

Trust is not lightly conferred on politicians. But by her actions, Ms Truss has earned it.

Yet she is by no means certain to make the final contest, in which grassroots Tories choose between the two contenders ultimately selected by MPs.

Mr Sunak is almost a shoo-in, but with the traditionalist Tory vote split between Mrs Badenoch and Ms Truss, Penny Mordaunt could cruise through. That would be a travesty.

In this paper today, recently eliminated candidate Suella Braverman, who now backs Ms Truss, urges Mrs Badenoch to follow her example. If Mrs Badenoch falls in behind Ms Truss she could be rewarded with a key Cabinet post.

Above all, MPs have a duty to make sure this contest doesn’t look like a Westminster stitch-up. To achieve that they must ensure that at least one traditional Tory is propelled on to the final shortlist.

Rishi’s whiff of Partygate hypocrisy 

One of the themes of Friday evening’s Channel 4 debate was that Boris must have known about all the Downing Street parties. And no one was more pious in their disapproval than Rishi Sunak.

But wasn’t the ex-Chancellor working in the same building? One picture of a gathering even appeared to be taken from No 11.

Surely, by his own logic, Mr Sunak must have been in the know.

So isn’t there a distinct whiff of hypocrisy about this sanctimonious condemnation of his old boss?

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