Liz Truss Urged To “Come Down Hard On Blue-On-Blue” Attacks And Unite Tory MPs
The contest between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak was marred by personal criticism and 'blue-on-blue' attacks by Tory MPs (Alamy)
New Prime Minister Liz Truss has been urged to “come down hard” on warring Tory MPs as she faces an uphill struggle to unite the party after winning a rancorous leadership contest.
Truss beat rival Rishi Sunak by an unexpectedly narrow margin of 81,326 votes to 60,399 following a fraught contest to replace Boris Johnson as Conservative leader and prime minister after he was ousted by the party in July.
In a victory speech on Monday she paid tribute to the former chancellor, claiming it had been a "hard fought campaign" which had shown the "depth and breadth of talent" in the party.
But the contest has been marred by personal attacks by those close to both candidates, leading to warnings among some Tories it would prove difficult for whoever won to bring the party back together.
Today one Tory MP who backed Truss feared it was unlikely colleagues across the party would unite behind her administration after a summer of barbs between her supporters and those of her defeated rival Rishi Sunak.
“But we’re going to have to,” they told PoliticsHome.
"We’re going to have to come down hard on ‘blue-on-blue’ now, and start kicking people out as we need to have some discipline back in the party. We can’t afford to keep being so divided.”
MP Dehenna Davison, a strong backer of Truss, believed that a bickering party was not an option if they were to keep voters on-side in what looks to be a difficult winter politically.
“Speaking to loads of colleagues over the summer and loads of my own local members I think ultimately we all recognise that we need to come together as one team if we’re going to succeed," she said.
“There’s going to be an election in about two years time, we’ve got this huge challenge on energy and on cost of living at the moment, we need to come together and I really hope that all our colleagues do that.”
Kevin Hollinrake, who backed Sunak, highlighted the "acrimonious" leadership contest following David Cameron's resignation over the Brexit referendum in 2016 as an example that MPs can recover "quite quickly" from a volatile campaign.
"We recovered from that quite quickly. We know it’s in the party’s interests, but much more importantly the country’s interests to come together, unite behind our leader," he explained.
“There are huge challenges for the country right now, for many households and businesses. So we’ve really got to support her in delivering that support to households and businesses which I’m sure will come forward in the next few days.”
But a former Cabinet minister, who supported Sunak in the leadership contest, said the onus was on Truss to draw from all wings of the party to form her administration if she wants to bring Tory MPs with her this winter.
“She needs to form an inclusive government, or I strongly suspect there will be major problems ahead”, they told PoliticsHome.
One minister, who backed Sunak, complained to PoliticsHome that Truss’ rumoured Cabinet, which is set to be dominated by staunch backers like Jacob Rees Mogg, Suella Braverman and Therese Coffey, would do little to unite the party, especially after she defeated Sunak by a surprisingly narrow margin.
Most of the polling had suggested she would win by 20 points or more, but in the end the Foreign Secretary picked up 57.4 per cent of the votes on Tory party members.
Truss now faces a difficult task when she steps into Downing Street on Tuesday, chief of which is the looming cost of living crisis. It is understood that she is planning to announce a "twin track" approach to tackle it, starting with help for households, within the next week.
Davison, who said she was “absolutely elated” to see Truss win, said: “I think we’re all very alive to the fact that she’s now got a really tough job on her hands, and really the hard work starts now.”
Alec Shelbrooke, the Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell and one of the incoming PM's leading backers, said she was “more than capable of getting us through these problems”.
Another supporter, the Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney, said he wanted to see Truss “cracking on now with the big business support package, and also support for pensioners and families with the energy bills that are going up”.
There have been hints she may look to freeze domestic energy bills as the price cap is due to rise to £3,549 next month. “These are such worrying times, like we stepped up to the plate during the pandemic, I wouldn’t rule anything out,” he told PoliticsHome.
“I’ve spoken to so many MPs this morning who were backing Rishi, and everyone is just talking about being unified, working together, and then dealing with energy bills.”
Additional reporting by Adam Payne and Eleanor Langford
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