The Rundown Podcast: Final Two To Replace Boris Johnson Are Clashing Already
As the Tory party leadership contest comes down to the final two candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, supporters of the rivals Simon Hart and Greg Smith join Alain Tolhurst and Eleanor Langford from PoliticsHome to look ahead to where the second stage of the race to replace Boris Johnson will be won and lost.
Following the final stage of parliamentary voting on Wednesday, Sunak and Truss will face a postal ballot of Conservative Party members, with the result to be announced on 5 September.
The key battle line so far is cutting tax, with Sunak arguing it would be irresponsible to do so now before inflation is brought under control.
Truss, however, has pledged to reverse the National Insurance increase on day one if she were to become prime minister, along with a host of other measures.
But Hart told the podcast the pair had previously been more aligned on their views over the economy than they have appeared during the campaign so far.
“Both Rishi and Liz, myself, Boris Johnson, we've all sat around the same table last year, and you could not put a cigarette paper between us in terms of our economic policy,” he explained.
But Smith, who described himself as a “free marketeer, small-state, tax-cutting Conservative”, said Truss’ message has been “much more clear in that direction” so far.
He said Sunak’s plans were “perfectly legitimate and reasonable”, but added: “I prefer to go back to what some might call the ‘Thatcherite route’, but actually I think it's much broader than that.
“It's that classical liberal economics, that belief in a smaller state, if you keep more money in people's pockets, if you take the burden off businesses, then the economy will grow.”
The pair chatted in collegiate fashion, in stark contrast to how much of the campaign has been fought so far, with plenty of “blue-on-blue” attacks in the televised debates so far and in briefings to the media.
Hart said the plan “is to be as positive as possible” as the candidates move to the next phase.
“This isn't a an opportunity to sort of slag each other off,” he added.
Smith agreed, and blamed the format of the ITV debate for creating rancour between the fellow Conservatives.
“We've got to have the legitimate debate about the battle of ideas, about what sort of what brand of conservatism is the next couple of years about in the run up to the general election,” he said.
“That's a legitimate debate to have. But we are one family at the end, and the most important thing on the 5th of September, we've all got to come together.”
Smith said Sunak becomes prime minister, he would still back him.
“We do have to avoid this public bloodletting," he said.
“I thought the ITV debate in particular, that the very way that was set up, encouraging the candidates to take a chunk out of each other, was probably not the best way to bring out that battle of ideas.”
Hart said while politicians are “in the business of arguing” and the candidates must “stress test every possible idea”, what people want to hear is “their positive plans for the country, how they're going to reunite everybody in a common cause, we do not necessarily want to know what they hate about each other”.
- For the full discussion listen to this week’s episode of The Rundown, out now
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