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CWA # 774, 6 August 2022

NIAS Europe Studies
Who will be the next UK prime minister: Liss Truss v. Rishi Sunak

  Padmashree Anandhan

The UK faces the deadliest challenge of economic shock over the leadership contest

When the contest for leading the conservative party began, there were eight party leaders from different backgrounds competing for the UK prime ministership. After three rounds of voting, former chancellor Rishi Sunak topped the list followed by foreign secretary Liz Truss. With Truss cutting close, the voting proportion has switched in favour of Truss with Conservative party member’s support, where the Opinium snap poll showed the lead of 47 per cent for Truss over 38 per cent for Sunak. The candidates will now involve in the campaign and debates, while the 175000 members vote which will be declared on 05 September. When it was to compete with Penny Mordaunt or Suella Braverman, Sunak had an easy majority in polls, but comparing Truss’s record and reputation within the party, the possibility of winning for Sunak hangs low.

Liss Truss
Truss, who was nowhere in the top three of the first round, has now beaten Sunak due to her growing support within the party. The reasons are, that Truss is one of the long-standing members, and her promise of immediate tax cuts has turned the winds in favour. She assures to create “low-tax and low-regulation zones,” to promote more innovation. Although the decision seems to be impracticable with energy prices rising and the economy at the edge of inflation, the tax cut will only aggravate the problem. For the Party members tax cut or the economic risk is not a concern because most of them are elite or financially secured, so the changes will only impact the middle and low-income groups people. In terms of climate, Truss vows to suspend the “green levy” which is part of the energy bill paid for social and green projects. She also supports boosting UK’s nuclear energy through new reactors, and power stations and disinvesting in solar farms by cutting subsidies. On Brexit, as a keen supporter of Boris Johnson has firmly vowed to take the new legislation proposal on altering the Northern Ireland Protocol. This assures the member support of those who were under Johnson. Till now she has got culture secretary Nadine Dorries, Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg and former leadership rival Suella Braverman on her side.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak, a former chancellor who started the resignation row was one of the strong candidates topping the last three rounds of the Tory leadership contest. Unlike Truss, his tax cut is conditioned on bringing inflation in control. He also promises to remove five per cent VAT on household energy upon the standard price on bills goes above GBP 3000. Apart from this Sunak also vows for increasing corporate tax to 25 per cent from 19 per cent in April 2023 and to increase UK’s defence expenditure. Sunak faces a barrier amongst the party to gaining support when compared to Truss due to his poor reputation in handling the economy and climate policy. Unlike Truss, Sunak has proposed for “energy profits levy” which has to be paid by the energy firms as a windfall tax to benefit households, pensioners, and those with a disability to meet their cost of living. In terms of climate change, he vows to replace onshore wind farms with offshore wind programmes. In terms of Brexit, Sunak holds a rigid stance on restructuring the EU laws and opposes Northern Ireland Protocol, as he argues it causes to the instability for UK’s economy.

Who might lead the Conservative party?
The quest for a new leader before the end of term is not new for the Conservatives, it is the second time in the last six years, that the leader has been removed. Comparing both Lizz Truss and Rishi Sunak, both candidates lack in addressing the climate and Brexit issues, which is observed as a common practice of the Conservatives. To get through the final voting from the 1,75,000 candidates, being in favour of a party is important, keeping Sunak and Truss on the start line, Sunak’s work on the employment scheme during the pandemic earned his place, but his hard-line approach to taxes and cost of living are the factors reducing his chance to victory. Whereas Truss, who does not have a workable long-term economic plan has managed to showcase herself as a convenable leader to lead the party till the next elections.

What next for the UK?
Regardless of the next leader, UK’s economy is already on the trajectory of an economic downturn. The growth line began to underperform from 2010 when the Tories took over. The slow recovery rate from the pandemic and unexpected prolonging of the Ukraine war has cost UK’s economy further resulting in negative growth. In the 1970s the bank interest rates shot up and now the same is expected to happen with the borrowing costs. Truss has campaigned to look into “Threadneedle Street’s mandate,” which is used to meet the inflation target. Here the real problem is not only the war, and pandemics but also the impending unemployment rates which cannot be settled by cutting interest rates. Therefore, whether it is Truss or Sunak, the reviving of the economy into its track will be a long game for the UK. The selected leader will face a hard time proving until the 2024 elections.


About the Author

Padmashree Anandhan is a Research Associate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. She is currently working on a commentary on the UN ocean conference: Global initiatives towards sequestering blue carbon.

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