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Sunak’s tax cut pledge is a desperate attempt to keep up with Liz Truss

The more the former chancellor moves into Truss’s space on tax cuts, the more credibility he loses.

By Rachel Wearmouth

On 31 July England’s brilliant Lionesses lifted the Women’s Euro 2022 trophy after beating Germany. The women have been lauded by figures across the political spectrum for finally bringing football home – something the men’s team have failed to do for generations. As the Tory MP Tracey Crouch, a long-standing backer of women’s football, put it on Twitter, with a wink: “You want a job doing, ask a woman.”

Could she also have been alluding to the Tory leadership contender Liz Truss? The Foreign Secretary was at Wembley to share in the euphoria and tweeted about the “amazing atmosphere” and how the players “have made everyone incredibly proud”.

Truss’s campaign to be Britain’s next prime minister seems to have unstoppable momentum. She has won the backing of heavyweights Tom Tugendhat, Brandon Lewis and, on 31 July, the Chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi. She and Rishi Sunak will head to Exeter today (1 August) for the latest leadership hustings, as Tory members start to receive their ballots in the post.

The former chancellor, the clear favourite of MPs, has made a series of eye-catching pledges in a desperate bid to win over the party’s grassroots – who, ultimately, will decide his fate. He was accused of flip-flopping today after he promised a cut in income tax from 20p to 16p by the end of the decade, and again tried to convince members that picking Truss’s “fairytale economics” would be an “act of self-sabotage”.

Truss’s plans to immediately slash taxes, including reversing Sunak’s National Insurance hikes and scrapping his planned rise in corporation tax, are proving deeply popular with the party faithful. It increasingly feels like the more Sunak moves into Truss’s space on tax cuts, the more credibility he loses. As the chief secretary to the Treasury, Simon Clarke, succinctly phrased it: “Liz will cut taxes in seven weeks, not seven years.”

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Truss’s bold tilt for the top job is not without risk, however. Leaning into being “continuity Boris” will not have universal appeal with members or the public. Her outriders, who appear to have free rein to take chunks out of her opponent, are an unpredictable element.

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Nadine Dorries drew widespread disgust for tweeting a doctored image of Sunak as Brutus preparing to stab Boris Johnson as Caesar in the back. “I do find it, less than a year after the stabbing of our colleague [David Amess], in very, very poor taste, even verging on dangerous,” the Sunak supporter Greg Hands told Sky News – a point that many in his party agreed with.

With households struggling with the cost of living crisis, however, this contest will be decided on the economy. And it is striking that both candidates are prepared to deride the “failed Treasury orthodoxy” of the past decade and admit the government they have been part of has failed to deliver growth.

The Sunak and Truss bidding war underlines where the Conservatives have fallen short. Campaign chiefs in Keir Starmer’s Labour and Ed Davey’s Lib Dems will be content to watch this bitter battle continue, in full view of the camera, in Exeter.

[See also: Will Liz Truss’s tax cuts work?]