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sunak v truss

Tory leadership: The Chancellor who wielded the knife vs Margaret Thatcher's heir apparent

Rishi Sunak, the favourite among MPs is set to face Liz Truss, the favourite among grassroots Conservatives.

THE STAGE HAS been set for the contest to select the next UK Prime Minister, as both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss prepare to start campaigning among the Tory membership.

Following a fractious campaign in recent days, which saw significant infighting between the candidates for the Tory leadership, the final two contenders emerged this afternoon after Penny Mordaunt was eliminated in the final round of MP voting.

A long summer of campaigning lies ahead, with the final victor not set to be crowned until 5 September.

As the race to replace Boris Johnson is set to intensify, who exactly are the two remaining candidates?

Rishi Sunak

Sunak, who topped the poll among MPs with 137 backers, is a former Chancellor of the Exchequer who quit just over two weeks ago, triggering the slow collapse of Boris Johnson.

He had only made the rise to the position two years earlier after the resignation of Sajid Javid. Coincidentally, Javid was reinstated as Health Secretary in 2021 and subsequently resigned again, announcing his resignation just nine minutes before Sunak did on 5 July.

The 42-year-old, who was born in Southampton in 1980 is the child of two Indian parents who worked in a pharmacy and as a local doctor respectively.

He started out as a businessman, working in Goldman Sachs and as a hedge fund manager before moving into politics in his 30s, first being elected in 2014 and shortly after supported the Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

He made inroads with Boris Johnson after supporting him to become the next Tory leader after the resignation of Theresa May.

After this, he began to move upwards into Cabinet after Johnson was elected.

As Chancellor (Finance Minister), Sunak played a high profile role in the UK’s response to the pandemic and was responsible for the furlough scheme and “Eat Out to Help Out” plan.

At one stage he was the most popular politician in the UK, mainly due to his massive spending on Covid-19 measures.

However, this sheen was somewhat worn off earlier this year after he and Johnson were both fined during the Partygate scandal, leaving him somewhat damaged compared to other potential leadership contenders.

His political capital was also damaged by questions over his family’s finances, after it was revealed that his wife held “non-domiciled status”, which reduced her tax payments.

The status means that Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty – who is the daughter of a billionaire – is considered to have her permanent home outside the UK.

Sunak has also received attention for how he portrays himself online and in the media, with some of his supporters dubbing him “Dishy Rishi” for his self-promoting tweets during his time in Number 11.

One of the key features of the upcoming race is likely to be Brexit, particularly around the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol Bill currently making its way through Westminster.

While Sunak had voiced his concerns around the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill around the Cabinet table, he has remained quiet on the issue during the campaign.

However, a source within the Sunak camp told the Financial Times last week that he would support it as Prime Minister.

“Rishi would let the bill go through, but there would be a different tone,” said the ally, while Sunak’s spokesperson refused to comment.

Sunak’s domestic agenda struck a different chord compared to the other leadership contenders as he refused to back calls for widespread tax cuts amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

Liz Truss

Truss, who came second in the MP ballot with 113 votes, is the current UK Foreign Secretary and beat Penny Mordaunt to the run-off by just eight votes

She opted not to resign during Johnson’s leadership crisis and remains in place in his caretaker Government.

The 46-year-old was born in Oxford in 1975 to a family she refers to as “left wing” and she participated in anti Margaret Thatcher marches when she was four years old.

However, her early flirtation with left-wing politics did not last and she admitted to an early fascination with Thatcher, even going as far to play her in as a seven-year-old in a mock election at her primary school.

She recalled that she received no votes.

Truss originally joined the Liberal Democrats as a student and had some anti-monarchist views for a time.

However, this changed when she joined the Conservatives in 1996 and began to stand for elections, unsuccessfully at first while working for Shell and Cable & Wireless.

She first was elected to the House of Commons in 2010 and rose to a junior ministerial position under David Cameron in 2012, before becoming the Environment Secretary in 2014.

In the Brexit referendum, Truss campaigned for Remain but switched her tune and has since become a fervent Brexiteer, garnering support from the right of the Tory party, including the influential European Research Group (ERG).

She was promoted to the role of Foreign Secretary in 2021 during a Cabinet reshuffle, following the botched handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal by her predecessor Dominic Raab.

She also took over as lead negotiator with the EU after the exit of David Frost, taking a very hardline approach, including introducing the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill which would override significant amounts of the Protocol.

Plans by Truss and the UK Government to override the Protocol were widely condemned by the Irish Government and the EU, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin criticising that they didn’t “fully get” the Good Friday Agreement.

She has also become more prominent in recent months due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, heading to Moscow in the weeks prior to the invasion for talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

While on the trip she was spotted wearing a Russian-style hat, which bore a resemblance to the outfit donned by Thatcher 30 years before when she visited Moscow.

While these outfit matches might be mere coincidences, Truss has no doubt tried to emulate Thatcher in other ways, particularly in her plans to slash taxes if chosen to be the next Prime Minister.

Only time will tell if we see the Chancellor who brought down Johnson or Thatcher’s heir apparent selected as the UK’s next Prime Minister.

Additional reporting by Press Association.

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