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Behind the headlines

Why Liz Truss is winning

Truss: striding to victory? Georg Wendt/Pool/Getty

“Call her crackers all you like,” says Iain Martin in The Times, but Liz Truss is winning the race to be Conservative leader, “and giving her party’s establishment a good thrashing in the process”. She has run an audacious campaign. Despite having faithfully served three successive Tory prime ministers in Cabinet, Truss has managed to present herself as “some kind of restless insurgent taking on a failed system”. Though she backed Remain, and Rishi Sunak backed Brexit, Truss is the one who has learnt the lessons of Vote Leave: she has successfully cast her opponent as “the complacent advocate of an elite economic orthodoxy”.

Sunak and his supporters, including Dominic Cummings and other Vote Leave veterans, assumed he would come across as a “respectable, shiny, safe grown-up” by opposing Truss’s proposal for tax cuts. Instead, he looks “rigid” while she looks “open to change and fresh thinking”. She induces in some “an intense dislike” I’ve never been able to square with the person I’ve encountered down the years. But she’s certainly tough.

Breaking with the past?

Truss is just the kind of “anti-establishment radical” the Tories are after, says Allister Heath in The Daily Telegraph. The Conservatives used to be a party concerned with preserving the status quo, but no longer. With the country “dominated by a left-wing cultural elite”, and the economy crippled by “surging taxes” and a dysfunctional state, Tory members now see themselves as “revolutionaries” trying to shift the UK in a rightwards direction. They thought Boris Johnson was the man to do that – then he transformed into “an Identikit green-tinged social democrat”. I want to give Sunak the benefit of the doubt. He’s “operationally brilliant” and I once had the “best, most detailed conversation” about tax I’ve ever had with a politician. But it’s Truss, a former Lib Dem and Remainer, who understands the need for a break with the past.

The Foreign Secretary “has always been a more serious figure than her caricature”, says Robert Shrimsley in the FT. The problem is that she’s secured her place in the final two “by courting the worst people in her party”. These “ideological obsessives” dismiss Sunak as a socialist and blame Johnson’s downfall on anyone but himself. She’s placating them with a particularly Johnsonian brand of political doublethink: “pro having cake and pro eating it”, as the outgoing PM puts it. Sunak presents Tory members with hard choices about public spending, but Truss is pitching “full gateau” in the form of unfunded tax cuts, with none of Johnson’s personal baggage. “For all her talk to the contrary, Truss is the continuity candidate.”