Tory leadership recently: Tax slips will sink Rishi Sunak

For a man whose campaign was built on the inevitability of victory, Rishi Sunak could hardly be further from his goal. Three weeks into the race for the leadership of Britain’s Conservatives, polls suggest his opponent Liz Truss is almost out of sight.

This team undoubtedly overestimated his popularity with party members and underestimated Ms. Truss.

The ex-Chancellor could still turn the tables, although even his supporters say it’s unlikely unless there’s some misstep by the Secretary of State. Veteran political activists say there are many reasons why the Sunak campaign failed – and were obvious from the start.

Some believe his campaign would always be dead on arrival thanks to his recent track record in government and his insidious ruse from Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Others say he could have been ahead by now if he had “got his message right.”

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Everyone agrees that his reversal in VAT cuts this week was a sign of panic and may have snuffed out the flickering candle of his leadership claim.

“Quite simply, he’s fighting the wrong elections,” said a veteran of multiple Tory leadership campaigns. “You only ever deal with the constituency in front of you, not the next. They are campaigning as if they were fighting a general election, but they have to win it first.”

Even the fact that Mr Sunak chose not to wear a tie for televised debates was taken as a sign he was trying to appeal to the general public rather than Tory members who prefer their leaders to be buttoned up.

Allegations continue to surface among MPs and strategists that Team Sunak does not understand Tory membership. Some blame Liam Booth-Smith, his former Treasury chief of staff and cornerstone of his campaign team, for failing to ensure his boss is fully connected to members’ views. Others blame his campaign manager, Mel Stride MP. Many blame Mr. Sunak himself.

“He’s got a very secure seat in Yorkshire where he can barbeque in the garden of his mansion for friendly Tory guys,” said one MP. “He hasn’t spent enough time driving up and down the country to find out what the members are really thinking.”

Another disastrous miscalculation was the backlash against him for his pivotal role in Mr Johnson’s ouster.

“Rishi and his team seemed to think he would be hailed as a hero for stepping down and getting rid of Boris,” said another Tory MP. “They thought Liz Truss would spoil it if she stood by Boris. But the membership hates backstabbers, as Michael Gove found out. Truss made the right decision to continue because many members still prefer Boris to any of them.”

Whether Mr Sunak could have done better is debatable. Those who have rallied to Ms Truss’ side believe his campaign was doomed to fail because of his high-tax policies as chancellor, but there are impartial observers who believe he could have been in pole position by now.

“He had the best prepared campaign and his team prepared for months,” said one strategist. “You had a big head start, but if you get the wrong message, it doesn’t matter how sophisticated your campaign is.

“Their message was: You may not like my economy but it’s thriving so stick with me and we’ll be fine.

“Instead they should have sold the fact that he has promised tax cuts ahead of the next election, that he is the one who spent £37bn on handouts to help with energy bills and that there is more to come would. ”

For now, Mr. Sunak must hope that if Ms. Truss falters, he can keep the gap small enough to take advantage of it. “This is probably the first time in his life that he has had to face the possibility of failure,” said a former colleague. “It will take him a long time to get over it if he loses.” (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd. 2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Tory leadership recently: Tax slips will sink Rishi Sunak

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