Voting will begin on Monday to select the leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister of the United Kingdom, with the clock placing Rishi Sunak at a further disadvantage against Liz Truss. Of the 12 hustings due, where candidates debate one another before party members, as many as 11 remain after the voting begins.
It is expected that a majority of the estimated 1,60,000 Conservative Party members (the party has not disclosed just how many members it has) will vote early after their postal ballots come in through the letterbox from August 1. This means that Sunak could offer his convincing best only after most members have voted.
That he is far more convincing than Truss has been clear from public debates held on television so far, despite assertions of the tabloid media campaigning shrilly to keep Sunak out. The more he debates Truss, the more members he debates before her, the better his chances.
To mark the morning of the receipt of the postal ballots, Sunak re-emphasised his economic vision strongly. He is sticking to his stand of fighting inflation before bringing in tax cuts.
Truss, meanwhile, has pledged tax cuts on a further borrowing of 30 billion pounds that Sunak says will only drive up inflation, which is at a high 9 per cent and rising.
Sunak says he is committed to cutting the basic rate of income tax from 20p in the pound to 16p but only by the end of the next Parliament, which would be 2029. That would represent a 20 per cent tax cut, which he says will be the largest cut to income tax in 30 years. But crucially, that would not come early if he takes charge.
“What I’m putting to people today is a vision to deliver the biggest income tax cut since Margaret Thatcher’s government,” he said in a statement released late on Sunday. “It is a radical vision but it is also a realistic one and there are some core principles that I’m simply not prepared to compromise on, whatever the prize.”
The first, he said, was that he will “never get taxes down in a way that just puts inflation up”. Secondly, he said, “I will never make promises I can’t pay for.” That’s where he takes another dig at Truss. “I will always be honest about the challenges we face,” he says.
“Because winning this leadership contest without levelling with people about what lies ahead would not only be dishonest – it would be an act of self-sabotage that condemns our party to defeat at the next general election and consigns us to a long period in opposition,” he added.
Sunak said rather plainly in his statement that Truss’s promises were misleading, and he asked Conservative members not to be misled. “I would urge them to treat with caution any vision that doesn’t involve any difficult trade-offs and remember that if something sounds good to be true – then it probably is.” He perhaps meant to write “if something sounds too good to be true.” But these are rushed days.
Sunak’s number one priority is “to tackle inflation and he has the right plan to do that by getting borrowing under control and implementing supply side reform in order to improve productivity”, a spokesperson said. “Once we beat inflation Rishi has a clear tax vision that will prioritise putting money back in the pockets of hard-working families to reward work.”
This position is due to be debated at length in the 11 hustings due, the first of which is on Monday evening in Exeter. The British, who are struggling to deal with soaring prices right now, are not going to be excited by a promise of tax cuts projected to take full effect by the end of 2029.
That date looks just too far, and with too many variables in the way to sound convincing. But Sunak is determined that more borrowing cannot be added to the massive borrowing through the course of the pandemic to give people furlough money.
It will be Sunak’s argument that he will no doubt present convincingly that while tax cuts sound good in present times, the inflation they bring would make the predicament worse, not better, and that price rise as a result of cuts would more than cancel out any advantage the tax cuts may bring. His argument is that what sound like long-term benefits will also bring benefits here and now in the best bet to tackle inflation.
The argument is undoubtedly good. What is doubtful is how many Conservative members will be listening, and giving themselves time to think about his promised way.
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