OPINION - It’s Rishi Sunak vs Liz Truss

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 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

So there we have it, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will battle it out to be the next Conservative leader and prime minister. Only another six weeks of briefing, counter-briefing and social media clips to go.

This is not quite two bald men fighting over a comb territory. You could do worse than run Britain, a lovely country with historically mild weather. But whoever wins faces one heck of a rebuilding job.

They must take the helm of a divided party that has chewed through three leaders in six years, and guide a weary nation in dire need of a pay rise or at least a free ice cream.

It would take too long to list each economic difficulty, and wouldn’t make for the cheeriest of newsletters. So I will focus on one: public sector pay.

In the face of inflation climbing ever higher – today was a 40-year record-extending 9.4 per cent, with 11 per cent on the way – the Government had some unenviable choices to make.

It could either 1. impose real-terms pay cuts 2. reduce departmental spending or 3. borrow more money. In the end, the Government has chosen a combination of 1 and 2 (though you wouldn’t rule out 3 in short order.)

NHS staff will get at least a 4.5% pay rise, teachers at least 5%, with those on the lowest pay getting larger increases. Crucially, there is to be no additional money from the Treasury to fund these. That means departments will have to find the cash from existing budgets.

Conservative leadership candidates have spoken a lot in the last couple of weeks about cutting ‘waste’ – now would be a good time to find some. In reality, it means cuts to services.

Sunak and Truss will approach this problem with different perspectives. The former chancellor, a fiscal hawk, has said his focus is putting the public finances on a sustainable footing. That is why he has been reluctant to promise immediate tax cuts. Truss on the other hand has placed lower taxes at the core of her pitch.

But whether we end up with prime minister Sunak or Truss, there will be many more difficult economic decisions to come.

For future reference, yesterday’s YouGov poll had the (then) theoretical Sunak v Truss race at 35 per cent for Sunak, 54 per cent for Truss as far as Tory members are concerned. The result will be revealed on 5 September.

Elsewhere in the paper, if you’ve not been following what’s going on in Sri Lanka, check out Kumanan Kanapathippillai reports from Colombo, as a controversial new president and a beleaguered nation battles financial devastation, mass shortages and unrest.

In the comment pages, Defence Editor Robert Fox warns that while President Zelensky grapples with the betrayal of his intelligence chiefs, Putin is growing more dangerous.

While Bob Ward, deputy chair of the London Climate Change Partnership says net zero will be expensive – but it will be far cheaper than the enormous costs of lost lives and livelihoods from the impact of climate change caused by our dependence on ruinously expensive fossil fuels.

And finally, give a millennial a fish and they’ll probably make a risotto that goes wrong thanks to buying the wrong rice or over-stirring. But teach them to fish and it’ll become a slow-burn cultural phenomenon (apparently). Sophie Church reports on how urban fishing has had a modern makeover.

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