Sunak v Truss: how PM’s rivals tackled another tough week

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Ministers have taken markedly different approaches to ‘partygate’. We look at how the week played out


As “partygate” continues to threaten Boris Johnson’s premiership, the two rivals most likely to succeed him – Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss – are in a tough spot.

Do they pipe up or keep quiet? Show loyalty to the PM, or keep a safe distance? The Guardian looks at what they’ve been up to this week …

Interviews

Sunak

Related: Rishi Sunak: the polished ‘tech bro’ with low-tax dreams

Zero from the chancellor. Not a peep. He last broke cover on 18 January – but that interview came to an abrupt end when he was asked about his support for Johnson. An aide stood in front of the camera.

Truss

The foreign secretary was everywhere. On Wednesday she did interviews on Sky News, BBC Breakfast, LBC and Radio 4’s Today programme, defending Johnson in a series of tortuous interviews.

Warm words for Johnson?

Sunak

Er, no. Zippo from the chancellor.

Truss

She acknowledged concerning reports, but added: “That shouldn’t diminish the fantastic work that has been done under this government and this prime minister.”

Proximity to the PM?

Sunak

He has taken a distinctly arms-length approach to the boss so far. And at this week’s prime minister’s questions, he did not sit next to Johnson on the frontbench.

Truss

Not so, the foreign secretary. She arrived a full 15 minutes before the noon session, to ensure she sat next to Johnson.

Keeping their heads down?

Sunak

He has certainly tried. Sources say he is alarmed by speculation Johnson might abandon the rise in national insurance, but he hasn’t said so. He posted on Twitter to deny he was ignoring eye-watering fraud in Covid support.

Truss

Related: Liz Truss: the ‘human hand grenade’ Tories have taken to their hearts

Lots of airtime to talk about Ukraine, but then was castigated for taking a private jet to Australia for official business rather than using a scheduled flight.

What’s being said about them?

Sunak

“A solo traveller with a small group of people around him” – an unnamed, serving minister quoted by Politico .

Truss

“Not an iron lady, but a chocolate soldier” – a writer in the Chinese state tabloid the Global Times.

Odds on being next PM

Sunak

His odds have been shortening – 13/8 with Ladbrokes and 11/8 with William Hill.

Truss

Hers are drifting … 6/1 with Ladbrokes and 9/2 with William Hill.

Odds on Sunak and Truss

Star rising or falling?

Sunak

Rising, just, if the bookies are anything to go by. A YouGov poll on 10 January of 1,005 Tory members also had 33% wanting him to replace Johnson.

Truss

It might be time for the foreign secretary to do a few more “fizz with Liz” evenings for wavering MPs. That same poll put her on 25%. Sir John Curtice, a professor of politics at Strathclyde University, told the Daily Express that supporters of Truss would not want to initiate a leadership contest as an early one would suit Sunak.

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