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The Race to Replace Boris Johnson: Taking a Look at the Remaining Candidates by Balázs Hompoth

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The Race to Replace Boris Johnson: Taking a Look at the Remaining Candidates

Elizabeth Truss

Photo: shutterstock

Following UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation, the race to replace him has reached the final matchup. After five rounds of voting, members of parliament whittled down the ten conservatives who stood to take over from Johnson to the final two. In the final vote, Tories will have to decide whether it will be Rishi Sunak or Elizabeth Truss to succeed Johnson. It is not our place to place bets on who is more likely to win – although our editor-at-large, John O’Sullivan did say at the Tusványos festival that in his opinion Sunak is the strongest contender. Instead, we shall try and introduce the reader to the two candidates and their policy differences.

Context

Boris Johnson resigned as PM after senior members of his government turned against him due to a series of scandals.

Johnson decided to step down after senior cabinet ministers, including Rishi Sunak, and a long list of junior officials, made it impossible to run the government.

Although initially he tried to hold on to power, as the number of departures from his cabinet increased it became crystal clear that he must leave if the government was to get back up and running.

Many politicians have stepped forward as the next candidate but the race has narrowed to just two contenders, Rishi Sunak and Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Truss.

Elizabeth Truss

Truss was elected as the Conservative MP for South West Norfolk in 2010. She was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare in 2012 and has also served as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs between 2014 and 2016.

Truss was Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State from 2016 to 2017 and Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 2017 to 2019.

Currently, she is the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and Minister for Women and Equalities.

Rishi Sunak

Rishi was elected as the Conservative MP for Richmond in 2015. He served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy from 2017 until his ministerial appointment.

Previously, he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 2019 to 2020 and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government from 2018 to 2019.

He was the Chancellor of the Exchequer – or Chief Financial Minister – between 2019 and July 5 2022.

Key Policy Differences

What Truss and Sunak have in common is that they belong to the more conservative wing of the party, and both have been accused of holding anti-trans positions (while all they did was articulate some common sense opinions, such as the need to be able to call a mother a mother or the risks of including trans people in the ban on conversion therapy). The two, however, do hold different views in some key policy areas. Let us have a look at what those differences entail.

Economy

Rishi Sunak has promised a ‘return to traditional Conservative economic values’, a position seen as an appeal to instinctive Tory fiscal prudence. Some have challenged him, saying he was a ‘high tax chancellor.’ He took aim at the other candidates offering ‘comforting fairy tales’ rather than facing the real situation of the economy. He aims to reduce inflation and cut taxes once economic stability had been achieved.

Liz Truss has vowed to reverse the national insurance rate increase, which was meant to fund health and social care. Her message has been based on the promise of low taxes and light regulations.

Climate

Rishi Sunak would set a new target for UK energy independence. He aims for 2045 as the latest date and has committed to maintaining the 2050 net zero goals. He also assured the green wing of the Conservative Party that he would preserve the environment.

According to insiders, he was not keen on spending money on climate policy when he headed the Treasury, but he has spoken out in favour of net zero.

Liz Truss has committed to maintaining the 2050 net zero goals, but has said she would suspend green energy levies, leading to higher utility prices. She is supported by the energy secretary, who is very much on the side of renewable energy.

Education

Rishi Sunak’s vision of education is one ‘focused on excellence and delivering the skills and knowledge needed for the world of tomorrow.’ He plans to ‘help expand the best multi-academy trusts and fulfil a commitment to establish high-quality post-16 schools in the London area.’

Liz Truss, on the other hand, has been an advocate for equality on all fronts. She has promised to give everyone ‘the same opportunities’ so they are ‘able to know that the town they are born in has opportunity.’

Immigration

The ‘Rwanda Asylum Plan’ is an immigration policy of the British government. Those who are identified as ‘illegal immigrants’ or ‘asylum seekers’ will be relocated to Rwanda in Central Africa for processing. Those who receive asylum status will not be permitted to return to the UK and instead will have to remain in Rwanda. According to the UN, the plan breaches international law. Most voters, especially younger ones, seem to oppose the plan, while both Sunak and Truss support it. They have reportedly said that they would attempt to expand it.

Sunak has stated that the UK lacks control over its borders and pledged to reduce the number of granted asylums by changing the rules on who is eligible.

Truss wants to increase Border Force capacity by 20 per cent and increase patrols in the Channel and explore ‘turnaround tactics.’

National Healthcare System

Rishi Sunak has vowed to create a ‘vaccines style’ taskforce to deal with NHS backlogs that have massively increased due to the COVID pandemic. He plans to eliminate the year-long waiting lines caused by the backlogs by 2024.

Liz Truss has not shared many details about her NHS plans, but she has said that she is ‘completely committed’ to the government promises about NHS spending. She has not provided an answer to what she would do to tackle the large backlog problem in the NHS.

Media

Rishi Sunak would go ahead with the sale of Channel 4, stating that privatisation would help the channel compete with large corporations.

Truss is also believed to support the sale of Channel 4, although she has not made any public statement regarding the matter. One of her most vocal supporters, Nadine Dorries, also supports the sale of Channel 4, which could be further evidence of Truss being in favour of the sale.

Foreign Policy

Neither Sunak nor Truss have set out any new major policy positions during their campaign, although Rishi Sunak is commonly regarded as a Eurosceptic. He has also indicated opposition to ‘arbitrary defence spending targets.’

Liz Truss thinks the G7 should be ‘more institutionalized’ and turned into and ‘economic NATO’ that can defend its members from Chinese economic coercion.

As for defence spending, she has been at the forefront of Britain’s more ‘aggressive’ position on Russia. She has promised to spend 3 per cent of GDP on defence which is 1 per cent point more than the NATO agreement.

Popularity

In the most recent parliamentary vote, Sunak won 137 votes and Truss got 113 in the final round. After the vote, both candidates thanked their supporters on Twitter.

‘Grateful that my colleagues have put their trust in me today. I will work night and day to deliver our message around the country,’ tweeted Sunak.

As for Truss, she tweeted: ‘Thank you for putting your trust in me. I am ready to hit the ground running from day one.’

Now around 160 thousand party members will have their say in the final stage of voting, and the next PM of the UK will be announced in September.

Controversy

Both candidates were involved in Johnson’s government, and could therefore be blemished by the scandals that led to his downfall.

Sunak has come under scrutiny over questions regarding the tax status of his wife and he was fined for the same illegal lockdown party–Partygate –that was a huge blow to Johnson himself.

Truss is also overshadowed by Johnson. She is his foreign secretary and has stood by him throughout all of his scandals, refusing to step down, as opposed to most of her colleagues.

Furthermore, Truss voted for the UK to remain in the EU but has become an avid ‘Brexiteer’ since the referendum, which calls her credibility into question.

Whether it is Sunak or Truss who wins the vote, they will most certainly come under heavy scrutiny due to their involvement with allegiance to a scandal-ridden Johnson and will have a hard time distancing themselves from him. Both candidates have articulated their future policies, perhaps Sunak more so than Truss, but the differences are clear. Whoever triumphs, they will be facing an enormous undertaking. The UK is suffering a cost-of-living crisis and the Conservative Party is becoming increasingly unpopular.


Balázs Hompoth is a graduate of Pázmány Péter Catholic University (PPKE). He majored in English and minored in Media and Communications with a special interest in journalism.

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