Do Tories want safe bet Rishi Sunak or risky Liz Truss? - Bill Carmichael

And then there were two – and we find ourselves in the remarkable position where our next Prime Minister will either be the first person of Asian heritage to hold the post or our third woman leader.

More parochially perhaps, the next Prime Minister will also have strong Yorkshire connections.

Rishi Sunak, although born in Southampton, can claim to be an adopted Yorkshireman through his role as the MP for Richmond.

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Liz Truss meanwhile was educated at Roundhay School in Leeds, although she has been less than complimentary about her time there.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. Picture: Getty.Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. Picture: Getty.
Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. Picture: Getty.

Neither of them fit comfortably into the smooth ‘‘posh Tory’’ mould exemplified perhaps by the likes of David Cameron and George Osborne.

Sunak, for example, is often castigated as being privileged, and he is certainly wealthy now, but the reality of his background is a little more nuanced. His grandparents were born in the Punjab and the family came to the UK via East Africa, where his parents were born.

His father was a GP and his mother a pharmacist – so the family were comfortably off, rather than in the realms of the super rich.

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He attended exclusive and expensive Winchester College and then Oxford, where he gained a first class degree in PPE, and then on to work as an analyst at the investment bank Goldman Sachs.

In 2009 Sunak had the good fortune to marry Akshata Murty, the daughter of one of the world’s richest men.

Her wealth caused the couple no little embarrassment earlier this year when it was revealed by a leak that she held ‘‘non-domicile’’ status for tax purposes. She quickly agreed to pay UK taxes on all her global income.

At the same time it was revealed that Sunak held a “green card” as late as 2021 giving him the right of permanent residence in the US.

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An investigation found he had not broken ministerial rules. The couple have two daughters.

Truss also studied PPE at Oxford – which is the go-to choice for the politically ambitious. Her father was a maths professor and her mother a nurse, and both were left-wingers, and her mother a supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

She flirted with the Lib Dems while at university, but then joined the Conservative Party while building a career as a management accountant before working for a think-tank and then entering politics. She is also married with two daughters.

Both candidates are big hitters with experience of some of the toughest jobs in politics. Sunak was Chancellor during the pandemic and can claim credit for the furlough scheme that probably saved many thousands of jobs and businesses.

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Truss is currently the Foreign Secretary and has been a key figure in the UK’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and negotiations with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

They are similar in terms of age. Sunak is 42, while Truss is 46. Ideologically, there is also little to choose between them, although both camps are keen to emphasise the small differences that do exist.

They of course both sat around Boris Johnson’s Cabinet table until recently.

Sunak supported Brexit, while Truss was a Remainer, a decision she now regrets and she has become a keen Brexiteer.

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They both claim the mantle of Margaret Thatcher, Sunak explicitly in a newspaper article this week, and Truss by way of a series of Thatcher-like photo opportunities including her riding on a tank, and wearing a “pussy-bow” for the live TV debates.

The biggest dividing line is over tax, but the difference between them is over timing rather than whether to cut taxes. They both claim to be in favour of lower taxation, but let’s not forget they were both part of a government that put up taxes to the highest level since the 1940s.

Truss is promising an emergency budget to cut taxes immediately, whereas Sunak says taxes will come down but only after inflation has been tamed.

All this, of course, is moot, because I have no say who becomes our next Prime Minister and unless you are a Conservative Party member you don’t either.

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The decision will be made by about 160,000 party members. Some people say this is unfair, but it is not unusual. In recent years, for example, Gordon Brown, Theresa May and Boris Johnson all became Prime Minister without a general election.

In the end I suspect it will come down to a matter of style for many Tory members, who have to decide who will have the best chance of beating Labour in two years’ time. Do they want the cool, competent, more managerial style of Sunak, or the more passionate conviction politics of Truss?

For me Sunak is the safer choice; Truss the more exciting but riskier option.

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