Rishi Sunak has time to win over Tory members and is not making promises he can’t keep, leading supporter says – UK politics live | Politics

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Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, has been hosting an LBC phone-in this morning, standing in for James O’Brien, who is on holiday. As the Sun’s Noa Hoffman reports, Streeting said that, when Jeremy Corbyn was leader, Keir Starmer asked him if he thought he should resign from the shadow cabinet over the party’s handling of antisemitism. Streeting said he told Starmer to stay put.

NEW: Wes Streeting tells LBC that Keir Starmer asked him whether he should resign from Cornyn’s shadow cabinet while shadow Brexit Secretary over AS etc. Wes said “no we need you there” and he stayed on

— Noa Hoffman (@hoffman_noa) July 22, 2022

Streeting: “We had quite a robust conversation about his challenges and Kier said look, do you think I should resign from the shadow cabinet? Is that what you’re saying to me? And I said, oh no, for goodness sake, don’t do that. We absolutely need you in there.”

— Noa Hoffman (@hoffman_noa) July 22, 2022

Yesterday Liz Truss visited a charity for children in Peterborough. Sky News has released this footage, showing that the youngsters she met had surprisingly strong views about Boris Johnson.

Can Rishi Sunak defeat Liz Truss in the Conservative leadership contest? Two of the best newspaper columns on this subject around today suggest he probably can’t.

Prejudice may stop Rishi Sunak from becoming prime minister. For Mr Sunak, the grandson of Indian immigrants, comes from a demographic that has long gone unrepresented at the very top of British politics: Old Wykehamists.

Winchester, the posh school that Mr Sunak attended, churns out clever clogs who never quite make it to become prime minister. Two former Labour chancellors, Stafford Cripps and Hugh Gaitskell, both attended the school, which now charges £45,936 ($55,000) in annual fees. Geoffrey Howe, a former Conservative chancellor who, like Mr Sunak, helped bring down a prime minister, is another alumnus. In total Winchester boasts six chancellors but just one prime minister (from more than two centuries ago). In contrast, Eton, a posher school that extols the virtue of leading over reading, has managed 20, including two of the past three.

John Stuart Mill once labelled the Conservatives “the stupid party”. That is unfair. But it is true that Tories are suspicious of cleverness. They prefer a different characteristic: soundness. This trait is difficult to define. But, like pornography, Conservatives know it when they see it. Roger Scruton, a right-wing thinker, wrote that conservatism’s “essence is inarticulate”. To put it another way: anything that can be greeted with the guttural baying Conservative MPs use to show approval (“Yeeeyeeeyeeeyeee”) is sound. The choice that party members must now make as they weigh up whom to pick as their leader is between cleverness or soundness. Mr Sunak is clever. Liz Truss, the foreign secretary and his opponent in the runoff, is sound.

[Sunak] promises “radical” plans to “unleash growth”, but says no more. Having spoken to him over the years about the need for reform, I have no doubt he’s sincere. But he’ll never get the chance to implement reforms unless he hurries up and tells people what his plans might be.

Truss is probably winging it. Her ideas may be just as flaky as Sunak says. She may have not the faintest idea how she’d find the money, or what to do if the debt markets play up. But she has at least started with a firm promise to make a difference – and if there’s no difference, what was the point of deposing a prime minister?

Sunak seems to be betting that less is more: that he’s more credible because his offer is not dazzling. But with so little time left his strategy may be, by far, the bigger gamble.

Ladbrokes, the betting company, says this morning that although Liz Truss is the favourite in the Tory leadership contest, with odds of 4/9, 62% of the bets it is taking are on Rishi Sunak to win, at 7/4.

Rishi Sunak claims 20,000 people have signed up to support his campaign for the Tory leadership.

In his interview with Andrew Marr on LBC last night Rishi Sunak claimed he played a big part in the government’s decision to avoid a return to lockdown last Christmas. He told the programme:

What I did in December was fly back from a government trip I was on overseas and I flew back to this country to stop us sleepwalking into a national lockdown. Because we were hours away from a press conference that was going to lock this country down again because of Omicron, and I came back and fought very hard against the system because I believe that would be the wrong thing for this country, with all the damage it would have done to businesses, to children’s education, to people’s lives.

We were hours away. We were hours away from a national lockdown, but I came back and challenged the system and said this is not right, and we don’t need to do this. And I’m glad I won the argument.

In the Daily Mail (which is vigorously supporting Liz Truss in the Tory leadership contest) Jason Groves reports that Sunak’s version of this story is disputed by other government sources who were involved. Groves writes:

One source said Mr Sunak’s claim was ‘categorically untrue’.

‘He was out in California and planning to stay there on holiday until he started to get criticism from business back home. It is categorically untrue to say we were hours from another lockdown.

‘By the time he got back, the PM had already decided he didn’t want to go beyond Plan B restrictions.’

Two Cabinet sources said that when Mr Johnson asked Mr Sunak for his views on the matter at a crunch meeting, he replied: ‘Oh no, no one wants to hear from me, Prime Minister.’

It is not unusual for accounts of how and when a particular decision got taken in government, and the part played by any single individual, to vary. But this story is damaging because the YouGov polling out yesterday suggested that 40% of Tory members do not view Sunak as honest, and that this is one reason why they like Liz Truss more.

Hamish Mackay

In his Sky News interview Robert Halfon, the Rishi Sunak supporter and Tory chair of the Commons education committee, also insisted that inflation was “the No 1 enemy of the cost of living” and that Sunak, not Liz Truss, had the best policies to bring it down.

Asked about Truss’s claim that Sunak’s high taxes had stifled growth, he replied:

I don’t accept that narrative at all. Yes he did put up corporation tax but don’t forget we spent £400bn during Covid. I mentioned the £80bn of debt interest that we have. We’re £2tn in debt overall. You have to pay some of that money back.

But he also cut taxes. He cut national insurance tax for 70% of households. He also cut business taxes for hospitality, retail and leisure.

Rishi Sunak has time to win over Tory members and is not making promises he can’t keep, leading supporter says

Good morning. The final stage of the Conservative party leadership contest has just started, but some polling from YouGov last night implied it may already be all but over. It suggested that Liz Truss has such a large lead over Rishi Sunak with members that it will be very hard for him to catch up and overtake her. Polls are not always right, of course, and opinions shift as a campaign goes on, but Truss is looking like the probable next prime minister.

Robert Halfon, the Conservative chair of the Commons education committee, is one of Sunak’s most prominent supporters and this morning he told Sky News that Sunak has time to turn things round. Asked why members did not seem to like Sunak, he replied:

It’s very early days of the contest. We just finished the MP elections and the former chancellor is going to be going around the country meeting members. I believe, when Rishi Sunak makes his case, more members will come and support him because they know he’s not making promises he can’t keep – and that’s the important thing.

One factor that may explain Sunak’s relative unpopularity with members is the perception that he stabbed Boris Johnson in the back, but Halfon insisted that accusation was unfair. He said:

Rishi Sunak was very loyal to the prime minister. He resigned when he just thought things had gone too far. He had differences with the prime minister over the economy but he was there til almost the very end. He was loyal right through the Partygate episode. Another MP went to see him and he refused to countenance any kind of disloyalty to the prime minister.

Halfon is referring to Andrew Murrison, who wrote an article for the Guardian describing how his attempt to persuade Sunak a few months ago to lead a cabinet uprising against Johnson failed.

MPs have started their summer recess, and there is very little scheduled on the Westminster agenda for today. But Tory leadership campaigning is continuing, and the news is not going to dry up.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com

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