Truss vows to 'unite' bickering Tories as she edges ahead in eyes of party's grassroots


Truss vows to 'unite' bickering Tories as she edges ahead in eyes of party's grassroots

Liz Truss says she’s ‘trusted on Brexit’The Foreign Secretary insisted she can be trusted to deliver bold economic plans to tackle the cost of livi

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Liz Truss says she’s ‘trusted on Brexit’

The Foreign Secretary insisted she can be trusted to deliver bold economic plans to tackle the cost of living crisis and maximise the benefits of Brexit if she becomes the UK’s next prime minister. She made the biggest advance on Monday in the fourth knockout round among Tory MPs as the contest narrowed to just three contenders.

And an opinion poll rated her more popular than either her rivals Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt among the Tory grassroots.

Ahead of today’s crunch final knockout round to pick the final two for the runoff vote, Ms Truss told the Daily Express: “I’m ready to unite the Conservative Party and lead the nation as the next Prime Minister.

“People can trust me to deliver the bold economic reform that’s required to reduce bills for families and unleash the full potential of our United Kingdom.

“I’m ready to deliver the opportunities of Brexit and help lead the free world in standing up to authoritarians.”

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak topped Monday’s poll among MPs with 118, up by three votes from the previous round.

Ms Mordaunt clung on to second place with 92 votes, up by ten.

But Ms Truss was closing in with an overnight surge of 15 extra votes to give her a total of 86, just six votes behind the trade minister.

Former minister Kemi Badenoch was eliminated from the race on Monday, coming bottom in the poll with 59 votes, only one more than in the previous round.

She declined to endorse a rival last night while the supporters of her campaign were understood to be splitting between the rival candidates still in the race.

Ms Truss was closing in with an overnight surge of 15 extra votes

Ms Truss was closing in with an overnight surge of 15 extra votes (Image: Getty)

Allies of Ms Truss and Ms Mordaunt were battling to win over Mrs Badenoch’s backers last night.

Meanwhile, suspicions of tactical voting were growing among Tory MPs last night.

Allies of Mr Sunak denied claims his team had “lent” votes to other candidates in an attempt to help secure a weaker opponent in the final runoff.

“Rishi is very much going for every vote he can get,” an ally of the former chancellor said.

Mr Sunak’s supporters celebrated him topping the poll in the fourth consecutive knock round on Monday.

A spokeswoman for Mr Sunak said: “Rishi has continued to progress today because he is the candidate with the clearest plan to restore trust, rebuild the economy, reunite the country and because he is best placed to beat Labour at the next election.

“Every poll shows only Rishi can beat Starmer, and is the candidate the public think would make the best PM.

“MPs are also recognizing that Rishi has the best experience and plans to deal with the current economic situation.

“Rishi will rebuild our economy by gripping inflation, so we can get our economy growing and unleash the full opportunities of post-Brexit Britain.”

Mr Sunak’s hopes were dented by a poll on Mondat suggesting he is set to lose in the final runoff whoever he faces.

The YouGov poll of Tory members, carried out before Monday’s fourth round ballot, gave the former chancellor a 35 percent share of support compared with 54 percent for Ms Truss in a straight choice between the two.

Mr Sunak scored 37 percent compared with 51 percent for Ms Mordaunt when Tory members were offered the alternative pairing.

And Ms Truss scored 48 percent compared with 42 percent for Ms Mordaunt.

The Foreign Secretary’s team were pointing to the poll as clear evidence she is best placed to beat Mr Sunak in the final runoff in their attempts to win over Mrs Badenoch’s supporters last night.

“Truss is the better bet than Mordaunt to beat Sunak,” said one ally of the Foreign Secretary.

Mr Sunak’s supporters insisted separate surveys by the Conservative Home website showed a Tory supporters were consistently leaning  towards their candidate as the contest progressed.

Ms Mordaunt said: “This afternoon colleagues once again put their trust in me and I cannot thank them enough.

“We are so nearly across the finish line.

“I am raring to go and excited to put my case to members across the country and win.”

Appealing to backers of Monday’s eliminated candidate, Ms Mordaunt added: ‘I want to pay tribute to my friend Kemi Badenoch who electrified the leadership contest with her fresh thinking and bold policies.

“She and I both know that the old way of government isn’t working as it should.

“Voters want change and we owe it to them to offer a bold new vision for this country.

“Kemi’s passion for this showed and I’m glad she put herself forward to be heard.”

Bowing out of the race, Mrs Badenoch said: “I’m grateful to my colleagues and the party members who have supported me.

“This campaign began less than two weeks ago. What we’ve achieved demonstrates the level of support for our vision of change for our country and for the Conservative Party.”

Mr Truss' announcements were seen as an attempt to outflank Ms Mordaunt

Her announcements were seen as an attempt to outflank Ms Mordaunt (Image: Getty)

Tory MP Chris Skidmore, a Sunak supporter, suggested on Monday allies of the former chancellor would prefer him to face Ms Mordaunt in the final runoff vote.

“I think Rishi vs Liz is going to be the most feared contest. That will be the battle for ideas, a battle of personalities,” he said.

Ms Truss was on Monday boosted by the support of International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who had supported senior backbencher Tom Tugendhat in previous rounds.

She said she was “pleased to support Liz For Leader and encourage colleagues to vote her into final two and members.”

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who is backing Ms Truss, said the Foreign Secretary now “has the momentum” in the race.

He said Ms Truss has “garnered a wide range of support” among Tory MPs.

Pledge to boost Defence

Liz Truss has vowed to hike defence spending in a bid to boost her Tory leadership battle with rival Penny Mordaunt, writes Macer Hall, Daily Express Political Editor. The Foreign Secretary announced plans to recruit thousands more soldiers, sailors and RAF crews to strengthen the UK’s ability to stand up to Russian and China.

She set a target of raising the country’s defence budget to 3% of GDP by 2030.

Her announcements were seen as an attempt to outflank Ms Mordaunt, a Royal Navy reservist who has emphasised her commitment to the Armed Forces in the campaign to replace Boris Johnson.

Ms Truss said: “We live in an increasingly dangerous world where the threat level is higher than a decade ago, and we need a stronger deterrent to face down those threats and ensure Britain leads on the global stage.

“Ultimately that requires more resources.

“My number one priority is keeping this country safe and people can trust me to do that.

“Britain and the free world face a defining moment. We need a Prime Minister capable of leading internationally, who can also drive the economic growth we need here at home. I am the candidate best placed to do that.”

Her campaign team said her plans would allow the Ministry of Defence to launch a new fleet of Dreadnought class of submarines and modernise the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

Ms Truss also wants to increase investment in cyber warfare, space and new defence technology.

She plans to overhaul the 2021 Integrated Review, a set of security and international policy objectives drawn up under Boris Johnson, to counter the increasing threats from Russia and China.

Her pledge follows concern among Tory MPs about cuts to Armed Forces personnel including a target to reduce the size of the Army to 72,500 soldiers by the middle of the decade.

The Foreign Secretary pledged to “look again” at plans and consider reversing cuts in the light of the emerging international threats following Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Ms Truss also pledged to strengthen the country’s intelligence services.

A source close to Ms Truss said: “Liz has shown great leadership during the Ukraine crisis and helped lead the international response to Putin’s invasion.

“She is the only candidate who can be trusted to keep us safe and keep Britain in a leadership position on the world stage, and deliver the economic growth we need to tackle the cost of living crisis.”

Ms Mordaunt on Monday announced her desire to take over the Prime Minister’s “levelling up” agenda.

She agreed to a string of policy demands from the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs pressing for a shift in Government investment towards Northern constituencies.

She said: “We were elected on a manifesto to deliver levelling-up, and I remain committed to delivering on the promises we made to the country.”

Her plans include quadrupling the number of degree apprenticeships available and improving transport links in the North of England including delivering Mr Johnson’s promised “Northern Powerhouse Rail” network alongside the planned HS2 high speed rail route.

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Analysis by Sam Lister, Daily Express Deputy Political Editor

Tories today deciding which two candidates the grassroots will vote on to become the next Prime Minister will be motivated by desperation as much as inspiration.

Each of the remaining hopefuls faces an “anyone but…” group of MPs who will do their utmost to block them from the final stage of the contest.

Supporters inspired by the talents of their preferred candidate also want their man or woman to face the weakest candidate to give them the best chance of victory.

The constant calculations have led to some very surprising results in the ballots, with Tuesday’s round among the most baffling.

Liz Truss, on the right of the party, picked up 15 supporters despite the fresh pool of votes candidates were fighting to win over coming after centrist Tom Tugendhat crashed out.

It sparked more claims of “vote lending” – a tactic used by the front-runner to try to secure the competitor they are most confident of beating in the head to head.

While some MPs mutter of skulduggery, others insist it is simply tactical voting, a common practice used by the voting public at large.

Is someone pulling the strings, using the dark arts to orchestrate their preferred outcome, MPs and journalists whisper?

Steve Baker, a Brexiteer who has regularly been involved in marshalling colleagues during key votes in the Brexit wars, insisted he did not believe any campaign was “actively” lending votes but said Tory MPs are “sophisticated” and would be strategic when casting their vote.

Politics is no place for sentiment and within seconds of Kemi Badenoch being booted out of the leadership contest campaign teams were vying for her 59 supporters.

Rishi Sunak only needs a couple more votes to make it to the final and it would take a major upset to stop him.

Ms Badenoch’s supporters on the surface are unlikely to switch to Penny Mordaunt as they have frequently clashed during the contest.

But whether most of the group will follow the expected path of moving behind Ms Truss, the only other candidate on the right of the party, remains to be seen.

And volatile poll results about the popularity of the candidates means tactical voting in the final ballot of MPs is a very dangerous game.