Tories must unite behind Liz Truss as leader or risk losing the next election, two former party chairmen have warned.
In a joint article for The Telegraph, James Cleverly, the Education Secretary, and Brandon Lewis, who quit as Northern Ireland Secretary in July, said the Foreign Secretary was a “unifier” whose backers represented a range of traditions and beliefs across the party.
They said all the evidence – including opinion polls – also showed that she was the candidate best placed to beat Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer at the next election not only across the country but in the red wall seats that helped Boris Johnson secure a 80-strong majority.
But, after one of the most fractious and ill-tempered leadership contests in recent political history, the pair warned: “Before we are able to do anything, to deliver for our constituents or win an election, we must unite.
“The electorate will – quite rightly – give short shrift to a party preoccupied with internal disputes. We are asking our fellow Conservative Party members to join us in uniting behind Liz Truss, to deliver for our country and win a historic fifth term in office.”
The opinion polls have been putting Ms Truss as much as 30 points ahead among the estimated 180,000 Tory members who will decide the next leader of the Conservative Party and next prime minister, due to be announced on September 5.
It was suggested on Sunday that eight out of 10 votes had already been cast by members, which would benefit the Foreign Secretary as she was hot favourite to win when the ballot papers started landing on doormats.
The two former party chairmen acknowledged that progress on levelling up would be critical in determining whether the Tories will win the next general election.
But they said Ms Truss’s low tax, low regulation investment zones would attract business and investment to regions that have previously missed out.
In an apparent dig at her rival Rishi Sunak’s leaked comments about diverting money away from “deprived urban areas,” they said: “Levelling up is as much about those southern and rural seats outside of London’s orbit as it is about towns in the north and across the UK.
“Liz’s plan is not about pitting one area against another but delivering growth for our whole country, so we as a party can go into the next election with confidence in every constituency.”
Cast into the political wilderness
Tory infighting has become increasingly brutal since Ms Truss and Mr Sunak secured their places on the final ballot four weeks ago.
Team Sunak launched a website last week dedicated to attacking Ms Truss’s policies and a series of bitter briefings. This culminated in a press release on Wednesday accusing her of “serious moral and political misjudgement” over the cost of living crisis.
Allies of the Foreign Secretary told the Mail on Sunday that Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, would be cast into the political wilderness for the “utter venom” and “hatred” displayed in a newspaper article describing her fiscal plans as an “electoral suicide note”.
The campaign has also seen Sunak and Truss supporters involved in vitriolic social media spats, with Tory MPs accusing each other of “total b------s” and “hypocrisy”. Johnny Mercer, the veterans’ minister, labelled the “puerile nature” of the leadership contest “embarrassing”.
During the first television debate, Mr Sunak interrupted Ms Truss some 25 times and accused her of “unconservative and unfunded” plans to cut taxes.
For her part, Ms Truss has branded Mr Sunak’s policies “Gordon Brown economics” and claimed they would “crash the economy” if introduced.
“If Rishi has got this great plan for growth, why haven’t we seen it in his last two-and-a-half years [at] the Treasury?”
So scathing were the televised debates that Labour made no fewer than half a dozen attack ads which use the candidates’ own barbs at each other against the Tories.