Liz Truss has tried to reinvigorate her flagging campaign for Conservative leader with a belated launch at which she sought to portray herself as a radical tax cutter and state shrinker, but with the necessary cabinet experience to thrive in No 10.
“I can lead, I can make tough decisions and I can get things done,” she told a carefully choreographed event in Westminster, attended by a series of her MP and cabinet backers. “I am ready to be prime minister from day one.”
In a clear if unnamed dig at Penny Mordaunt, who unexpectedly received more votes than Truss in the initial round of MPs’ voting on Wednesday, the foreign secretary stressed her experience in top-level jobs.
“I am ready to hit the ground running from day one,” Truss said in a phrase repeated several times in her speech and press conference, and also used by Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, who introduced her.
While she has long been seen as a leading contender to succeed Boris Johnson, Truss faces a significant battle to make the final two candidates chosen by rounds of voting among Tory MPs, who will then be decided on by party members.
In the first round Truss came a relatively distant third with 50 votes, behind the former chancellor Rishi Sunak on 88 and Penny Mordaunt, a junior trade minister, with 67.
Truss has long pitched herself as an economic heir to Margaret Thatcher, and answering questions after her speech she insisted she had argued in cabinet against the recent rise in national insurance to pay for reformed social care.
Asked why, unlike Sunak, she had not resigned from Johnson’s government, Truss said: “I’m a loyal person. I’m loyal to Boris Johnson. I supported our prime minister’s aspirations and I want to deliver the promise of the 2019 manifesto.”
Truss emphasised her commitment to Johnson’s flagship idea of levelling up but set out a notably different vision for it, based around low tax and low regulation zones, with no mention of the infrastructure spending currently planned.
“Everyone should have the same opportunities, regardless of their background or where they live. And that is what levelling up is, in a Conservative way,” Truss said.
Introduced by Kwarteng as a “true blue tax-cutting Conservative”, Truss set out her plan to finance tax cuts by deferring the period over which public debt accrued during Covid is paid off.
“Now is the time to be bold,” she said. “We cannot have business as usual economic management which has led to low growth for decades.”
While at pains to decline the invitation to echo the Tory peer David Frost’s warnings on Thursday about Mordaunt – Truss said she “won’t be making any disparaging comments” about other candidates – her team will be hugely aware of the threat to her campaign posed by the former defence secretary.
Much of their hopes will be pinned on attracting MPs who are currently backing Suella Braverman, the attorney general, and the former levelling up minister Kemi Badenoch, who are also on the libertarian right of the party but are not expected to reach the final two.
Braverman, who got 32 votes on Wednesday, appears most at risk in Thursday’s second round when the bottom candidate is eliminated.
In what could be a final pitch to wavering MPs, Braverman released a campaign video on Thursday morning in which she promised that as prime minister she would pull the UK out of the European convention on human rights (EHRC), allowing her to take robust action ejecting migrants and asylum seekers from the UK.
“I’m the only candidate who has pledged this,” Braverman said, saying she was challenging others to join her.
Such a move is seen as politically and legally fraught given the role of the EHRC in the deal that brought peace in Northern Ireland.
July 14, 2022 at 07:09PM Peter Walker Political correspondent