NORWICH, UK: Some back Liz Truss to be the next leader of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party while others prefer Rishi Sunak. But behind the scenes, some Tory activists regret that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is leaving so soon, and worry about the future.
On Thursday evening, a few hundred local party members gathered in a conference room at an airport hotel near Norwich, in eastern England, for the penultimate event which took Truss and Sunak across Britain, trying to woo members.
The event cut through cherished Conservative values, from patriotism and individual responsibility to scathing attacks on labour, Scottish independence, the EU and the so-called ‘culture wars’.
It was meat and drink for the mostly elderly audience, who were joined by young conservatives wearing “Ready for Rishi” or “Liz for leader” t-shirts.
Inflation, with rates at a 40-year high, and worries about skyrocketing energy bills during the winter, prevailed, as they have increasingly done since Johnson stepped down on July 7.
Sunak again pushed his proposal for more aid to the poorest while Truss was unwavering in his preference for tax cuts.
This found favor with farmer and local councilor Julian Kirk. “Businesses are suffering from tax rates right now,” he told AFP.
Kirk, wearing a UK-Ukraine pin, said he trusted Truss to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine.
“If we can stop it, energy prices would slowly fall,” he added.
Local Conservative Party chairman in Norwich, Simon Jones, also backed Truss, who has represented a local constituency since 2010.
“She has done a better job than any cabinet minister,” said Jones, 56, of the foreign secretary.
Supporters of former finance minister Sunak insist their man has proven his credentials through his business Covid support scheme.
“I’m not necessarily in favor of handouts either, but this (cost of living crisis) is a once in a generation event, just like the pandemic,” said librarian Iain Frost, 37.
“I think one of the primary duties of government is to protect its people,” added Frost, who like Truss is a former member of the centrist Liberal Democrats.
Sunak was one of the frontrunners in the leadership race. But a recent poll suggests Truss now has an uncontrollable lead of more than 30 points.
“I’m surprised Rishi Sunak isn’t more popular,” said retired policeman John Crane, 71.
“I think his policy is much more sensitive to the issues the country is facing right now.”
Ian Dimmock, also 71, agrees: “There should be a huge movement not towards tax cuts for us but to help the lowest paid people”.
But he said he still hadn’t decided who to vote for as the deadline for returning ballots approached on September 2.
Britain’s next prime minister will be chosen by just under 200,000 grassroots Conservative members, with the result announced on September 5.
As leader of the largest party in parliament, the winner will become prime minister.
Removal vans have already been seen in Downing Street, while Johnson, who remained Prime Minister until his successor is chosen, went on holiday.
His ignominious departure, after a series of scandals, including government confinement parties, is still on everyone’s mind.
Jones said he was a “strong supporter” of Johnson, who won a landslide victory in 2019 over a pledge to pull the country out of the European Union.
“I thought his enthusiasm was great,” he said.
“What finally got to me was talking to people on the street. We had lost people’s trust.”
Public confidence has seen Johnson’s Conservatives suffer a string of by-election defeats in once secure seats and a haemorrhage of seats in local polls.
Sunak supporter Elizabeth Nockolds, 71, said she was disappointed Johnson had quit as he was still popular with many people despite his many issues.
But she said of his breaches of the lockdown, for which he was fined by police: ‘I felt if he asked the public to do something, he should do it too.
Some activists cannot forgive Sunak for bringing down Johnson by resigning.
Kirk noted that Truss “supported Boris until the end, which pleases most of us”.
The next general election will be in January 2025 at the latest but, after 12 years in power and stripped of their populist figurehead, few believe Truss or Sunak can lead the party to victory.
“Boris Johnson could do it. Unfortunately, he blew his chances,” Crane said.

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