‘I’m voting Liz — but they’re both disappointing’: The big problem facing the UK’s likely next prime minister

Nadine Batchelor-Hunt

·Political Correspondent, Yahoo News UK

Wed, 24 August 2022 at 10:24 pm

Liz Truss speaking during a hustings event at the NEC in Birmingham as part of her campaign to be leader of the Conservative Party and the next prime minister. Picture date: Tuesday August 23, 2022.
Liz Truss addressed Tory members in Birmingham at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham on Tuesday night. (PA)

The Tory leadership contest is in its penultimate week after a summer in which Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have battled it out for the keys to Number 10.

The pair have shown boundless enthusiasm throughout the multiple hustings across the UK in recent weeks, during which they have sought to win over the 200,000 or so Tory members whose votes will determine the winner.

However, at the Birmingham hustings on Tuesday night, there was little evidence of such excitement for either candidate among the audience of Conservative members as they trooped out of the NEC.

While there is little doubt that Truss is the firm favourite to be next prime minister, the apparent lack of fervour for a government led by her will be a cause for concern. Indeed, recent polling shows many Tory members would actually prefer Boris Johnson over either of his potential successors.

Paul, 25, from Malvern in Worcestershire, was one of those in the NEC – which had more than its fair share of empty seats – and says the issues he cares about the most are housing and immigration. But he has been left distinctly uninspired by the contest.

“[They’re both] disappointing, but I prefer Liz to Rishi… she seems less fake,” he tells Yahoo News UK. “Rishi… he just gives me a sense that he’s hiding something.”

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 23: Foreign Secretary and Conservative leadership hopeful Liz Truss speaks during the Conservative leadership hustings at the NEC on August 23, 2022 in Birmingham, England. Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss and former Chancellor Rishi Sunak are vying to become the new leader of the Conservative Party and the UK's next Prime Minister. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
They was plenty of support for Liz Truss on Tuesday night… (Getty)
tory members
… but plenty of empty seats as well. (Nadine Batchelor-Hunt)

Paul is not alone. A poll in July found 46% of Tory voters think Johnson would be the better prime minister versus Truss’ 24% and Sunak’s 23%.

The pair are also less popular than Labour leader Keir Starmer – albeit by a narrow margin.

This adds to the mountain of problems facing Truss if she enters Number 10, with inflation and energy bills spiralling out of control.

Elaine, 42, from Staffordshire, says her main reason for voting for Truss is her apparent commitment to the Conservative’s “levelling-up” agenda – though there is little in the way of optimism as she speaks about the prospect of a Cabinet led by the current foreign secretary.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 23: Foreign Secretary and Conservative leadership hopeful Liz Truss speaks during the Conservative leadership hustings at the NEC on August 23, 2022 in Birmingham, England. Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss and former Chancellor Rishi Sunak are vying to become the new leader of the Conservative Party and the UK's next Prime Minister. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
Liz Truss said levelling-up the West Midlands was a priority for her at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

“I think Liz is more likely to listen to what we need here in the Midlands,” she says. “I do feel that my biggest worry as a Conservative member is that we are going to lose our [levelling-up] investment… we need to keep those investments, we need to keep growing [them].”

And like millions across the UK, Elaine is also fearful of the looming cost-of-living crisis that is becoming a daily conversation among her friends and colleagues.

“Whoever wins, the best thing to do is to bring in as much experience as they can, and [move] as quickly as possible.”

Despite the clouds of uncertainty ahead, Truss has clearly managed to win over some voters during an unrelenting summer of campaigning.

Tony, 63, from Wolverhampton, was originally planning to back Sunak – but has changed his mind, and is one of the more upbeat Tories in Birmingham.

“I started off as a Rishi supporter, I felt that the economic headwinds that we have ahead [needed] someone with those types of skills, experience,” he says.

tory members
Tony is running to be a Conservative councillor in Wolverhampton. (Nadine Batchelor-Hunt)

“But as the hustings continued, I actually [leaned] more towards Liz… because I think that she was tackling the old orthodoxy of the Treasury.”

For him, the two key issues are winning an election and energy prices.

“I think the challenges we have ahead really broken into two: one of these the immediate – the energy, inflation, cost-of-living crisis, all the rest of it.

“Then there is, of course – from a Conservative perspective – winning the next election.”

The next election has become a focal point of the leadership contest, with the latest polling painting a bleak picture for the party.

A recent YouGov poll revealed 43% of people would vote Labour right now versus 28% for the Tory party – and 42% of Tory members acknowledge that the leadership battle has made the party look bad.

So, with less than two weeks to go until the next prime minister is anointed, the air of glumness that hung around Birmingham’s NEC may be a taste of things to come for the Conservatives.

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