Sometimes party leadership elections do not offer much real choice – rather, they are about shades of red or blue, with debates conducted in code in the hope of limiting public divisions for the sake of the party.
The contest between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak is not one of these elections. Two people who sat around the same cabinet table for three years until only a few weeks ago, have set out two very different visions for the country, and do not pretend otherwise. The surprisingly strong blue-on-blue attacks have alarmed senior Conservatives, who have appealed to both camps to tone down their language, warning they risk trashing the party’s brand and its record in power in the past 12 years. It’s probably too late to prevent such damage.
This is a fork in the road moment for the Tories because the fundamental division between the two would-be prime ministers is about economic policy. Sunak offers fiscal responsibility, a tablet of stone for the party. While insisting he is a “low-tax Conservative” his “sound money” principle means he would delay tax cuts until the dragon of inflation has been slain. He has called it “immoral” to increase borrowing for tax cuts as this would saddle future generations with more debt.