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James Forsyth

Truss and Sunak are arguing about the wrong things

The Tory leadership contenders should stop debating trivialities and focus on the economy

Truss and Sunak are arguing about the wrong things
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The Tory party needs to distinguish between the different types of blue-on-blue arguments. There is the peripheral stuff about shoes and earrings which would be no great loss to the debate if it was to end; then there are the substantive issues on which the party does need to thrash out what it thinks. 

In the Times today, I suggest five arguments that the Tories need to have in this contest. Having been friends with Rishi Sunak for decades, and having known Liz Truss since she became an MP in 2010, I think they are capable of having a constructive argument. The genuine differences between them should help improve debate. They don’t need to fight over trivialities (which are often the bitterest arguments) or manufacture differences.

The biggest divide in this contest is over the economy. The significant tax cuts Truss is offering are the main reason in terms of policy as to why she is ahead in the polls. But tax cuts without any reduction in spending – and Truss stresses in her ConservativeHome interview that she won’t cut spending – takes the Tories into a very different place from where they have been historically. They shouldn’t go there without a proper debate. However popular these tax cuts may be, they will make it much harder for the Tories to denounce magic money trees or attack Labour for unfunded promises.

If the pair keep arguing about this, whoever wins will have a mandate for the approach they take. Given how much this question divides the party, and Tory MPs in particular, it is worth working out now.

There are other debates the Tories need to have about energy, levelling up, free speech and Boris Johnson himself. If the Tories don’t have these discussions now, they won’t have time to later as the new prime minister will be fire fighting from day one.