Can Liz Truss gather momentum behind her leadership bid? That's the challenge facing the Foreign Secretary today ahead of the second round of voting in the contest. Truss is vying for votes among the right of the party along with Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch. Of the three, she came out on top in the ballot on Wednesday with 50 MP nominations to Badenoch's 40 and Braverman's 33. There is now a push to get these MPs to rally around one candidate. As a supporter of Truss remarked last night: ‘Lots of people need to do some soul-searching.’
In that vein, Truss officially launched her campaign this morning in Westminster. The Foreign Secretary was introduced on stage by her cabinet colleague Kwasi Kwarteng who pitched her as the candidate ‘who can hit the ground running from day one’. In her opening remarks, Truss has pointed to the fact she went to a comprehensive school as evidence that she did not come from a traditional Tory background. She said: ‘I can make tough decisions and I can get things done.’ As for her priorities, she says she will keep standing up to Putin, take on the Whitehall machine and focus on economic growth.
In the Q&A session, she was quizzed on whether she ought to step out of the way and allow Mordaunt to emerge as the main challenger to Sunak. Truss responded by pointing to her extensive cabinet experience as evidence that she is the best-placed candidate to deliver. She also refrained from criticising her rivals – saying she would avoid personal attacks. However, this message was somewhat dampened by the faces she had sitting in the audience, including supporters such as Nadine Dorries who have been out criticising Rishi Sunak.
While Truss promised a change in economic policy, it was clear from the session that she is the Johnson loyalty candidate. When asked why she hadn't resigned from Johnson's cabinet, she responded that she was loyal – a message that received cheers from supporters.
This positioning has already won her notable backers – but it also has its limits as it means it's much harder to pitch herself as a change candidate. The crux of Truss's message to MPs and the party is effectively that she is the only credible candidate to deliver on pledges of cutting taxes and reform. She outlined that vision in an interview in this week's Spectator. Today's vote is critical to her chances of making that vision a reality. Truss needs to be able to show she is consolidating the vote on the right of the party and jumping ahead of the other candidates fishing in the same pool. Without that, she will not be seen as a serious contender.