It's been a mixed performance thus far for the 'Liz for leader' brigade. A flawless campaign launch, strong cabinet support and enthusiastic media backing have all been positives but the failure to lock up the votes of the Tory right have left the Foreign Secretary in a less confident situation than she might otherwise have liked.
Truss's efforts have not been helped in this respected by Kemi Badenoch, the surprise package of the leadership campaign. On the second round of voting, Truss came third with 64 MPs, ahead of Badenoch on 49. While the latter is still regarded as a long-shot candidate, there are whispers about whether the junior minister could bag enough backers from Suella Braverman, Tom Tugendhat and other undecideds to leapfrog Truss to third by Tuesday night. Stranger things have happened in Tory leadership races...
The Truss camp, wary of this threat, tried to send out Lord Frost on Thursday to persuade Badenoch to stand aside to 'unite the right'. Such entreaties have, if anything, backfired, with some younger colleagues irritated at effectively being told to 'know their place'. Instead, team Kemi have been redoubling their lobbying efforts before Monday's ballot, calling, WhatsApping and texting colleagues to urge them to give their candidate a chance.
Indeed, Tom Hunt MP, a 2019 intake backbencher, has now gone public saying that:
“Those trying to lobby Kemi Badenoch supporters this weekend to back other candidates have been met with a brick wall of enthusiasm for Kemi... Often by the end of the call it was the caller reflecting about their next move and not Kemi supporters.
Certainly the bookies' odds on Badenoch have halved in recent days, following two assured performances in the ConservativeHome and Channel 4 leadership debates. It's a striking contrast with Truss, widely held by most commentators to have performed the poorest in the latter debate. Indeed, a snap Opinium poll in the aftermath suggested that only four per cent of viewers thought she had won; the lowest of any candidate.
That somewhat faltering performance has revived memories of Theresa May in 2017, prompting some MPs to bestow the unfortunate nickname on Truss: Maybot 2.0. Such fears haven't been allayed by the Foreign Secretary's habit of declining all television interviews.
John Stevens of the Daily Mail points out that 'Liz Truss has not done a single broadcast interview during the Tory leadership campaign (unlike all the other candidates).' Iain Dale of LBC added that 'I invited her to do a half hour interview and phone-in, just like the other candidates. Her team hasn't even had the courtesy to reply.' Team Truss will therefore be hoping for an improved performance in tonight's debate as Truss tries to convince MPs that she can win them the next general election.
As one lobby reporter put it to Mr S: 'What's the point of experience if you look like a rabbit in the headlights every time you're asked to communicate it?'