The former Treasury Secretary spent the early stages of the contest defining himself as the sensible candidate who would shun populist policy announcements such as immediate tax cuts, insisting that a cautious approach to the economy was essential to prevent inflation. was fueled. He even went so far as to suggest that his rival Liz truss‘s plan for a series of immediate tax cuts was “immoral” and piled debt on future generations.
But after leading the race in every round of voting among Tory MPs, Sunak is now trailing the foreign minister by a wide margin in the polls of grassroots party members who will make the final choice about their new leader. As evidence grew that his status quo campaign fell through, his own strategists seem to have accepted that a change of course is necessary if he is to have any hope of overcoming that shortfall.
The long-standing pledge to scrap VAT on utility bills has the advantage that Sunak can portray it as aid to ordinary Britons struggling with the rising cost of living, and as a benefit of Brexit — a policy that the UK could not pursue while still in the European Union.
But it has also raised eyebrows with the Conservative Party, with a Tory MP backing Truss saying her team will draw encouragement from the move and see it as a sign of Sunak’s growing desperation.
Other Truss supporters took it as evidence of the former chancellor’s flip-flopping, as he opposed the move earlier this year, saying it would “benefit disproportionately wealthier households”.
“I’m actually really happy that he’s turned around now; a screeching handbrake U-turn,” Company Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng — a prominent Truss supporter, told GB News on Wednesday. “The reason he’s doing that is because he’s under pressure, he knows his tax-raising agenda isn’t working.”
Sunak’s team insisted the plan is consistent with its broader approach to the economy and said the VAT cut is not inflationary. Bloomberg economist Dan Hanson estimates the plan will cost £4 billion ($4.8 billion) and cut about 0.4 percentage point of inflation in October.
But the shifting stance leaves the contender open to one of his opponents’ main lines of attack during the leadership race: that he now claims to support policies he opposed or actively blocked in government.
Truss supporters have argued that on issues such as sanctions against Russia, a plan to deport migrants to Rwanda, its relationship with China and plans to revise the part of the Brexit deal related to Northern Ireland, Sunak is now a harder line than he was. t be more excited about when in government. Sunak’s campaign has denied that he opposed those policies when he was chancellor.
With a week to go before the ballots go to Tory members, it remains to be seen whether Sunak’s strategy shift to more forceful policy announcements will be enough to convince those who currently prefer Truss. Polling after Monday’s first head-to-head debate of the candidates revealed Truss a clear winner, while Tuesday’s second debate ended early after the host passed out.