British leadership favorite Liz Truss reverses pay plan in first major misstep

  • Conservatives’ Truss climbs down on key promise
  • Opponents say the policy would have affected nurses and police officers
  • Opinion polls show conflicting view on the size of Truss’ lead
  • The Daily Mail newspaper gives Truss support

LONDON, Aug. 2 (Reuters) – Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, the frontrunner to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister, was forced to backtrack on one of her most notable pledges a day after she announced it after a backlash from fellow conservatives and opposition parties.

In the first major misstep of her campaign, Truss outlined plans to cut billions of pounds a year in government spending in a pledge opponents said would increase the salaries of public sector workers, including nurses and teachers, outside England’s wealthy south-east. should decrease. .

Truss had said late Monday that she would introduce regional pay boards rather than have a national wage agreement, where pay would be matched to the local cost of living.

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But after criticism on Tuesday, Truss said, “I never had any intention of changing the terms of teachers and nurses. But what I want to be clear about is that I’m not going through with the regional pay boards.”

The turning point came when opinion polls showed widely diverging pictures of the extent of Truss’ lead over rival Rishi Sunak.

A July 19-27 survey of 807 members of the Conservative Party by Italian data firm Techne found that Truss was supported by 48%, compared to 43% for former finance minister Sunak.

In contrast, a YouGov poll for The Times newspaper, conducted from July 29 to August 2, showed that Truss had extended her lead. She had the support of 60% of the members versus 26% for Sunak, while the rest of the 1,043 members polled were undecided or did not intend to vote.

An earlier YouGov poll on July 20-21 had shown a 49%-31% split in favor of Truss.

Shortly before the latest poll, the Daily Mail – one of Britain’s best-selling titles and popular with Conservative voters – said it supported Truss despite her turnaround.

“Mr. Sunak is a natural technocrat, albeit a smart one; Miss Truss an authentic standard-bearer for low-tax conservatism in small states,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

‘SPEECHLESS’

Truss’s public sector compensation plan has been criticized by the main opposition Labor party and some conservative lawmakers.

The Conservatives won the largest majority in three decades in the 2019 national election by overthrowing conventional British politics and winning in more industrial areas in central and northern England with a pledge to reduce regional disparities.

A Truss-supporting conservative lawmaker said the miscalculation would hurt the rest of the campaign.

“This was a completely avoidable mistake, but I don’t think it will eventually stop her from becoming prime minister,” he said.

Sunak supporter Ben Houchen, the conservative mayor of Tees Valley in northeastern England, said he was “speechless” about the proposal.

Millions of nurses, police officers and soldiers are said to have cut their wages by £1,500 ($1,830) a year, according to Sunak’s campaign.

Rachel Reeves, the Labor finance spokesman, said Truss’s plan would have sucked money from local communities.

“This latest mess has revealed exactly what Liz Truss thinks of public sector workers across Britain,” she said.

Sunak and Truss compete for the votes of about 200,000 Conservative members to choose the next prime minister, with the winner being announced on September 5.

Taxes have so far dominated the campaign race. Sunak has accused Truss of being “dishonest” with voters over her promises of immediate tax cuts, saying he would wait until inflation is under control before cutting taxes. Truss says that would push the country into recession.

More than 60% of conservatives in the Techne poll said Truss had better ideas about taxes and inflation than Sunak. They were also supportive of her immigration plans.

However, respondents said that Sunak had better policies on Brexit and energy.

The YouGov poll found that a majority supported Truss on cost of living, migration and defense.

John Curtice, a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde and one of Britain’s leading opinion polling experts, said it was difficult to be sure the race was over for Sunak.

“In a race where there were certainly some quite radical and bold proposals made by both candidates … we certainly don’t know what impact it has had on Tory membership as a whole,” he told broadcaster GB News.

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Additional reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Tomasz Janowski, Christina Fincher, Mike Harrison and Nick Macfie

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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