‘Gutsy’ Truss a potential nightmare for Labour, say party strategists

Liz Truss, the Tory leadership frontrunner, is a strong communicator, gutsy and could prove to be an economic “nightmare” for Labour, according to some of the opposition party’s leading strategists.

Allies of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer have also been impressed by the way the foreign secretary has grown into the contest to succeed outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson. “The idea of her being a pushover is very much wide of the mark,” said one.

In a poll this week by Redfield & Wilton Strategies asking who would make the better prime minister, Truss enjoyed a three-point lead over Starmer while her rival, former chancellor Rishi Sunak, trailed Starmer by six points.

“Liz Truss is no fool, she is gutsy,” said Lord Peter Mandelson, an architect of New Labour’s election victory in 1997, noting she was running as “an early Thatcher insurgent” rather than as a long-serving minister.

He said that, while Labour must not allow Truss to “represent herself as a departure from the last 12 years”, the party also had to “show that it is changing so that it can change Britain”.

“Labour has to demonstrate its own thinking and ideas and that it is a party for the whole country,” added Mandelson.

His comments were echoed by John McTernan, former adviser to ex-prime minister Tony Blair and the Australian Labor party. “Liz Truss will have the firepower of government and the freedom of movement granted by an overwhelming leadership victory,” said McTernan.

“Meanwhile, Labour still lack trust from voters on economic competence. The nightmare for Labour is that Liz Truss spends more freely than Jeremy Corbyn could ever have dreamed while being seen by voters as economically dry as Margaret Thatcher,” he added.

Truss has also won some respect in Starmer’s inner circle, with one ally of his saying that “her clear strength is the simplicity of her message”.

“She talks about what she is for, while Sunak sounds like he’s talking about what he is against. There’s no complacency from our point of view. She looks like she has been liberated by the prospect of taking the top job,” they added.

Starmer hopes to tackle Truss, if she becomes prime minister, by taking apart her economic strategy, which he believes will be based on large-scale borrowing without focusing help on the most vulnerable.

He will also pose the question “Who’s side are you on?”, as he believes Truss’s preference for reversing a corporation tax rise for big companies over “handouts” for the poor will jar with many voters.

Starmer faces a tough autumn, with trade unions already criticising him for attempting unsuccessfully to ban shadow ministers from standing on picket lines in support of striking workers.

His allies believe Lisa Nandy, shadow levelling up secretary, damaged her own standing with colleagues by joining a Communication Workers Union picket this month, but she will not be disciplined.

Starmer, who is at present on holiday, also faces a challenge in setting out his party’s response to the cost of living crisis, which will lead to the biggest squeeze on incomes in more than 60 years.

Labour will outline a new package of measures before August 26, the date on which the energy regulator Ofgem will set the next energy price cap, which will apply from October.

A YouGov poll from this month analysing voting intentions in a general election gave Labour a four-point lead over the Conservatives, with the opposition party on 37 points and the Tories on 33.

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