AND then there were two. Yesterday, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss emerged victorious in the final ballot of Conservative MPs. It’s now up to around 160,000 Tory members to decide the question of who should become our next prime minister.

In seven short weeks, we will have our answer.

Are Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss really the best that the parliamentary party has to offer? Apparently so.

That should strike fear into the hearts of every Conservative MP in a marginal constituency, and all those desperately trying to hold up the decidedly shoogly Blue Wall.

For those of us who are still giddy from the brutal de-throning of the mad king, reality is also fast approaching.

It is a given that whoever becomes our next PM will be less nakedly deceitful and dishonest than Boris Johnson was. Future scandals that emerge from the Conservative Party will be better managed (or, at least, more competently covered up) than those of the last few years.

We can also expect the new leader to temporarily plug the leaks and “sources close to” back-biting that were a feature of the dying days of Johnson’s premiership.

This will be – at best – a temporary reprieve for a party that has been plagued by in-fighting. From the public’s perspective, “at least it’s not Johnson” is of little comfort to those who have completely lost trust in parliament and its politicians. The outgoing Prime Minister leaves a legacy of dishonesty that will take a long time to repair.

The final two candidates on the ballot arguably make that task even harder.

In their infinite wisdom, Conservative MPs have opted for people who endorsed Johnson’s bad behaviour right until the last possible second. They stood by as he lied and as he broke the law; shattering parliamentary conventions and torching standards in public life in the process. There is no moral high ground to be found for either Sunak or Truss. It’s about as far from a clean start as it is possible to be.

Whoever moves into Downing Street in September will take with them the stains and smears of a thousand lies and broken promises.

Earlier this week, a proposed Sky News debate between the final five contenders was unceremoniously scrapped, after Truss and Sunak pulled out. There was concern over the damage that the televised sparring sessions were doing to the Conservative brand.

It’s like when your mum and dad scream blue murder at each other at night and then try and fail to give the appearance of domestic harmony over Coco Pops in the morning. They’re fooling nobody.

The long, slow death of Johnson’s political career also killed the possibility of party unity in the immediate future.

Of course, the prolonged period of self-destruction we have witnessed from the Conservative Party over the last six months was entirely of their own doing. Not only for the shameful and cowardly way they excused Johnson’s lies over Partygate, but also for crowning somebody so manifestly unfit for office in the first place.

Boris Johnson breaks things: marriages, friendships, promises and any political party he is trusted to lead. By selecting two people who were steadfastly loyal to him throughout his many misdeeds, Conservative MPs have given party members an unappealing choice between electoral defeat or electoral humiliation.

In Sunak we have the self-styled “fiscally responsible” wannabe PM. He has resisted calls from his party to introduce immediate tax cuts and warned against telling voters “comforting fairy tales’’. Illustrating this point perfectly, he describes his approach to economic policy as “common-sense Thatcherism’’.

In contrast, Truss, the favoured candidate of the right, has pledged to cut taxes for businesses and families. This includes a promise to reverse the National Insurance rise, and a “temporary moratorium” on the Green Energy Levy.

As England reels from the horrific fires sparked by the record-breaking temperatures earlier in the week, her apparent indifference to the climate emergency will worry many ordinary voters across the country.

Despite the best efforts of Conservative MPs to muster some faux enthusiasm for the pair left in the race, it’s clear that both are middling, mediocre politicians.

They would be an uninspiring prospect during a period of relative calm, let alone during a time when the UK faces the triple economic threat of post-pandemic slump, a cost-of-living crisis and inflation skyrocketing to 9.4 per cent, its highest rate since 1982.

Of the two candidates for prime minister, Keir Starmer would surely prefer to face Truss across the Despatch Box, rather than the nauseatingly slick Sunak.

As former leadership hopeful Tom Tugendhat warned his colleagues earlier in the contest: Labour will seek to capitalise on the complicity of those close to the disgraced Johnson if any of his former Cabinet ministers made it into No 10.

Come September, we’ll see that strategy in action, as both parties look ahead to the 2024 General Election. The new leader will have barely any time to settle in before the long campaign begins. The best they can hope for is a few years where they successfully exceed the very low expectations the public has for them.

It helps that they only need to heave themselves over the bar that Johnson has welded to the floor. His parting gift to the party that he did his best to destroy is that even the tax-avoiding Sunak and awkward Truss will look competent in comparison.

But the shadow cast by Johnson’s inglorious time in office won’t last forever. At the next General Election, the new PM won’t be facing their predecessor: they’ll be up against a Labour opponent who has settled – however unspectacularly – into his role of leader.

Keir Starmer might not set the world alight, but he does at least inspire trust.

Ordinary people don’t trust Conservative Party members to choose our next prime minister any more than they’ll trust either one of the two who will eventually be crowned winner.

Both allowed Johnson to remain in post for far longer than they should have. Which makes them just as unfit to lead as he was.