It started as a demolition derby and turned into a weird version of The X Factor for Margaret Thatcher tribute acts. In this fractious Tory leadership contest it looks as if the top clone, the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, has won the votes of elderly Tory membership in her fight against the former chancellor, Rishi Sunak.

That kitten bow and sitting on a tank has done the job. You’re looking at our next Prime Minister, if the polls are right.

Ms Truss says she thinks she can “make Scotland love her” even though they loathed her mentor, Lady Thatcher, back in the day. But I hae ma doubts. She insists she is down to earth, comprehensive-educated, and a former resident of Paisley to boot. But she is an accountant by trade and used to work for Shell so is hardly down with the street. She insists Scots approve of strong women like, well, Nicola Sturgeon, but I don’t see the two of them going wild swimming together.

Ms Truss says she will take “a bulldozer” to the “Blob”, as she calls them in the civil service and Treasury. She will cut taxes to create growth, despite all evidence that it won’t. It is, as the SNP will say, “the same old Tories”: only interested in slashing public services in order to give tax cuts to their rich friends.

Bang on

DOMINIC Cummings, who seems to pretty much decide who gets to stand for office these days, says Liz Truss is “the human hand grenade”: she blows up everything she touches. No doubt he is ready with his files of kompromat to show that she is even worse than the “shopping trolley”.

Boris Johnson’s former senior adviser is thought to back Slick Rishi Sunak. The plutocratic ex-chancellor, allegedly richer than the Queen, has significantly not been targeted by The Dom over his and his wife’s tax affairs, or Sunak’s partygate fine. Maybe he hopes for a job. But it looks like the Baron of Barnard Castle is out of luck.

Mr Sunak has not won the Tory hearts and minds. He’s too fluent, too thin, too ready with compelling soundbites such as “unfunded tax cuts are fairy tales” and “if the Tories aren’t the party of sound money, what are they”? Tories don’t like people who sound too clever – even when they agree with them.

Mind you, Sunak has arguably done more to debase the currency than any recent chancellor. Since Brexit, of which he was a leading proponent, the pound has been in free fall. He has been racking up public debt faster than during the Second World War to an onerous £2.4 trillion, more than 100 per cent of GDP.

Now, everyone thought that borrowing wasn’t a problem with low interest rates. That’s suddenly turned out not to be true. Britain’s repayments on that debt have just doubled to £20 billion a month. The Treasury expects that interest payments alone this year will rise to around £150bn – more than is spent on education and defence combined.

Rising pressure

THE Bank of England is in panic mode, ramping up interest rates. The economist Professor Patrick Minford, embarrassingly one of Liz Truss’s advisers, says that interest rates may have to rise to 5-7% after she delivers her tax cuts. A good thing, he says, even though average monthly mortgage payments would double.

Consumer confidence is lower than at the height of the Covid pandemic. People are cutting back, for obvious reasons, and this will plunge the economy into near recession because consumer spending is around 70% of GDP. There’s nowt but tumbleweed in the high streets.

Rishi’s right: this is an economic emergency, and it has happened under Tory governments. I’m tempted to say that it doesn’t matter what Sunak or Truss say – they could just read out the shipping forecast.

The Tories are going down. No government can survive inflation, industrial unrest, lost wages, interest rates, and Brexit chaos. Governments are there to take the blame and, after 14 years, come the next election, it is almost their duty to lose.

So, it’s not about the Tories losing but by how much. Rishi Sunak is probably their best bet of salvaging some votes. He may be a Tory Tony Blair, effortlessly articulate, slick and convincing, but the Labour leader won three General Elections. There’s a chance Sunak could prevent an overall Labour majority in 2024.

Truss is doomed to fail as the satirists ridicule her awkwardness. I don’t wish to be cruel, but there’s not so much something of the night about her as something of the living dead. She is just not comfortable in her skin. You can see why Boris Johnson wants her to win – leaders love to hand over to someone less competent.

Her grasp of economics and finance is as laughable as her famous elegy on cheese imports: “That. Is. A. Disgrace.” How is she going to manage Prime Minister’s Questions? Andrew Neil, who has never got the better of Rishi Sunak, will make corned beef hash of Liz and her unfunded tax cuts.

Unhealthy outlook

THE tax-cut cult may win in Tory salons but not in the country. Take April’s National Insurance rises, introduced by Boris Johnson to raise £12bn a year for the NHS. The rise will only take about £4.50 a week out the average pay packet. Ask any voter whether they would rather hire more doctors and 90% will say yes. This is the problem with tax cuts: they really only matter for people who earn a lot of money.

Truss wants cuts in fuel duty and to remove the climate change levy from energy bills, but that will still only cut a few pounds off a tank of petrol and £130 off average energy bills which are set to rise to £3,000. And again, voters really do care about climate change even if Daily Telegraph readers don’t.

It’s back to the magic money tree of more borrowing and that alleged “headroom” of £31bn which Liz Truss has identified in the accounts. That this is wiped out by debt interest payments in six weeks.

But she’s got one thing right: economic policy over the past two decades has been abysmal. Britain is becoming a poor country, increasingly dependent on foodbanks and debt, with unaffordable house prices and stagnant wages.

Counting the cost

BREXIT was supposed to boost workers’ pay and it did for a while, especially in retail, haulage, and social care. But the gains have been wiped out by inflation, which is out of control. No-one in Westminster has an answer to this.

Labour is just as bereft of economic policy as the Tories. Indeed, Keir Starmer has also reached for the low-tax Kool-Aid, opposing the increase in National Insurance while ruling out increases in income tax. He also opposed the increase in corporation tax.

But Labour is not in government and, shortly, Liz Truss probably will be. The Tories might have had a chance under Boris Johnson, whose chaotic charisma was somehow above politics. He won the biggest majority in 40 years in 2019 despite Brexit chaos.

His successor will take them to their worst defeat since 1997.