IT’S bound to happen, surely.


As we move back to the past economically, at some point, either before the new Tory leader is announced or shortly thereafter, a poster will appear on billboards, showing Rishi Sunak and/or Liz Truss sporting the famous Thatcher hair-do.

Those of a certain vintage will recall how the professed heir to the Iron Lady, William Hague, got the billboard treatment in the 2001 General Election campaign courtesy of the Labour Party with the slogan: “Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.”

Hague, who desperately lurched to the Right, predicated his campaign on keeping the pound and not joining the Eurozone. He lost badly and resigned immediately as a triumphant Tony Blair sailed serenely to his second landslide victory.

Today’s candidates for the Conservative crown have been trying to out-pitch each other over who is more in Mrs T’s mould, tossing with abandon red meat before the party’s rapacious grassroots.

Sunak, the underdog, has for weeks been scrambling to catch up, trying to convince himself things are much tighter than the pundits portray. Having promised to reduce VAT after berating Truss for her “fairytale” tax cut proposals, the ex-Chancellor then, lo and behold, produced what he hoped would be a game-changer.

Having pledged to cut a penny off income tax before the 2024 General Election, he announced he would axe the rate by 4p by the end of the decade – for England. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Liz.

Then to further raise the Sunak camp’s spirits, earlier this week Truss dropped a clanger of Johnsonian proportions.

In her Thatcherite zeal, she enthusiastically proposed a policy to pay public sector workers in cheaper parts of the country less than those in more expensive parts to save the hard-pressed taxpayer a not inconsiderable £8.8bn.

But there was an elephant on the doorstep, which, the Foreign Secretary unbelievably failed to spot; the policy would shove into reverse gear the Government’s hitherto unbridled enthusiasm for levelling up. It’s suspected the red-wall Tories swiftly put her right about the policy’s horrific potential; not least for their own survival. The elephant was quickly dispatched.

Laughably, the Secretary of State insisted her policy had been “wilfully misrepresented” by the media as she had never had any intention of extending it to cover workers like nurses and teachers.

One slight problem. Her policy announcement stressed the near £9bn saving depended on it being “adopted for all public sector workers in the long term”. Oh dear.

But Truss boldly sought to turn a negative into a positive and praised herself for being “decisive” in ditching the policy so quickly.

“It’s not happening and I’ve been very clear about that. I’m somebody who, when things are misinterpreted, when mistakes are made, I’m honest about that,” she told the Cardiff hustings on Wednesday. It was an act of shamelessness worthy of Boris Johnson; which, just to emphasise, is not a compliment.

But despite the gaffe, the Foreign Secretary remains buoyant, helped by two polls, which appear to give her unassailable leads of 32 and 34 points.

It’s no surprise Cabinet colleagues and onetime rivals are prostrating themselves before the Norfolk MP. The bear-hug she publicly gave Tom Tugendhat might have made even her husband blush.

After Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi and ex-Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis genuflected before their leaderene, the latest convert to the Truss cause this week was Sajid Javid, England’s ex-Health Secretary.

The less charitable might think all these senior Tories are desperately seeking reassurances about their Cabinet places in a new Truss administration. Chickens are clearly already being counted.

As the Tory rivals prepared for yet another televisual joust on Sky News last night with the delayed ballots arriving at members’ homes, sparks were expected to fly given the Bank of England’s move and gloomy outlook for the next 18 months.

Its inflation forecast of 13% by the year-end means Britain is facing the biggest squeeze on living standards for nigh on 60 years.

As expected, the Bank hiked interest rates but unexpectedly predicted a five-quarter recession – mirroring the terrible one under Thatcher’s watch in 1980/1 – meaning the economic arguments between the two would-be premiers will intensify even further.

While Sunak supporter Mel Stride, who chairs the Commons Treasury Committee, denounced Truss’s pledge to introduce tax cuts “from day one” as “dangerous” as they risked stoking inflation, Javid denied this and insisted they were “essential” and doable given the forecast £31bn of fiscal headroom.

He warned Sunak’s slower-paced strategy was liable to see Britain “sleepwalking into a big-state, high-tax, low-growth, social democratic model, which risks us becoming a middle-income economy by the 2030s”.

But, post the Bank’s statement, Sunak argued even more firmly the need to avoid pushing prices even higher, declaring: “It is imperative any future government grips inflation, not exacerbates it.”

On cue, apparitions from the Thatcherite past appeared, stage right.

Lord Clarke, the ex-Treasury chief, also warned Truss’s plan for immediate tax cuts ran the “risk of contributing to the problem,” noting how tax reductions were “not terribly relevant at the moment” but extra targeted help for the poorest was.

Lord Lawson, who was Mrs T’s Chancellor for six years, suggested Sunak was indeed her true heir, saying the Yorkshire MP was “guided by the principles of Thatcherism” to ensure the current generation “pays its own way” rather than “saddling” the next one with greater debt.

The Conservative peer, famous for the tax-cutting Lawson Boom of the late 1980s, noted how Truss’s multi-billion pound plan of unfunded spending and tax cuts while reassuring people it was not inflationary, was “uncomfortably reminiscent of the missteps of the Tory Government of 50 years ago”.

In 1972, the Tory Chancellor Anthony Barber’s Budget was popular but led to “years of [an] inflationary nightmare”.

As we are often warned, if we don’t learn from the mistakes of the past, we’re condemned to repeat them – and suffer the consequences. Thatcher’s ghost, with that hair-do, continues to haunt the Tory leadership feast.