Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss clashed vehemently over tax and spending, immigration and the UK’s stance on China in their acrimonious battle to become prime minister – but had little to say on many other issues urgent. Here are some key contest questions that have been largely overlooked so far.
Standards of public life
Boris Johnson was removed from office when his own MPs could no longer defend or explain the repeated untruths emanating from No 10. He broke Covid regulations, allowed an alleged serial sexual harasser to be appointed to the office of whips and saw two ethics counselors resign in disgust.
Yet the cleanup policy barely figured in the debate – and indeed Sunak and Truss felt the need to defend Johnson, with Sunak saying at his launch event that the incumbent prime minister had “a good heart”.
There have been some hints of change – Truss said on Thursday’s election campaign that she would move the Tory Whips’ office to No 12 Downing Street, to allow MPs’ conduct to be scrutinized more close, and Sunak said he would name a new ethic. advise. But neither has fully addressed the need to restore public trust in politics after the Johnson era.
Before Tuesday’s TalkTV debate was abruptly interrupted by the presenter fainting, the contestants were challenged by John, a cancer patient, who asked: ‘Why is the NHS broken?’
It was one of the few moments in the campaign so far where the dismal state of health services was mentioned. Truss said she wanted to see layers of NHS management removed, and Sunak stressed the importance of new technologies.
But neither had a solution to the immediate and urgent crisis, with more than 6.6 million people awaiting care. Truss even admitted that his local hospital was in such bad shape that he was being held up by “stilts”, but had little to say about how it could be fixed.
NHS problems are closely tied to the state of collapse of the welfare system, which barely featured in the leadership campaign.
Truss said she would go ahead with Johnson’s plans for an £86,000 cap on the amount individuals would have to pay for their own care, despite the cancellation of the planned tax hike to pay for it . Sunak would probably do it too, given that a law has already been passed to enact it.
But neither had much to say about how they would ensure the system delivered a better quality of care.
Brexit was mentioned in the race, with candidates promising to cut EU red tape – and Sunak blasting Truss for campaigning to stay.
Truss said she would press ahead with her divisive Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, risking a trade war. Sunak suggested during Thursday’s election campaign that the legislation would create ‘smooth trade’ without the need for a border – echoing Johnson’s recklessness when he told businesses in Northern Ireland they should ‘ push” all the forms they were asked to sign.
But there has been little realistic discussion of the queues at Dover as families wait to have their passports stamped, declining trade with the EU or a range of other practical challenges.
The pandemic was invoked in hindsight during the campaign: Sunak bragged about his involvement in preventing a Christmas lockdown in December 2021, while Truss questioned whether schools should ever have been closed.
There has been little discussion about the management of current and future waves of Covid. Although it escaped the headlines, the virus continued to cause mass absences of staff and consume valuable NHS resources, despite Omicron and its sub-variants being less dangerous than its predecessors.
With a recall program coming in the fall and the ever-present threat of deadlier variants, the new prime minister may have to make some life-saving decisions to tackle the virus.