‘FFS Nadine! Muted’: fears Truss-Sunak race is plunging into horrific nastiness | Conservative leadership

Allies of Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have been accused of “bullying” and firing “poisonous” criticism in pursuit of their leadership rivalry, as Nadine Dorries upped the ante of “blue-on-blue” attacks by mocking the former chancellor’s expensive outfits.

Amid fears the Tory race was descending into “horrific nastiness”, some MPs urged the two remaining candidates to stop “knocking seven shades of shit out of each other” and pull out of the remaining head-to-head TV debates.

Though Sunak has agreed to an interview on Friday with Andrew Neil on Channel 4, Liz Truss has so far ruled out doing the same, sparking accusations she was “frit”.

Many of the briefings against the pair have come under the cloak of anonymity from their rival’s supporters.

But Dorries, who is backing the foreign secretary, went public with criticism of Sunak’s expensive attire after his campaign emphasised his family’s humble beginnings.

“Liz Truss will be travelling the country wearing her earrings which cost circa £4.50 from Claire Accessories [sic],” Dorries tweeted. “Meanwhile … Rishi visits Teeside [sic] in Prada shoes worth £450 and sported £3,500 bespoke suit as he prepared for crunch leadership vote.”

In retaliation, a Sunak ally called the criticism “nonsense”, adding: “It’s a bit rich for a cabinet minister earning £140,000 to pretend they’re somehow just like everybody else.”

A former minister lamented that “the prize is not worth winning if that’s how low you have to go” and said they were keeping their head down during such a “nasty, poisonous campaign”.

Angela Richardson, who is supporting Sunak, also expressed her exasperation on Twitter, commenting: “FFS Nadine! Muted.”

Some MPs feared the “bloodletting” would only intensify further when Sunak and Truss face off in TV debates with the BBC, TalkTV and Sky News.

Truss’s team said she was unlikely to grant an interview to Neil. They denied she was running scared and claimed that as she participated in the Channel 4 debate when there were five candidates remaining, she was being fair by granting one appearance to each broadcaster and would instead be dedicating more time to speak directly with members.

But Sunak’s supporters accused Truss of being afraid. Mark Harper, a former chief whip, quipped: “Our next prime minister will need the mettle to deal with some serious global and domestic challenges over the coming months and years. Surely they can handle a chat with Andrew Neil?”

After Truss and Sunak traded barbs in some of the earlier TV debates, some of those who have not endorsed either of them encouraged the pair to pull out of the remaining appearances.

“There are many things they might say in the heat of the moment, which in private are fine but absolutely are not in front of an audience of millions,” said one. Another felt the TV debates had been a “huge mistake” and “done nothing other than to portray the Conservative party as at war with itself”.

Another MP who had not endorsed either candidate said they were tempted to spoil their ballot when voting commences next week. “All roads lead to chaos,” they said.

“Both of their campaigns are knocking seven shades out of shit out of each other. Rishi has a sense of desperation because he knows practically every other contender was more popular than him in the runoff so is facing an uphill battle. And Liz, that’s just her style, as we’ve seen in parliament. She wouldn’t think twice about running that kind of campaign. So you’re left with a rather nasty taste in the mouth.”

The Cabinet Office minister Johnny Mercer called the contest embarrassing. He said that “on current trajectory”, the Conservative party would be out of power in two years’ time. “The puerile nature of this leadership contest is embarrassing,” he said. “Time to raise the standards.”

Will Tanner, a former deputy head of Theresa May’s No 10 policy unit, said attacks on people’s personal backgrounds, clothes and schooling were “playground politics” that avoided talking about the substantive issues on people’s policies and record in government.

“This is an opportunity for the party to work out who it is, what it stands for and which voters it wants to attract,” he said. “It’s really important we have that debate because we’ve been having a slightly intellectual proxy debate but under the surface for months and not in public or in substantive terms.”

Tanner said the “blue-on-blue sniping” by anonymous MPs was particularly damaging because it would “create an insidious culture of gossip and abuse rather than substantive debate”.

But he added that previous leadership races had also been “pretty vicious” and that despite “these rounds of bloodletting, the party does usually find ways of coming back together successfully”.

The gloves come off

Some of the most cutting public comments from the Tory leadership campaign so far:

Nadine Dorries
In one of her many jibes at Sunak, the culture secretary took aim at his claim he was “sad” about Boris Johnson being toppled.

On the coup (which he helped orchestrate) which toppled the outgoing PM, he says he ‘didn’t take any pleasure’ before adding: ‘I was sad about that.’ His sadness was most apparent when he triumphantly punched the air in glee as he made the final two.

Marcus Fysh
The MP for Yeovil seemed to get sick of his Twitter timeline filling up with posts about Rishi Sunak.

Having fun blocking Rishi campaign or otherwise pro-Rishi foreign government bots. #LizForLeader

Iain Duncan Smith
The former Tory leader was deployed by Truss’s campaign to neutralise Sunak’s China crackdown pledge.

This ‘tough on China’ announcement is surprising. After all, over the last two years, the Treasury has pushed hard for an economic deal with China. This is despite China sanctioning myself and four UK parliamentarians. Despite China brutally cracking down on peaceful democracy campaigners in Hong Kong, threatening Taiwan, illegally occupying the South China Sea, committing genocide on the Uyghurs and increasing its influence in our universities. After such a litany, I have one simple question: where have you been over the last two years?

Anonymous
An unknown Sunak ally briefed a vicious attack on Truss to several newspapers after she claimed one of his pledges to curb immigration would break international law.

Good to see remainer Truss on the side of human rights lawyers.

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