Tory leadership hopefuls stage a West Country two-step

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Truss pledges a bonfire of farming and planning bureaucracy and Sunak promises help for farmers and first-time buyers

You could, if you were so minded, describe this week’s West Country visits by the Tory leadership candidates as a two-step U-turn. First, Rishi Sunak was accused of a massive U-turn when he proposed a significant cut in income tax by the end of the decade. Then Liz Truss was forced to backtrack on a proposal for regional pay groups and pay cuts for public sector workers outside the south-east.
The former Chancellor visited North Dorset for a meeting of party members, hosted by local MP Simon Hoare at the Exchange at Sturminster Newton, and the Foreign Secretary was in West Dorset the following day at Athelhampton House, meeting local members, hosted by West Dorset MP Chris Loder. At both meetings, the candidates also answered questions from selected media representatives, including The BV. In between, they took part in a joint hustings meeting at the Great Hall of Exeter University.

Rishi Sunak – image fanny charles

The need for unity
Mr Hoare introduced Rishi Sunak as “a common sense Tory who will do the right thing,” but stressed that the party must unite after the leadership election. This call was echoed by Mr Sunak, who spoke of the importance of restoring trust – and of patriotism, family, hard work and aspiration.
Identifying himself as the leader for the next general election – which would be a record fifth consecutive win for the Conservatives – he recognised the need to appeal to floating voters, and referred specifically to the recent loss of the Honiton and Tiverton constituency.
Ms Truss told ITV’s News South West political correspondent David Wood: “We will not be going ahead with regional pay groups.” She said that there was “never any intention to affect teachers and nurses” and she did not want people to be concerned.

Rural issues
In weekend interviews, Rishi Sunak, MP for the rural North Yorkshire constituency of Richmond, talked about the importance of domestic food production and the resilience it gives us: “I will drive forward the most significant reforms to farming in half a century,” he said.
At Sturminster Newton, he spoke about his concerns for food security and the need for a stronger, more farming-friendly vision. His neighbour in North Yorkshire is a dairy farmer, so he has “a significant understanding of the challenges farmers are facing.”
Liz Truss also spoke of the “food security crisis.” She wants to get rid of red tape and bureaucracy freeing British farmers to compete with farmers from other countries: “I want to see fields full of crops and livestock – not solar panels.”

Liz Truss – Image Fanny Charles

On housing
Housing is a hot topic in many rural constituencies, including Mr Sunak’s Richmond and Ms Truss’s Norfolk South West. Previously he has promised to restrict construction on the Green Belt, while her plans include building a million homes there.
Both want to see changes to enable local people to be able to afford to buy homes in rural areas where incomers and second-home buyers have pushed prices up.
It was important, Rishi Sunak said, to make sure that “rules and regulations don’t tip the balance in favour of second homes,” and he was working with some local MPs to close some of the regulatory loopholes. His solution to first-time buyers’ difficulties with deposits was to introduce 95 per cent mortgages for them.
Liz Truss wants planning policies that are supported by local people. “I want to get rid of top-down housing targets,” she said. And on the rural housing crisis, her policy is to encourage business and enterprise, with homes specifically linked to jobs, helping people to be able to get a foot on the housing ladder.

by Fanny Charles

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