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August 15, 2022updated 07 Oct 2022 7:12am

Truss vs Sunak newspaper endorsements: Right-wing titles get behind Truss

By Elsie Clark

Liz Truss is pulling ahead of Rishi Sunak in the race for media endorsements with less than a month to go in the Conservative leadership election.

Both Truss and Sunak have made bold promises to reduce tax, tackle inflation, and improve the NHS.

Last month LBC’s James O’Brien criticised the influence of right-wing newspapers, saying: “Right-wing newspapers have given us three – soon to be four – Conservative Prime Ministers they insisted were incredible. They’ve not lasted ten minutes before being turned on by their own colleagues.”

He added that the media was a “machine of malevolence that keeps spewing up another leader, fated and championed by toxic right-wing newspapers and then stabbed in the back 18 months later by their own colleagues while the country teeters on a whole manner of disasters”.

Press Gazette has taken a look at the likely centre and right-wing media sources for the Conservative Party’s 175,000 members to see how they are seeking to influence the election, which concludes on 5 September.

Daily Mail: Pro-Truss

Since the leadership race began last month, the Daily Mail has been decidedly anti-Sunak. The publication was initially enthusiastic about Kemi Badenoch, hailing her as the “anti-woke” candidate. Badenoch was eliminated from the leadership race in the penultimate round of MP ballots.

Recent weeks have seen Truss feature positively and prominently on the Mail’s front pages, to an extent that has been criticised by other publications such as left-wing publication The London Economic and Private Eye.

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The Daily Mail’s support reached a climax on 2 August, when it formally endorsed Truss for the leadership saying she “has the boldness, imagination and strength of conviction to… build on what Boris began” – although it made clear it would prefer that Johnson himself remained in post.

The Times: Pro-Sunak

truss sunak newspapers support
Times front page on 4 August featuring Sajid Javid voicing his support for Liz Truss.

The Times endorsed Sunak in its leader column on 21 July, saying he was the “right and responsible choice”.

It said: “Only Mr Sunak has proven himself willing to confront the compromises and sacrifices this difficult moment demands. Tory members must recognise that the choice before them is between hard reality or consoling fiction. Voters will not forgive the party another fit of self-indulgence.”

However much of the choices made in The Times’ coverage since then may suggest some favour towards Truss remains.

On 4 August ex-health secretary and former cabinet-mate of both candidates Sajid Javid took the opportunity to attack Sunak and endorse Truss for leader in a column teased on the Times front page, describing her as “the best of Thatcher and Reagan”.

On 28 July, defence secretary Ben Wallace also took to the Times to declare his support for Truss, while recent opinion pieces on the Times’ website accuse Sunak of a “lack of political creativity”

Sunday Times: Sunak-leaning

The Sunday Times has yet to endorse a candidate. But it was more negative about Truss than Sunak in its latest leader column:

“The literal and metaphorical absence of Boris Johnson and Nadhim Zahawi, the chancellor, leaves the country rudderless and drifting. Last week the Bank of England warned of a probable 15-month recession and the worst squeeze on living standards in 60 years. Truss’s accusation that it was talking down the British economy suggested she shares Johnson’s distaste for grappling with awkward reality.

“So do her attacks on Sunak for raising national insurance. The former chancellor’s belated amendment to the hike, which increased the threshold at which it is paid, actually lowered the tax for threequarters of workers. It is true that the remaining quarter are paying more. But the picture on national insurance is mixed, with the worst-off doing better.

“Truss ignores this and, mystifyingly, Sunak fails to clarify the point”

The Telegraph: Pro-Truss

The Telegraph initially backed Penny Mordaunt until she fell out of the leadership race in the final MP ballot.

The paper then appeared to be lending its support to Sunak. Recent comment pieces include Sunday Telegraph editor Allister Heath’s “Truss Derangement Syndrome is lulling our failed elite into a fatal miscalculation” and ex-Thatcher cabinet minister Nigel Lawson saying “Rishi Sunak is the only candidate who understands Thatcherite economics”.

The latest Telegraph news headlines suggested a similar leaning: “The EU is wary of ex-Remainer Liz Truss but ready for Brexiteer Rishi Sunak”, “Liz Truss helicopter flights ‘make mockery’ of climate change pledges”, and “Ballot delay could help Rishi Sunak’s Tory leadership campaign, say allies”.

Sunak also published his own column in the Telegraph on 20 July, in which he declared he would be the heir to Thatcher.

But after a poll of readers suggested they backed Truss by a margin of 60/40, the Telegraph published a leader column on Saturday 6 August backing the Foreign Secretary to follow Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

The paper, which may well be the most influential amongst Conservative Party members, said: “Lower taxes are vital to make us more competitive but also to keep faith with those who voted in 2019 on the understanding, explicit or otherwise, that the Tories wouldn’t increase taxation even further. No supporter of free markets and competitive capitalism can possibly believe that there is no connection between tax rates and growth, or between the burdensomeness of regulation and economic success.”

Daily Express: Pro-Truss

On Wednesday 10 August the Daily Express endorsed Truss, saying its “resounding verdict” was that she was the “right choice” to lead the country in these “troubled times”.

The column announcing the endorsement said: “She shares this paper’s values of patriotism, self-reliance and compassion. She subscribes to our beliefs in British freedoms and British independence.”

The Brexit-supporting paper said that although Truss backed the Remain camp in the 2016 referendum, she had since said this was a mistake and fulfilled several post-Brexit “accomplishments in trade”.

It added: “She had been attacked for copying the style of Margaret Thatcher, but in truth what better role model could there be for a female premier than the Iron Lady?”

Previously Daily Express headlines reporting on the leadership contest were somewhat more favourable to Truss, with news items on Sunak including “‘I can’t change my mind on those’: Sunak tongue-tied when grilled about 1950s state pension”. Coverage of Truss, however, had been defined by pieces like “Truss vindicated as BoE announce major interest hike”.

The comment section, however, had critiqued both and after the final leadership debate on Sky News on Thursday 4 August an article was published which discussed “Truss’s trite answers and cheers for Rishi”.

Sunday Express: Pro-Truss

Sunday Express front page on 14 August endorsing Liz Truss for PM

The Sunday Express followed in the footsteps of its sister daily on 14 August, endorsing Truss.

As part of an interview with the candidate, the Sunday paper ran a message from Truss to its readers which said: “I didn’t get into politics to manage decline. I mean it when I say our country’s best days are ahead of us.

“Sunday Express readers were right to vote for the Conservative Party in 2019, they were right to reject the defeatist and divisive Labour party, and they are right to look to the future with hope. As Prime Minister I will always be on your side.”

The Sun: Neutral so far

For the moment the Sun has refrained from open endorsement of either candidate. Coverage has been quite balanced and mostly focused on how either candidate would do a much better job than Keir Starmer or anyone else from Labour.

Evening Standard: Pro-Truss

On Wednesday 10 August the Evening Standard splashed on an interview with Truss and simultaneously backed her to win the race, saying she had “made the stronger case to be the better Prime Minister for London”.

Evening Standard backs Liz Truss for Prime Minister on 10 August

Financial Times: Neutral so far

So far, the FT is yet to exhibit strong support for either candidate. 

The Spectator: Neutral so far

The political magazine has dispensed equal criticism and praise for Sunak and Truss, with no clear favourite as of now.

GB News: Pro-Truss

In an unusual step for a UK broadcaster where journalists and presenters have traditionally stayed impartial, GB News presenter Dan Wootton endorsed one of the candidates, Truss, live on air.

In a 19 July broadcast of his evening show, he declared that “in Liz we must now Truss”.

How influential are UK newspapers in elections?

Who becomes the next Prime Minister is not up to the public, but the 160,000 or so Conservative Party members. However, the media still has some role to play in shaping the opinions of the general public.

truss sunak newspapers support
It’s The Sun Wot Won It front page at the Breaking the News exhibition at the British Library. Picture: Press Gazette

A 2015 study found that The Sun’s “It’s The Sun Wot Won It” front page led to a “significant increase” in support for Labour among its readers in 1997 although this did not translate to the wider population. Its switch back to the Conservatives in 2010 had a similar effect and may have been more likely to affect the outcome of the election, the study said.

More recently, a 2017 Yougov survey found that 32% of the general public felt newspapers were “influential” towards their voting decision, compared to 26% for social media.

Picture: Press Gazette

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