U-turns are intrinsic to British politics. The pasty tax took two months. Theresa May’s “dementia tax” lasted four days. Now, Conservative leadership frontrunner Liz Truss can add her regional pay proposal to the illustrious list: the policy lasted all of 14 hours.

Why did Truss, who seems, or did seem, destined for Downing Street, commit such a blunder? Only last night, the Foreign Secretary proposed regional pay boards for public sector workers. The plan, she said, would save £9bn per year, as workers in lower cost areas could be paid less. Her proposals would have started in the civil service. 

Within hours, the war on Whitehall was lost. A white flag was waved. Her team announced “there will be no proposal taken forward on regional pay boards for civil servants or public sector workers.” But Truss did not admit that she had backtracked, claiming a “wilful misrepresentation” of the policy took place. In reality, it was the policy’s accurate representation that led to the U-turn.

The bungled announcement demonstrated that the Truss policy team is underpowered. And the candidate has a weakness for the kinds of ideas that come out of the more libertarian think tanks. Sometimes these policies can sound groovy if you’re ultra-free market and hanging out in that part of think tank land in Westminster. They’re a more difficult sell with the voters, and best avoided in the middle of a tricky leadership contest.

Backers of Rishi Sunak smell blood. His team stated “The lady is for turning“, while Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen called the policy a “ticking time bomb…that will explode ahead of the next general election.” #LessWithLiz was circulating online, and not because of tax cuts. 

Is the blunder enough to hand Sunak victory? No. But as LBC presenter Iain Dale pointed out: “The stupidity of announcing such a cackhanded policy in the first place will worry many of her supporters.

Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy campaign. The contest isn’t over.