Tory leadership debate: Key moments from Truss v Sunak head-to-head

Yes, we had yet another instance of two Conservative politicians making their case to a country on Monday night, even when the majority of us won’t end up voting to elect them as the next leader of the Tory party and thus, our next prime minister.

This time it was the BBC’s turn to host, with Sophie Raworth asking the questions and political and economic editors Chris Mason and Faisal Islam watching from the sidelines - like two talent show judges who’ve walked into the wrong studio.

The discussion between the Tory leadership candidates hadn’t even started in Stoke-on-Trent and people were creeped out by the sight of Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak – though that was more because the camera zoomed in on them giving forced smiles for the camera rather than the crushing reality that one of them really will be taking on the biggest job in the United Kingdom.

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No, that kicked in one hour later.

So who actually won the BBC leadership debate?

Rishi Sunak

We wish we could think of something more original to say with these articles, but the former chancellor once again took aim at his rival’s tax cuts and plans to tackle the Covid bill on a more long-term basis.

“I don’t think it’s right, I don’t think it’s responsible, and it’s certainly not Conservative,” he said.

What a shame, though, that this is the main thing we can remember about Mr Sunak’s performance, as most of the time he was interrupting and talking over Ms Truss when she was giving her answers, or talking about his parents.

The term “Project Fear” previously associated with the remain campaign of 2016 made a reappearance, he claimed Ms Truss’ economic plan would “tip millions of people into poverty”, and in one of the most bizarre comments of the night, he gave his former boss a 10/10 rating.

“In delivering a solution to Brexit and winning an election, that’s a 10/10, right? You’ve got to give the guy credit for that, no one else could probably have done that,” he said.

Unfortunately for Mr Sunak, we’re giving him lower than that for constantly talking over his opponent.

If we wanted to see a man bad mouthing a woman, we’d have watched Love Island instead.

Score: 5/10.

Liz Truss

Unsurprisingly, the current foreign secretary made strong arguments around why her current job around trade and the crisis in Ukraine has seen her demonstrate she can “do what I say I will do”, tying that into a point that politicians “not following through on our promises” destroys trust in politics.

It comes as she once again hammered home the point that the increase in national insurance – enacted by the PM and Mr Sunak in his previous role as chancellor – broke a manifesto commitment made in 2019.

Elsewhere, Ms Truss probably raised a few eyebrows when she said – like Mr Sunak – that Brexit wasn’t responsible for the current crisis in Dover.

She also said doesn’t think mistakes made by Boris Johnson “were sufficient that the Conservative party should have rejected him”.

A reminder that these “mistakes” include partying during a national lockdown, promoting Chris Pincher to deputy chief whip despite being aware of allegations being levied against him, and U-turning on proposals to overhaul the parliamentary standards system just because one of his Tory colleagues faced a suspension from the Commons – to name but a very, very limited few.

At the end of the day, we’ll give her the same rating she gave Boris Johnson’s premiership…

Score: 7/10.


We really don’t think anyone could be seen as a winner after such a chaotic and catastrophic debate, but that’s a bit of a get-out even “greased piglet” Boris Johnson would be proud of.

They really spent time debating comments from culture secretary Nadine Dorries about Liz Truss’ earrings – something we’re sure the general public really cares about when it comes to the next prime minister in comparison to the shockingly brief discussion on climate change.

Labour had a field day with the programme, too, doing their take on the Conservative’s controversial decision to rebrand their press office Twitter account as a fact-checking service back in 2019.

But of the two candidates, Ms Truss came out on top on conduct alone, making her case to the audience of previous Tory voters while dealing with constant interruptions from her leadership rival.

Because of course, nothing tells Conservative Party members that you’re a break away from the last guy and the Trumpian politics he embodied like shouting down your female leadership rival on national television.

And they went in on those optics afterwards, when a spokesman for Liz Truss said: “Rishi Sunak has tonight proven he is not fit for office.

“His aggressive mansplaining and shouty private school behaviour is desperate, unbecoming and a gift to Labour.”

Many made a comparison between Mr Sunak’s behaviour and that of the former Potus when he appeared on TV alongside Hilary Clinton.

We promise we’re not making these verdicts to look good, but a snap poll by Opinium following the debate found Conservative voters thought Ms Truss performed best (47 per cent to 38 per cent) as well.

Though more generally, it was harder for survey respondents to declare an outright winner, as 39 per cent of 1,000 regular voters said Mr Sunak did best, and 38 per cent thought it was Ms Truss who stood out the most.

Another debate takes place on Tuesday night at 6pm, when it’s The Sun and Talk TV’s turn to host a discussion between the two leadership hopefuls.

Ultimately, we share the view of the Liberal Democrats, who responded to the debate with a statement containing just one word: “Eurgh.”

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