Tom Tugendhat shakes head when asked if Boris Johnson is honest
Channel 4

The five remaining candidates for Conservative Party leader – and therefore, our next prime minister – gathered at an east London venue on Friday night for the contest's first televised leadership debate.

Broadcast on Channel 4 and presented by journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy, it was the first time the Tory MPs shared their proposals in front of each other in person.

A hustings was held over Zoom earlier that day – run by the website ConservativeHome – which was marred with tech issues and the odd typo.

Fortunately, this debate ran a lot more smoothly and discussed plenty of issues within its 90-minute running time – from trust in politics and the legacy of Boris Johnson to tax cuts and action on the environment.

As the five candidates looked to win over the 30 floating voters in the audience and, indeed, those watching at home, just who exactly won the debate and came out on top?

Well, let us take a look…

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Kemi Badenoch

Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch answered her first question on trust by saying it’s important that “you show and not just tell”, claiming “we keep telling people what we want to hear because it’s the easiest thing to do”.

She also stated that “no one else” in the party “is saying what I want to say”, which probably suggests your ideas are a bit too out there for fellow Tory MPs to support, Kemi.

We also noted that rival Liz Truss – like Badenoch - called for the removal of the green energy levy, so we’re not quite sure that line holds up.

Her argument for scrapping the levy was that the “crisis we are dealing with now” comes first – not the best thing to say in the middle of An Actual Heatwave!

On creating a green economy, the Saffron Walden MP said it was “very easy to set targets for 2050” in reference to the government’s commitment to reach net zero in just under 30 years’ time.

There’s An Actual Heatwave, Kemi!

Score: 3/10.


Penny Mordaunt

The trade minister refused to answer a simple yes or no on whether Boris Johnson is honest as it would be “wrong to do that”, which of course, is a great answer to give when all the candidates are making the point about being straight with the British public.

She also spoke of a “new modern agenda” and that part of the whole ‘restoring trust’ thing the Conservatives have a bit of a problem with at the moment is to deliver the party’s 2019 manifesto pledges.

And to think she said she wasn’t a legacy candidate…

Ms Mordaunt also faced questions around her support for self-ID – a process by which transgender people can self-identify as their gender through a “statutory declaration” without requiring a medical diagnosis – where she doubled down on her views around what constitutes a woman.

She argued biological women are still women even if they have a mastectomy, and while a trans woman could have a gender recognition certificate (GRC) legally recognising their gender, they are “not identical” to her.

We’re a bit tired of a marginalised community’s human rights being up for ‘debate’ if we’re honest.

While Ms Mordaunt continued to be light on economic details – claiming the contest wasn’t the place for a “fiscal event” - she offered up strong answers on removing caveats on NHS funding, integrating the environment into the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and about passing on energy savings to customers.

Oh, and then there’s the ridiculous claim that out of the “top 180 innovations we’ve had” in this country, “none” are used by the NHS – the tweet version of which has since been deleted by Ms Mordaunt.

Shambles.

Score: 4/10.


Rishi Sunak

The former chancellor is currently the frontrunner amongst Conservative MPs, yet didn’t seem able to shake off the shadow of Boris Johnson’s bumpy tenure.

Then there’s the question of whether he actually wants to, as while Mr Sunak said he “disagreed” with the PM “in private”, he was “not going to walk away from everything this government has done”.

He also tried to offer up another explanation for his Partygate fine, saying he was already in the cabinet room because he was “working on Covid”.

We got the sense that went down like a bucket of cold sick – which is a fitting idiom to use, really, seeing as Sue Gray reported somebody was actually sick during one of those lockdown parties.

Moving swiftly on…

While other candidates boasted about their professional experience, Mr Sunak was the one to go off about his family life more than the others.

Honestly, Rishi? Waffling on unnecessarily about your mum being a pharmacist, your dad being a GP, and your daughters when you’re supposed to be talking about policy? Who do you think you are?

Actually, come to think of it, it really did sound like something off the BBC ancestry programme.

Moving on…

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mr Sunak stood out on the economy. He challenged Ms Mordaunt on her economic proposals, clearly stating that we needed to “get a grip on inflation” and slammed Liz Truss on her comments about “Covid debt”.

“Debt is debt,” he told the latter, adding that “borrowing your way out of inflation is a fairy tale”.

Fitting, really, when his performance was rather Grimm.

Score: 5/10.


Liz Truss

Foreign secretary Liz Thatcher – sorry, Liz Truss – was probably the most forgettable, repeating the word “deliver” multiple times that you’d think she was interested in a job with Royal Mail than as leader of the Conservative Party.

On serving in Mr Johnson’s government, Ms Truss claimed she “owed him my loyalty”, and in terms of a break away from his tenure, she said she isn’t a “clique-y person” and that she would do more to talk right across the party.

There were some contradictions on economic pledges, as commentators noted she said she would scrap the green levy but confirmed she was committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

Asked whether tax cuts will come at the expense of public services, Ms Truss replied with an answer which included a proposal to spread the “Covid debt” over a longer period.

As if the spread of Actual Covid wasn’t bad enough.

Add to this an outfit with striking parallels to Margaret Thatcher, repeated gesticulations which made her look like a robot (note that Theresa May was referred to as the ‘Maybot’ by Guardian sketch writer John Crace) and standard lines about “grave challenges” and getting to work “on day one”, and we get the sense Ms Truss looked and sounded like a broken Tory record.

Score: 1/10.


Tom Tugendhat

It was on trust where the Foreign Affairs Select Committee chair and military man Tom Tugendhat really shone through. With his whole campaign being about a “fresh start” – if that’s even possible after 12 years of Tory rule – he was the only candidate to answer a yes or no question about whether Boris Johnson is honest with an actual yes or a no.

“No,” he said, in a succinct answer which earned him a round of applause from the audience in the room.

He offered a sassy rebuttal to other candidates when he said he is “responsible to the British people who voted for me” but appeared to dodge a question on fixing the NHS backlog in an answer which boiled down to an acknowledgement that there was “much more we need to do”.

There’ll always be more work to do, Tom. The prime minister of the United Kingdom rarely has an empty in-tray, mate.

We’d also have to deduct some points for originality, as one Sun journalist reported Mr Tugendhat referenced the Harry Potter character Albus Dumbledore when he said: "It's easy to stand up to your enemies, it's sometimes harder to stand up to your friends."

And we thought it was Penny Mordaunt who had links to magic by being a former magician’s assistant…

Score: 7/10.


Verdict

Mr Tugendhat gave a particularly strong performance during the debate, steering clear as the other candidates self-destructed over arguments on tax cuts and trans rights, but offering up hard-hitting answers on trust and offering a “fresh start” – something many Tory MPs will no doubt be yearning for after the Johnson era.

And a snap opinion poll conducted by Opinium after the debate seemed to agree with us, as 36 per cent thought Mr Tugendhat performed best, with Ms Truss at the bottom with seven per cent.

While we may all disagree on who stood out best in the debate, and have our own preference for Boris Johnson’s replacement, it’s clear the biggest loss from the programme came from the fact not one audience member raised their hand to say they trusted politicians.

So of course, everything is absolutely fine.

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