Sunak asks Truss whether she regrets being a remainer or a Lib Dem

ITV

Ahead of the next round of voting on Monday, which will see one of them eliminated from the Tory leadership contest, the remaining five hopefuls standing to be the next leader of the Conservative Party (and, as a result, our next prime minister) clashed once again in what was their second televised debate on Sunday night.

Britain’s Next Prime Minister: The ITV Debate, helmed by legendary broadcaster Julie Etchingham, saw the candidates asked a range of questions covering subjects such as the climate crisis, the cost of living and restoring trust in the Tories in the wake of Boris Johnson’s turbulent tenure.

It came a few days after the five Tory MPs had their first hustings over Zoom with ConservativeHome – which went about as well as you’d expect, with tech issues and even a rogue typo thrown into the mix.

Later that evening came the first televised debate on Channel 4, hosted by Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

Though ITV looked to spice things up a little bit with their format, as in addition to facing questions from Ms Etchingham, the five candidates were told they would have the opportunity to ask one question to a rival.

Interesting.

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So who came out on top? Well, let us get you up to speed…

Rishi Sunak

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak had a field day whenever the conversation turned to economics, which he managed to do for most questions – including doing a fair job of fending off a challenge by Liz Truss on tax cuts by pointing out we just had an Actual Pandemic, and describing his growth plan using a fairly catchy tagline of “investment, innovation and education”.

He also went on to imply that the foreign secretary was putting forward a “something then nothing” approach in her economic proposals – something which he said “isn’t conservative, it’s socialism”.

Ouch.

Another zinger included a warning to other candidates about “fantasy economics” which are being used in attack lines by Labour, leading him to argue “if we’re not for sound money, what in the point in the Conservative Party?”

Well, we’re still trying to figure that one out ourselves, Rishi.

Though arguably his spiciest comment – which we’d rate a solid ‘Medium’ on the Nando’s scale – came in his targeted question to Liz Truss: “In the past, you’ve been both a Liberal Democrat and a remainer, I was just wondering which one you regretted most.”

Yes, he said that with a smile on his face, and the remark soon went viral online, so job well done?

Score: 7/10.


Liz Truss

In a similar way in which Mr Sunak did well on finance, the foreign secretary succeeded in reminding us all about her work in Ukraine and asked a particularly tricky question of the former chancellor about whether he thinks the government should be doing more business with China.

What a shame, then, that all of this was undermined by some absolute howlers elsewhere in the programme.

In response to a question from Mr Sunak, Ms Truss said: “The reason I am a Conservative is I saw kids at my school being let down in Leeds. I saw them not get the opportunities, not get the proper educational standards that you might have got at your school, Rishi.

“I saw them having wasted potential and I thought that was wrong.”

Except, as commentators pointed out online, Ms Truss was born in 1975, and we had successive Conservative governments all the way from 1979 (that was under her fave, Thatcher) to 1997 (when Tony Blair took over).

Oh, and there’s the part where, during a question around whether they would sit down with Russian president Vladimir Putin at a G20 summit, Ms Truss said she was “prepared to face down [Russian foreign minister] Sergey Lavrov” earlier this year.

Just one small problem: media reports at the time said she fell for a “trap” of saying the UK would never recognise Russia’s sovereignty over two regions which are already part of Russia.

The talks were also described by Mr Lavrov as being like “a conversation with a deaf person” – a hateful comment, which doesn’t exactly sound like he was intimidated by Ms Truss.

Disastrous.

Score: 1/10.


Kemi Badenoch

The equalities minister suffered a terrible self-own while trying to come after Tom Tugendhat’s lack of government experience, forgetting the Foreign Affairs Select Committee chair has a military background.

She said: “Serving in government is never easy, it requires taking difficult decisions. Tom has never done that.

“It’s very easy to criticise what we’ve been doing. We have been out there on the front line, making the case for why we have done the right thing.”

The use of “front line” was unfortunate, as Mr Tugendhat replied: “I’ve been on the front line in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and I’ve been on the front line of the argument against Putin and against China. I’ve changed government policy…”

Whoops.

Elsewhere, she pledged to tackle inflation if she was made prime minister (something Mr Sunak has been harping on about throughout the contest) and to “move on from Brexit” (which we feel is easier said than done).

Score: 3/10.


Tom Tugendhat

Unsurprisingly, the “clean start” candidate stood out once again when all of them were asked about trust, integrity, and moving on from Boris Johnson.

Otherwise, he steered well clear of all the other spats between his rivals, at one point remarking on a clash between Ms Truss and Mr Sunak: “I’m finding it very difficult to understand who’s disowning, and who’s defending, the record of the last few years that they’ve been in government.”

And while there was the excellent “front line” rebuttal to Ms Badenoch and a decent question asked of Ms Mordaunt, standing back from the actual debate didn’t seem to do him any favours, and he wasn’t even asked a question from another candidate during that blue-on-blue round of the programme.

Score: 5/10.


Penny Mordaunt

The trade minister appeared to spend a lot of time talking about the comments other candidates have made about her, only to give a closing statement where she said she wished the debate “had been a little less about us and a bit more about you”.

Hm.

It comes as the Portsmouth MP continues to face scrutiny over whether she once supported self-ID, the process by which transgender people can legally transition without a medical diagnosis.

She told her other candidates: “I think this whole thing is unedifying, and I would just say to all four of my other colleagues and candidates here: I know why this is being done, but what I would say to you is that all attempts to paint me as an out-of-touch individual will fail.

“I’m the only person on this stage that has won and fought a Labour seat. My constituents do not elect people who are out-of-touch.”

Ms Mordaunt also described her campaign video as “legendary”, which we think is a bit of an understatement considering it politicised police officers, featured convicted murderer Oscar Pistorius, appeared to include stock footage from a hospital in Madrid, and was undermined by Paralympian Johnnie Peacock asking for him to be removed from the video.

Then there was another refusal to go into detail about her tax plans, and so at the end of it all, we can only remember her talking about herself.

Bit predictable of a Tory, to be honest.

Score: 5/10.


Verdict

We can’t believe the former chancellor who received a fine from the Metropolitan Police over a Downing Street party in lockdown came out on top, but it seems like he really did this time around.

A snap poll immediately after the debate – again carried out by Opinium – said the same, with 24 per cent of those surveyed saying Mr Sunak performed best, with Ms Badenoch at the bottom with 12 per cent.

Commentators and campaign teams will obviously attempt to spin the debate in their favour over the next few hours, but we all know one person who definitely lost on Sunday night: Boris Johnson.

Taking a leaf out of Channel 4’s book when they asked an audience if they trusted politicians (and no one raised their hand), Ms Etchingham asked the five hopefuls to raise their hand if they would be happy to have Mr Johnson in their cabinet if they became prime minister.

None of them did.

Then perhaps the Conservative Party as a whole is losing out by this contest, as the third televised leadership debate – which was set to take place on Tuesday on Sky News – has been cancelled because Mr Sunak and Ms Truss don’t want to take part.

It’s understood there’s concerns the debates could be damaging the reputation of the party – not that it had a good reputation before this leadership contest began…

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