Tory leadership race: Liz Truss gains ground in race to be next Prime Minister

The heat is on Tory leadership hopefuls today as they face another knockout vote after a brutal TV debate.

Conservative MPs will whittle the number of candidates down from five to four in the wake of the televised showdown that saw Rishi Sunak brand Liz Truss ‘Socialist’ for ignoring the need to balance the books, as she slated his tax hikes.

A snap poll by Opinium found that the former Chancellor emerged on top from the extraordinary blue-on-blue session on ITV, cementing his status as the front runner.

But Ms Truss seems to be gaining ground after a more assured performance, while Penny Mordaunt struggles to maintain her early momentum. Kemi Badenoch is also still giving a strong showing, with MPs due to decide within days which two candidates will go forward to a ballot of party members.

Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat is the favourite to be eliminated tonight, despite polling well among floating voters with his ‘clean start’ pitch.

It appears that was the last time the contenders will face off – because Mr Sunak and Ms Truss have signalled they probably will not take part in the scheduled Sky News debate tomorrow night. 

The 1,000 people surveyed by Opinium found that 24 per cent thought Mr Sunak came out on top in the debate, with Mr Tugendhat second on 19 per cent, Ms Mordaunt third on 17 per cent, narrowly ahead of Ms Truss on 15 per cent and Ms Badenoch’s 12 per cent.

Mr Sunak was also the choice of Tory voters, although the advantage was only 24 per cent to 21 per cent for Ms Mordaunt and 20 per cent for Ms Truss – a major improvement for the Foreign Secretary after her stuttering turn in the first debate.   

A snap poll by Opinium found that the former Chancellor emerged on top from the extraordinary blue-on-blue session on ITV, cementing his status as the front runner

Rishi Sunak

Liz Truss

Liz Truss (right) accused Rishi Sunak (left) of ‘business as usual’ economic management and ‘choking off growth’ by increasing the tax burden to the highest level in 70 years, insisting she had argued against the national insurance hike in Cabinet

Ms Mordaunt was installed as the surprise front runner, but her campaign appears to be struggling now

Ms Mordaunt was installed as the surprise front runner, but her campaign appears to be struggling now

Mr Sunak seen in Westminster this morning as the Tory leader race takes place in the scorching weather

Mr Sunak seen in Westminster this morning as the Tory leader race takes place in the scorching weather 

HOW THE TORY LEADERSHIP RACE WILL BE FOUGHT

Today – A third ballot of Tory MPs will be held which will see the candidate with the lowest number of votes eliminated.

Tomorrow – More ballots will be held for the rest of the week until the list of contenders is whittled down to a final two.

Tuesday night – Sky News hosts the third and final leadership debate. 

21st July – MPs will head away from Westminster for their summer break, meaning this is the deadline for a final pairing to be decided in the parliamentary stage of the leadership election.

Late July and August – CCHQ will assume responsibility for leadership election and will send out ballot papers to around 200,000 Conservative Party members. The Tory grassroots will be asked to decide between the final two candidates, with hustings events to be held across the UK.

5th September –  The result of the membership ballot is announced, with the candidate receiving more than 50 per cent of the vote being declared the new Tory leader and Boris Johnson’s replacement as Prime Minister.

6th September – The new Tory leader is likely to be formally appointed as PM during a visit to the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

7th September – The new PM is set to be quizzed in the House of Commons in their first ever Prime Minister’s Questions.

Mr Sunak attacked Ms Truss for promising ‘something for nothing’ tax cuts during the clashes, as well as asking ‘which she regrets most’ out of backing Remain in the referendum and previously being a Liberal Democrat.

Ms Truss accused Mr Sunak of ‘business as usual’ economic management and ‘choking off growth’ by increasing the tax burden to the highest level in 70 years, insisting she had argued against the national insurance hike in Cabinet.

She accused the former chancellor of encouraging a recession by raising taxes, adding that his approach was ‘preventing companies from investing and it’s taking money out of people’s pockets’.

But Mr Sunak retorted that the country had been through a once-in-a-century pandemic and there was a ‘cost to these things’. 

‘I’d love to stand here and say ”look, I’ll cut this tax, that tax and another tax and it will all be okay”. But you know what? It won’t,’ he said.

‘There’s a cost to these things and the cost of higher inflation, higher mortgage rates, eroded savings. And you know what? This something for nothing economics isn’t Conservative. It’s Socialism.’

He added that Ms Mordaunt was proposing to drop one of his fiscal rules against borrowing to fund day-to-day spending, saying ‘even Jeremy Corbyn didn’t suggest that we should go that far’. ‘If we are not for sound money what is the point of the Conservative party?’ he said.

When Mr Sunak goaded her over voting Remain and being a Lib Dem in the past, Ms Truss admitted she had been ‘on a political journey’ and had a dig at his privileged public school education. ‘The reason I am a Conservative is that I saw kids at my school being let down in Leeds – perhaps not getting the opportunities you had at your school, Rishi.’ 

All five contenders were asked by host Julie Etchingham to raise their hands if they wanted Boris Johnson to serve in their government. None did – although Ms Mordaunt did interject that Mr Johnson ‘got Brexit done’.

Trade minister Ms Mordaunt also slapped back at ‘smears’ about her views on trans rights, denying that she had tried to rewrite history about supporting self-identification with medical assessment. She said she ‘knows why this is being done’ but any attempt to paint her as ‘out of touch’ will ‘fail’.

In other notable clashes during the debate:

  • Mr Sunak insisted he had never had non-dom tax status but pointed out his billionaire heiress wife was from India, and said he was ‘incredibly proud’ that his father-in-law had ‘built’ a highly successful business from nothing;    
  • Ms Truss took a backhanded swipe at Mr Sunak’s style, saying she is ‘not the slickest presenter on this stage… I’ve shown I can deliver as Foreign Secretary’; 
  • All the hopefuls dismissed the idea of a snap general election when the new PM takes over, saying the focus should be on addressing the cost of living; 
  • The would-be PMs were asked to put up their hands if they backed Brexit at the referendum, with Ms Truss unable to say she did;  
  • Mr Tugendhat said all the other candidates were tainted by having served in Boris Johnson’s government. 
Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Kemi Badenoch, Tom Tugendhat and Penny Mordaunt (pictured left to right) clashed in the second televised Tory leader showdown last night

Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Kemi Badenoch, Tom Tugendhat and Penny Mordaunt (pictured left to right) clashed in the second televised Tory leader showdown last night 

Mr Sunak asked Ms Truss 'which she regrets most' out of backing Remain in the referendum and previously being a Liberal Democrat

Mr Sunak asked Ms Truss ‘which she regrets most’ out of backing Remain in the referendum and previously being a Liberal Democrat

A video posted on Twitter says Mr Sunak campaigned 'relentlessly' for Brexit - and displays a image of Ms Truss out banging the drum for Remain

A video posted on Twitter before the debate said Mr Sunak campaigned ‘relentlessly’ for Brexit – and displays a image of Ms Truss out banging the drum for Remain 

The contenders’ key quotes in a bitter Tory leader debate 

RISHI SUNAK 

On tax cuts: 

This something for nothing economics isn’t Conservative. It’s Socialism…

‘If we are not for sound money what is the point of the Conservative party?’ he said.

LIZ TRUSS

On the tax burden: 

‘It is cutting back on growth. It is preventing companies from investing and it’s taking money out of people’s pockets. That is no way to get the economy going during a recession.’ 

PENNY MORDAUNT

On cost-of-living crisis: 

‘I think people listening at home will be looking at us, debating these issues. And it seems that we’re removed from the real problems that they are facing, they need some immediate action now, I don’t understand why Rishi doesn’t accept that.’

TOM TUGENDHAT

On ministers being tainted by Boris Johnson: 

‘Whatever your responsibility was in that government, whatever your place in that government was, Keir Starmer in two years’ time is going to hold that record against us.’ 

KEMI BADENOCH

Slapping down Tugendhat: 

‘Serving in Government is not easy. It requires taking difficult decisions. Tom has never done that. It’s very easy for him to criticise what we’ve been doing, but we have been out there on the frontline making the case.’  

In brutal exchanges on tax, Ms Truss said Britain is predicted to experience a recession due to Mr Sunak’s policies.

‘Rishi, you have raised taxes to the highest level in 70 years. That is not going to drive economic growth,’ she said.

‘You raised national insurance, even though people like me opposed it in Cabinet at the time because we could have afforded to fund the NHS through general taxation.

‘The fact is that raising taxes at this moment will choke off economic growth; it will prevent us getting the revenue we need to pay off the debt.’

Ms Mordaunt also waded in to say she disagreed with Mr Sunak, adding: ‘I think the tax cuts I’ve outlined are not inflationary.

‘I think people listening at home will be looking at us, debating these issues. And it seems that we’re removed from the real problems that they are facing, they need some immediate action now, I don’t understand why Rishi doesn’t accept that.

‘But I also think there’s things we can do that don’t cost any money, making things work better for people. That’s why I’ve introduced the childcare policy that I have.

‘Making tax simpler so that it reduces the costs that businesses are having to pay just to be tax compliant. There’s many things we can do.’

Ms Badenoch said the candidates needed to be ‘honest’ with the public about the nation’s economic future.

She added: ‘I think what we’re seeing in the discussion that’s taking place is that there are no easy options. There are no solutions, only trade-offs. When I was working in the Treasury, it was always a choice between difficult option A, terrible option B or mad option C.

‘We need to be honest with the public about how difficult things are. The Government can’t solve everything and we need to do better at it in terms of the way that we fix things.’

Responding to Ms Mordaunt’s point, Mr Sunak said he ‘does take the situation seriously’.

He added: ‘I heard Penny on the TV this morning saying you were going to scrap one of my rules that the Government shouldn’t borrow for day-to-day spending.

‘Now look, it’s one thing to borrow for long-term investment, but it’s a whole other thing to put the day-to-day bills on the country’s credit card and we know how that ends. It’s not just wrong, it’s dangerous. And you know what, even Jeremy Corbyn didn’t suggest that we should go that far.’

Ms Truss tackled head-on concerns that she can come across as wooden. 

She said: ‘I’m somebody who says what I think, I’m honest, I was brought up in Yorkshire – I say what I mean and I mean what I say.

‘I’m somebody that, when I promise to deliver something, I do deliver it.’

In a swipe at Mr Sunak, she said that was ‘one of the reasons I was so concerned about us breaking our manifesto on national insurance, because we committed to the British public that we would do it’ – the Tories had promised in 2019 not to increase the tax.

She added: ‘I might not be the slickest presenter on this stage, but I think my colleagues understand in Parliament when I work with them that when I say I’ll do something, I do it.’

Ms Truss challenged Rishi Sunak on whether he still believed the UK should do more business with China despite human rights abuses in places like Hong Kong.

Mr Sunak told her at the ITV debate: ‘I actually support the view of the Integrated Review, the plan that you and I both sat around the Cabinet table and helped draft, which highlighted that China was an enormous threat to our national security, and that’s the lens in which we should view it.’

Mr Sunak said the Government was taking the ‘powers and the protections’ needed to safeguard the country from ‘hostile investment’.

He defended his wife Akshata’s previous non-domiciled tax status and her family’s wealth during the ITV debate.

He said he is ‘really proud’ of how his billionaire father-in-law NR Narayana Murthy, who launched IT services company Infosys, made his fortune.

Mr Sunak said: ‘So I’ve always been a completely normal UK taxpayer, my wife is from another country so she’s treated differently, but she explained that in the spring and she resolved that issue, but there is commentary about my wife’s family’s wealth.

‘So let me just address that head on, because I’m actually incredibly proud of what my parents-in-law built.

‘My father-in-law came from absolutely nothing, just had a dream and a couple of hundreds pounds that my mother-in-law’s savings provided him, and with that he went on to build one of the world’s largest, most respected, most successful companies that by the way employs thousands of people here in the United Kingdom.

‘It’s an incredibly Conservative story, actually it’s a story I’m really proud of and as prime minister I want to ensure that we can create more stories like theirs here at home.’

Ms Badenoch reiterated that she had been responsible for reversing the trans policy put in place by Ms Mordaunt as equalities minister.

‘I’m saying that when I took on the role of equalities minister, we had to change the existing Government policy which previous ministers had put in place,’ Ms Badenoch said.

‘What I’m challenging or what I challenged Penny on is what that policy was. She is saying she did not agree with it, but I don’t understand how that would be the case if she had been the previous minister. If she didn’t agree with it, why was the policy as it was?’

Ms Mordaunt replied: ‘I wasn’t the previous minister. The stuff in the papers today demonstrates what my policy was and refutes this. 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 Badenoch responded: ‘Penny I was just telling the truth. I’m telling the truth.’

Foreign Affairs committee chair Mr Tugendhat talked up his ‘clean start’ offer, saying those who served in Mr Johnson’s government ‘lent credibility to the chaos’.

He said: ‘Whatever your responsibility was in that government, whatever your place in that government was, Keir Starmer in two years’ time is going to hold that record against us.

‘We need to make sure we’re winning Conservative seats across the country, and even really good people lend credibility to the chaos candidate.’

But Ms Badenoch responded that she was ‘not ashamed of anything we did’ while she was a minister.

‘We have a lot to be proud of. We got Brexit done, and what the Prime Minister did on Ukraine and on vaccines was fantastic,’ she said.

‘Serving in Government is not easy. It requires taking difficult decisions. Tom has never done that. It’s very easy for him to criticise what we’ve been doing, but we have been out there on the frontline making the case.’

Mr Tugendhat pointed out he had been on the frontline in Afghanistan, Iraq and ‘in the argument against Putin and China.’

However, Ms Badenoch responded: ‘You haven’t taken any decisions, talking is easy.’

All the candidates backed the target to reach Net Zero by 2050 apart from Ms Badenoch – who said she would change elements that ‘make life difficult’ for ordinary people.

Ms Badenoch (left) and Mr Tugendhat (centre) clashed over his claim that ministers under Boris Johnson were tainted

Ms Badenoch (left) and Mr Tugendhat (centre) clashed over his claim that ministers under Boris Johnson were tainted

Mr Sunak proudly raised his hand when the candidates were asked whether they backed Brexit in 2016

Mr Sunak proudly raised his hand when the candidates were asked whether they backed Brexit in 2016

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