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The Conservative Party leadership contest hustings ended in London’s Wembley Arena on Wednesday, August 31.

Did it last too long? We think so only because we are having a cost of living crisis with more Project Fear pumped into our brains every day. Critics should remember that Parliament is in summer recess anyway. If things were normal with the economy, crime levels and the NHS, we wouldn’t have minded so much.

Remember, if this had been a Labour leadership contest, no one would have moaned. The media would have bent over backwards justifying it.

What I do mind, however, is that Parliament will be meeting only for a short time in September then adjourning so that the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems can scuttle off to their respective Party conferences. Surely, parliamentary business can continue in the Chamber during September. Not every MP needs to be at a conference every day. Most of them are held on weekends, and Parliament does not meet on Fridays, so there is no reason why the Commons cannot meet during September.

Back to the hustings.

London

I’ll start with the last one in London, which was excellent:

Nick Ferrari, the host of the morning show on LBC (radio), was the moderator.

The sound quality was good as was the music. It was highly professional and everyone looked as if they enjoyed being there.

The Conservative audience was diverse: all ethnic groups and all age groups. There were even a few hipsters present.

The first hour was not filmed. Author, national wit, Celebrity Gogglebox star and former Conservative MP Gyles Brandreth, 74, opened proceedings. I wish I could have seen him. Amazingly, he broke his elbow the day before in Fife, Scotland, but still showed up at Wembley Arena the next day.

In the video, Nick Ferrari comes on at 4:13 to introduce the format, which is consistent with the other Conservative Party hustings. 

At this point in the contest, Liz Truss was seen by pollsters and bookmakers to be way ahead of Rishi Sunak, so the introductory theme was one of unity, meaning: no hard feelings, folks, our next job is to defeat Keir Starmer’s Labour.

That is the message Iain Duncan Smith MP gave in his endorsement for Liz Truss (6:09), reminding the audience that:

she cut her political teeth in London.

Greenwich, to be precise.

Liz Truss’s campaign video followed (13:41), then she appeared on stage, coming out like a winner and invoking the England Lionesses’ ladies football win at the Euros, talking about an ‘aspiration nation’ and pronouncing London:

the greatest city on earth.

After Liz finished her speech, Michael Gove was next (26:08). He endorsed Rishi.

Gove also spoke about unity and had kind — penitential? — words for Boris, which met with a resounding wall of applause. He thanked Boris for ‘the biggest vaccine rollout in Europe’ and for being the first to support Ukraine at the end of February:

Boris, thank you for your service.

Rishi rushed on to the stage after his cringeworthy Underdog campaign video played (34:44).

The crowd went wild with cries of ‘Rishi, Rishi’ (36:00). His parents were in the audience and the cameras got several shots of them when their son was on stage. They sat between Rishi’s wife and Michael Gove.

He said:

We value who you are not what you are.

He paid Liz credit for being:

a proud and passionate Conservative.

In his speech, he mentioned tackling the decades-old problem of grooming gangs and said he would get to grips with public safety and illegal migration.

Then it was time for Liz to answer Nick Ferrari’s and the audience’s questions (51:33).

Afterwards came Rishi’s turn (1:25:00).

Andrew Stephenson, the co-chairman of the Conservative Party closed proceedings (1:58:26) and asked the two candidates back on stage for a final momentary appearance.

With that, the 12th and final hustings came to a close.

The Telegraph has a good recap. Emphases mine below.

Liz has had a good campaign:

… the past seven weeks have seen momentum firmly swing towards Liz Truss, and it would be a major political shock if Mr Sunak were be unveiled as the next prime minister on Monday.

Polling suggests the Foreign Secretary has a lead of around 30 points among Tory members, who have been drawn to her promises to immediately cut taxes and instigate radical economic reform.

By and large, she has also been better received at the hustings events that have taken place around the country, routinely winning applause for her positions on National Insurance, fracking and transgender issues.

Around 6,000 Conservative Party members attended the London hustings and heard Gyles Brandreth’s introduction:

Gyles Brandreth, the broadcaster and former Tory MP whose arm is in a sling, has just given a speech to the Wembley Arena crowd.

“How exciting it is that two people who are intelligent, committed, capable, passionate about their country are actually ready to give service,” he said.

“So whatever the result is it’s going to be a great result for the United Kingdom. And whatever the result is at the end of this election, we are going to come together and support whoever the victor is to the hilt! No question of that.”

He closed with a poem:

From quiet homes and first beginning
Out to the undiscovered ends,
There’s nothing worth the wear of winning
But laughter and the love of friends.

Peter Booth, the chairman of the National Convention, appeared next, giving the audience guidelines on asking their questions.

The video misses out a lone protester, angry about energy charges:

A protester has just run in front of the stage – a man in a dark suit holding a sign that said dontpay.uk, writes Tony Diver, our Whitehall Correspondent, from Wembley Arena.

He was escorted out immediately by two security guards as he ran in front of cameras.

Liz put a lot of blame for London’s woes on Mayor Sadiq Khan’s shoulders:

Liz Truss tells the hustings it is impossible for Britain to succeed with London but it has been “let down by Sadiq Khan”.

“Sadiq Khan is anti-everything – he’s anti-car, he’s anti-business, he’s anti-opportunity and he is holding London back. And I don’t believe those people who say London is a Labour city. No, it is not. London is a city where people opportunities and they want to get on in life.

“And that’s what we can deliver, and we can make London Conservative again.”

Sound familiar?

Nationally:

Ms Truss warns we all face dark times, vowing to reverse National Insurance and impose a moratorium on the green levy, while keeping corporation tax low.

These are her pledges:

I would be honoured to be your prime minister, first of all to deliver for the United Kingdom, to deliver an election victory for the Conservatives in 2024, and to make London a Conservative city again.

The applause for Rishi was greater than it was for Liz:

The cheers in the room are significantly louder and longer for Rishi than Liz. Audience members are on their feet and chanting his name, writes Tony Diver, our Whitehall Correspondent.

“Thank you! Thank you, Wembley!” Mr Sunak responds, after entering to The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights.

He pledged an ethical approach, if elected:

He promises to lead an administration “with integrity and decency at the heart of everything we do”.

Nick Ferrari tried to box Liz into a corner over domestic issues. She ably answered:

I’m the Foreign Secretary and my job is to focus on key foreign affairs issues.

She pledged that there would be no new taxes in her Government.

She also ruled out energy rationing.

She said that she would not refurbish the Downing Street flat:

Liz Truss responds that as a Yorkshirewoman, she believes in “value for money and not buying new things if you’ve got things that are perfectly good to use”.

“I don’t think I’m going to have time to think about the wallpaper or the flooring.”

The papers largely picked up on her possible moratorium for ‘smart motorways’, those without a hard shoulder for emergencies:

Asked if she will restore hard shoulders to motorways and change speed limits from mandatory to advisory, Ms Truss replies: “I absolutely think that we need to review them and stop them if they are not working as soon as possible.

“And all the evidence I have suggests they’re not working. We need to be prepared to look at that. I do believe that the smart motorways experiment hasn’t worked.”

Rishi defended his windfall tax, which the big companies can avoid if they prove they will invest more in the UK:

We’ve got it in place, but as I said in the situation that we’re in it was the right thing to do, and I’m glad I did it, to be honest.

He also said that his plan to tackle inflation was the correct one:

I can guarantee that it will fall far faster with my plan than it will with anyone else’s.

He, too, criticised Sadiq Khan:

Crime has become “intolerable” in London, adds Rishi Sunak, and “the first thing we need to do is hold to account Sadiq Khan for his failings”.

“If you are prepared as a Mayor to do the right things… For example, stop and search. It’s an effective policing tactic“.

Unlike Liz, who was relieved not to have to stand up for audience questions, Rishi stood up and worked the stage.

He brought up ethics again:

In a sentence, does he think Boris Johnson was hard done by? “When it comes to those ethical issues, we can’t be on the wrong side of them. We need to set a clear direction from the top, I would reappoint an ethics adviser because it sends a strong signal from the top.”

The Telegraph‘s article ends with:

Liz Truss seems like a dead cert to become prime minister on Tuesday, and elements of Rishi Sunak’s comments tonight shied away from the personal attacks that have characterised this bitter blue-on-blue campaign to lavish praise on his rival.

The cheers and chants at Wembley Arena tonight – far louder for Mr Sunak than the Foreign Secretary – told a different story from the grassroots polling, which suggests she has a lead of around 30 percentage points

Boris Johnson’s successor is likely to find themselves facing even greater challenges, and must also unite a party fractured by weeks of public division and disagreement.

Veteran political sketch writer Quentin Letts had this to say in The Times:

Surveying a throbbing crowd of 7,000 Tory activists, Sunak gasped “thank you!” nine times, the stage lights bouncing blindingly off his grinning ivories. He strode the large stage like an American presidential candidate and, for a man who must have seen predictions that he will be slaughtered when the result is announced on Monday, maintained an amazing level of pitch and thrust.

He even had an emotive card up his sleeve when he announced that his “two people who inspired me to go into public service are actually here tonight — my mum and dad”. Jolly proud they looked, too. Rishi thanked his “loving, kind wife — you know what you mean to me, you chose to give up your high heels and take a chance on the short kid with a backpack”. The crowd, audibly more pro-Sunak than some of the regional hustings, shouted: “Reeshi! Reeshi!”

Truss entered to strains of Taylor Swift’s Change but her tactics for the evening were more cautious, playing down the clock. She was less sprightly in the opening spiels but came to life more in the questions that followed. In her opening remarks she pushed her voice hard, making it sound more strident and bunged-up. A reply to a question on Israel flew off the bat and had a Sunak supporter clapping hard. She also dealt firmly with some fluff about what sort of limousine she wanted and how she might decorate the No 10 flat. Where her campaign has succeeded with Tory activists has been in its simplicity: the basic message, whacked time and again, of lower taxes and a smaller state.

And so the campaign ends. What a festival for SW1 wonks it has been, allowing for oodles of analysis and fake crossness. The rest of the country, enjoying (lucky devils) their August, has possibly taken less notice of the contest. Sunak, smoother, more fluent, more the establishment’s idea of a PM, started it as favourite. He ended last night by replaying that dreadful tough-Cockney video film about him being the underdog …

The Wembley crowd’s questions were about smart motorways and advisory speed limits , trans rights, gas prices for companies, corporate tax dodging, Ukraine, childcare costs, property prices and, commendably, the future of West End theatre.

Like Quentin Letts, I haven’t gone into too many policy proposals because whoever gets in will be hit hard with reality.

There is an illusion that Party members of any stripe are being let into an honest discussion about what they want to see in a new Government. I do not believe this is what actually happens:

As evidence, let’s cast our minds back to July 2019 and Boris Johnson’s campaign.

He was going to ask the Queen if she wanted a new yacht to replace Britannia, which is now moored as a museum:

He also said that Sadiq Khan needed to go. Khan was re-elected in 2021. The Conservatives, for whatever reason, gave no support to their candidate Shaun Bailey. I cannot fathom why not, since Boris was Khan’s predecessor. Shaun Bailey is a level-headed Conservative.

This is from the July 18, 2019 edition of The Express. Note the mention of housing and accompanying infrastructure, too. None of this happened, perhaps because of the pandemic. Even so, it shows how empty campaign promises are:

The Tory frontrunner savaged Mr Khan out of nowhere, branding him “useless” and “invertebrate” and “not a patch on the old guy.” The onslaught was woven into Mr Johnson’s wider solution to a question that had been posed on monocultural housing policies. A member of the audience asked the former London Mayor: “How will you ensure the Government’s housing policies don’t lend themselves into creating ethnic categories inadvertently?”

Without hesitation, Mr Johnson blasted: “You build fantastic housing in the right place.

“And you put in superb transport infrastructure so you can create mixed communities where there are high quality jobs.

“And if you look at the disasters of planning in the ‘60s and ‘70s where monocultural estates were built, it’s because there simply wasn’t the transport infrastructure.

“Look around London and look at the estates outside London – you can see exactly what went wrong.”

That said, in the end, Boris did deliver on these pledges:

Other hustings

I purposely didn’t cover half the hustings in separate posts, leaving off with the August 11 one in Cheltenham.

A summary of the others follows.

Perth

The next one took place in Perth, Scotland, on August 16. It was unfortunate that pro-independence supporters ruined it with verbally violent posters, throwing eggs and by spitting on older Scottish Conservative members. The SNP denied any involvement.

The Mail had a summary of what the candidates said:

Liz Truss tonight vowed to ‘never, ever let our family be split up’ as the Tory leadership frontrunner insisted she would not allow another Scottish independence referendum if she becomes prime minister.

Speaking at the latest Conservative hustings event in Perth, the Foreign Secretary promised to battle Nicola Sturgeon‘s ‘agenda of separatism’ as she condemned the First Minister and her SNP government for having ‘let down’ Scottish voters.

Ms Truss accused the SNP of ignoring issues such as schools, hospitals and public transport as they chase another Scottish independence referendum.

Her rival for the Tory leadership, Rishi Sunak, also used tonight’s hustings to take a swipe at Ms Sturgeon, as he vowed to ‘call out’ the Scottish Government’s record on drug and alcohol abuse.

He claimed it was ‘completely barmy’ for the SNP to be agitating for a ‘divisive and unecessary constitutional referendum’ amid the cost-of-living crisis. 

Ms Truss and Mr Sunak addressed Tory members inside Perth Concert Hall after reports of ugly scenes outside the hustings venue earlier in the evening.

Conservative Party co-chair Andrew Stephenson demanded Ms Sturgeon ‘unequivocally condemn’ the ‘vile behaviour’ of Scottish independence campaigners.

Belfast

The candidates converged on Belfast the next day, Wednesday, August 17:

I felt very sorry for the Northern Ireland Conservatives gathered there. The party only has 300 members, and they have no voice in Westminster.

A clear disconnect emerged between the candidates and the Party members. Everyone looked uncomfortable.

For that reason, this hustings is well worth watching.

It became apparent that neither Liz nor Rishi understands the Conservative Northern Ireland mindset. I’m no expert, but even I could have dealt with some of those issues better than they did.

The moment that sticks in my mind was when someone asked why Westminster is foisting abortion clinics on Northern Ireland. Liz matter-of-factly — and rather coldly — responded that the rest of the UK has them, so Northern Ireland has to have them, too.

Abortion is far from being the norm there, and, as Northern Ireland has a devolved government, it should have been their decision, not Parliament’s.

Madeline Grant summarised the disconnect in The Telegraph:

Some English Conservatives might be surprised to learn of the existence of their fellow party members across the Irish Sea, let alone that they had a vote in the leadership contest. Yet seatless and marooned from CCHQ – and perhaps because of this – Ulster Tories are the ultimate Tories. This wasn’t your average Home Counties cakewalk, there were questions on more intractable subjects than you’d get elsewhere – abortion, China, the perils of a cashless society. Some of the questioners began with a little intro about how long they’d been party members, reminiscent of Alcoholics Anonymous.

A flamboyant chap in a maroon vest had made a journey almost as ponderous as Truss’s own political leap from Lib Dem republican to Tory monarchist – he’d moved to South Antrim after heading up ‘Conservatives Abroad’ in South Korea. Making a similarly unexplained leap, he proceeded to compare the fight against abortion in Northern Ireland to Britain’s fight against the slave trade in the 19th century. Would Liz “be a modern day William Wilberforce, and end abortion and infanticide in Northern Ireland?” he asked. Truss politely declined to take up the mantle.

Unlike Madeline Grant, I did not find the Belfast hustings amusing in the slightest. It was the saddest one of the lot.

Verdict: Must do better.

Manchester

On Friday, August 19, our candidates were back on the mainland for the hustings in Manchester, which Alastair Stewart from GB News moderated (start at 6:30):

Alastair Stewart is a television veteran and knows what questions to ask:

He won high praise from Liz:

Rishi’s campaign team launched his second campaign film, The Underdog, at this hustings. It was so awful, I wanted to slip through the floor in embarrassment for him.

He told his family story and said that Conservative values were ‘patriotism, family, service, hard work’:

He turned defensive (again) when he told Stewart that he was winning the war on inflation and being responsible with borrowing:

He told an audience member, ‘We’re standing up to Russian aggression’:

Liz said that the police must fight crime, not patrol tweets:

She also said that left-wing politics dominates today’s socio-political debates:

Rishi, too, was tired of leftist dominance — and Manchester’s mayor, former Labour MP Andy Burnham. GB News reported:

Rishi Sunak has vowed to take on the “lefty woke culture that seems to want to cancel our history, our values and our women.”

… Speaking to the audience, Mr Sunak pledged to “restore trust by delivering on the things that matter to people”.

He continued: “That’s why I’ve set out a plan to finally start reforming the NHS so that we can talk less about how much money we can put into it and more in the healthcare that we want to get out of it.

“It’s why I want to take on this lefty woke culture that seems to want to cancel our history, our values and our women.

“And it’s why we need to restore trust of communities right here by calling out the failures of the Labour mayor Andy Burnham because it simply isn’t good enough.

“Just look at the record, a police force that was put into special measures, the highest rates of knife crimes almost across the UK.”

He also talked about illegal migration, details of which are available on his website:

“… I’ve set out a radical plan to finally get to grips with illegal migration.

“Because for too long we’ve turned on our TV screens and seen the scenes of people coming here on boats illegally and it is wrong.”

His comments come days after the number of migrants to have crossed the Channel so far this year passed 21,000.

Another GB News article about the hustings has more:

He said: “I want to move away from the European definition of what an asylum seeker is, because it is too broad and it gets exploited by lefty lawyers.

“When people shouldn’t be here we must be able to send them back, it’s as simple as that.

Was the next bit a dig at Liz, our Foreign Secretary and former Secretary of State for International Trade?

“We’ve got to toughen up our foreign policy. At the moment we have a situation, I found it bonkers, we will go to a country, we’ll talk to them about a trade deal we want to do with them, but also potentially be giving them actual foreign aid.

“But at the same time we don’t say to them ‘hang on, you need to take back your failed asylum seekers’, that’s clearly wrong.”

Liz also had something to say about illegal immigration:

Promoting the much maligned Rwanda policy, which saw its first planned flight grounded on the tarmac, Ms Truss vowed to expand the scheme to other countries if she was elected as Prime Minister.

She said: “What we need to find is a permanent home for those people.

“The way to solve this issue is to find a way of making sure there is a long term home for people who are involved in illegal immigration.

“The real issue is at present people are able to get on the phone to their lawyers when they get on a plane and evade being sent to Rwanda and that is the issue we have to fix, that is about the ECHR.”

The candidates are not miles apart.

Liz also discussed her vision for the North:

What I want to see is a successful north of England where everyone has opportunities and we link up the great cities of the north.

From Liverpool to Manchester to Leeds and beyond and also of course Bradford.

And that’s why I want to build Northern Powerhouse rail and I want those opportunities to be powered by enterprise and business unleashing investment right across the country.

I want us to make the M62 the superhighway to success.

Unfortunately for Rishi, his attempts at being a man of the people failed, as the Mail reported:

Asked at the hustings event how, as a Southampton football club fan, he could get back to ‘winning ways’ in the battle to become Boris Johnson‘s replacement, Mr Sunak attempted to make light of his woes.

But his effort at friendly banter with the Manchester audience saw him blunder in his football knowledge.

‘I’m going to be unpopular for saying it here – starting by beating United this weekend!,’ Mr Sunak told the event.

It was quickly noted how Southampton are not due to play Manchester United until 27th August and would, in fact, be playing Leicester City this weekend.

Mr Sunak’s own goal came just two days after he was mocked for claiming to always enjoy a McDonald’s breakfast wrap when out with his daughters – despite the item having not been on sale since March 2020.

Yet, the former chancellor’s campaign was handed a boost tonight when Michael Gove backed him to be the next Conservative leader.

Mr Gove, the former Levelling Up secretary who was sacked by Mr Johnson last month, accused Ms Truss of taking a ‘holiday from reality’ with her vow to tackle the cost-of-living crisis by prioritising tax cuts.

Birmingham

On August 23, Times Radio’s John Pienaar, formerly of the BBC, moderated the hustings in Birmingham, the UK’s second largest city:

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi went on stage to endorse Liz.

Liz then went on stage (5:36) and embraced him to big applause and cheers from the audience.

Andrew Mitchell followed her by announcing his support for Rishi (16:34). Rishi’s newer campaign film, The Underdog, was played.

Rishi then pledged to continue levelling up the Midlands, as he has been doing (21:47).

Of his speech, Pienaar said (33:01):

That was punchy!

Someone in the audience booed when Liz took to the stage for her Q&A (33:49).

Pienaar gave her a hard time in the beginning, but she got a huge round of applause from the audience. 

Recall that The Times came out for Rishi almost immediately in July.

However, Rishi also had his beefs with Pienaar. He looked irritated (yet again) and said (1:06:00):

John, you’re acting as if this is already over.

He went on to explain how well his furlough programme worked during the pandemic (1:18:00).

On the subject of Scottish independence, he said that nationalism (1:34:00):

is a romantic ideal.

Then he complained:

There’s not been a single question about tax!

He then expanded on corporation tax and the largest companies. He became really agitated in an oddly friendly way.

This tells us tax is his main consideration, nothing else, no matter what he says.

The man is a technocrat.

Guido Fawkes had an excellent round up of sound bites, starting with Liz (emphases his):

If you want a flavour of the current state of Tory hustings, last night in Birmingham Liz Truss came out with the following two statements within 60 seconds of each other: “I’m not a massive fan of mice”, and asked how she’d feel in the event of having to launch a nuclear weapons strike, “I think it’s an important duty of the PM and I’m ready to do that.” A casually blasé statement committing the UK to potential nuclear armageddon…

Also:

Suggesting she won’t replace the government ethics adviser, saying: “The PM needs to take responsibility – you cannot outsource ethics to an adviser”

Suggesting she would redirect this year’s £12 billion extra funding for the NHS into social care

Asked why she cut funds to the Environment agency as DEFRA secretary she said “I think there’s a way with the way utilities are regulated. We were one of the first countries to regulate and privatise utilities but the world has moved on since then… some of those regulators get mission creep, they don’t necessarily keep the market as properly as they should. I certainly think it’s the case that water companies need to be better are stopping leaks, I think they should be better at dealing with pollution and we need to sort that out.” Sounds a lot like Guido’s story last Friday that she believes in a single utilities regulator

As for Rishi:

Rishi’s answers last night were less alarming albeit equally newsworthy. Primarily, he refused to commit to voting for Liz’s proposed emergency budget should he lose, saying it is a hypothetical question. He reiterated his belief that her tax cut plans will result in “millions of people facing destitution.”

Rishi suggested UK aid programmes should be cut in countries that refuse to accept deportations of “failed asylum seekers” from Britain.

Rishi spoke movingly of yesterday’s horrific shooting of a nine-year-old in Liverpool, saying he reacted by calling his wife, and daughter who is the same age as the victim. Rishi says the government needs to finish the Tories’ 2019 policy of recruiting 20,000 policemen.

Let’s go to the Rishi-supporting Times for their journalists’ verdicts.

Daniel Finkelstein said:

Liz Truss is far better speaking without notes and, having delivered the same remarks over and over, she no longer needs them. Both her opening remarks and her answers to what will have been familiar questions were much better than in the early stages of the campaign. There were even flashes of the humour she shows in private …

But, however good Truss may now be, she still trails Sunak, who is just a better performer. Particularly in his answers, he was fluent, tough and compelling. His opening comments about the flaws in the Truss plan — suggesting it would leave many people destitute — were particularly arresting.

… Whoever wins, their policies have to appeal to those who are not Conservatives and need to actually work.

Winner: Rishi Sunak

Katy Balls said:

The state of the Tory leadership contest can be summed up in the video that welcomed Rishi Sunak to the stage. Last week, his team changed it from the montage played in the earlier hustings. It now has a Ray Winstone-style gangster voice boom that the former chancellor is the underdog — and the country loves an underdog. It points to Sunak’s dilemma: if the polls are correct, only something drastic can change the state of play.

Although he was well received in the hall, with some of the loudest cheers, it’s hard to pinpoint a “change moment” from the display. He again depicted himself as the only candidate willing to tell people hard truths about the economy. He tried again to invoke the spirit of Thatcher by pointing out that many of those who had worked with the late prime minister were backing his plan …

It helped Truss that she focused on her own plans. She came across as confident and assured. This also played well to a party growing tired of blue-on-blue. As the frontrunner, she needs only to hold the line — and she did that.

Winner: Liz Truss

Patrick Maguire said that both won but in different ways:

So how did Truss fare? As a rubber-chicken circuit speaker, just fine. They loved the answers on grammar schools, wokery and nukes. But as a prospective PM? On the biggest question — what to do about rampant inflation and crippling energy costs — Truss was revealingly unrevealing. Cagey, even. Asked how pensioners and the poor would be shielded from the coming storm, she said only that she would “look at” helping them. How to fund social care once Sunak’s £13 billion national insurance hike is scrapped? “General taxation.” Her cure for the mouse infestation in the Commons — “more cats” — was more detailed and offered with a good deal more enthusiasm.

Sunak attacked her economics with the kamikaze self-confidence that is likelier than not to lose him this race. It’s telling. He is as sure as Ted Heath was that he will, in time, be vindicated by his rival’s demise. Sunak is embracing the inevitable. Has Truss? She sounded as if she could not admit to herself — let alone the country — that compromise is coming.

Winner: on the clapometer, Truss. But Sunak won the argument.

Norwich

On Thursday, August 25, talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer moderated the TalkTV hustings in Norwich in East Anglia.

Hartley-Brewer had a great set of questions for the candidates. One wonders if some came from her and TalkTV’s listeners:

While she was preparing her questions, Guido says that some Conservative MPs were annoyed with Rishi:

Allies of Liz’s have slammed Rishi over his “scorched earth” policy, saying it risks destroying chances of bringing the party back together again when the contest is over. They accuse him of “behaving like a wounded stoat” and “framing us as Tory scum” over the course of the campaign. Given he said the likely next PM’s plans would lead to mass homelessness, they’re arguably correct…

Guido also included a photo of Rishi at his mother’s former pharmacy in Southampton. Stefan Rousseau is an incomparable photographer:

His mother was a chemist you know…

I just checked Rousseau’s Twitter feed, and here’s the exterior of the pharmacy:

The Telegraph had a running commentary on the candidates’ day and the hustings.

This was the day after Rishi’s criticism of coronavirus policy appeared in The Spectator:

Rishi Sunak’s interview with The Spectator magazine – in which he revealed that he was told not to talk about the “trade offs” of lockdown – has prompted a row with former Downing Street employees.

He had more difficulties when he went on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One:

On whether he will quit if he loses the leadership vote, Mr Sunak told BBC Radio 4’s World at One earlier today: “Absolutely not. Of course not.

“And I would dispute the characterisation. I’m working incredibly hard going around the country talking about my ideas for the future, and actually having a very positive reception where I’m going, and I think there’s everything left to play for.

“There’s still weeks to run in this campaign, and that’s why I’m continuing to give it everything I’ve got.”

Meanwhile, Liz visited a food manufacturing plant:

Liz Truss has been out and about in Norwich today, visiting Condimentum Ltd at the Food Enterprise Park in Norwich. 

Ms Truss told reporters at the factory near the Norfolk city that tax cuts and boosting energy supply were the key to addressing the cost-of-living crunch.

I think they make Colman’s Mustard there.

Now on to the hustings.

The co-chairman of the Conservative Party defended the length of the leadership campaign:

Andrew Stephenson, chairman of the Conservative Party, addresses the Norwich audience. He defends the leadership contest amid criticism that it has dragged on for too long. 

Health Secretary Steve Barclay came out in support of Rishi.

Rishi said that levelling up is for all corners of the UK:

Levelling up is not just about big cities and the north – it is for everyone, including right here in east Anglia, he says and receives a round of applause.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey declared her support for Liz:

She ends her introduction by saying: “Back Liz for leader, you can trust her to deliver.”

As Liz, the MP for South West Norfolk, was on home turf, she got a standing ovation:

Huge applause and a standing ovation for Liz Truss as she takes the stage, who is the MP for South West Norfolk so this is very much home turf for her. 

“We have travelled around the entire United Kingdon but there is nothing better than being back in my adopted county of Norfolk,” she says, and the audience break out into applause once again.

Rishi had to answer a question about lockdown:

Rishi Sunak defends his interview in the Spectator, saying one of the most “tragic” aspects of lockdown was the damage to children of school closures

He said it is always important to have an honest discussion about “trade-offs”, adding: “If something sounds too good to be true it probably is”.

Hartley-Brewer presented each candidate with the same series of quick-fire questions.

These were Rishi’s answers:

Can you name a single public service that works well? The furlough scheme.

Macron, friend or foe? Friend

Mask mandates or no mask mandates? No mask mandates

Is a trans woman a woman? No

Who would you rather be stuck in a lift with, Keir Starmer or Nicola Sturgeon? Take the stairs

If not you, who would be a better PM, Boris Johnson or Liz Truss? Liz Truss

Hartley-Brewer had to get tough with a heckler:

Rishi Sunak is heckled by an audience member and Julia Hartley-Brewer intervenes telling him to “Sit down, Sir!”

Meanwhile another audience member asks about housing supply. Rishi Sunak says we need to overcome our aversion to “flat pack” housing.

He says he wants to help young people get on the housing ladder much faster by “turbo-charging” a scheme that allows first time buyers to purchase a home with a small deposit.

I can’t believe he still peddles his daughters’ concern for the environment when he’s just had a full-size swimming pool installed at his home. Egregious:

Rishi Sunak tells the audience that the only thing his daughters ask him about is: “Daddy, what are you going to do for the environment?”

Then it was Liz’s turn.

Hartley-Brewer asked her about lockdown:

I did question lockdown, Liz Truss says. 

“Clearly in retrospect, we did do too much. It was too draconian. I don’t think we should have closed schools,” she said. “A lot of children have ended up suffering.”

She adds: “I can assure you that I would never impose a lockdown if I am selected as PM.”

These were Liz’s answers to the quick-fire questions:

Name me a single public service that works well: Our education system has got a hell of a lot better in the last ten years. 

Macron, friend or foe? The jury’s out. If I become PM I will judge him on deeds not words

Mask mandates or no mask mandates? No mask mandates

Is a trans woman a woman? No

Who would you rather be stuck in a lift with, Keir Starmer or Nicola Sturgeon? I think Nicola Sturgeon. I’d hope to persuade her to stop being a separatist by the time we got to the ground floor.

If not you, who would be a better PM, Boris Johnson or Liz Truss? Boris Johnson

Hartley-Brewer asked her about unisex changing rooms at Marks & Spencer:

“M&S is a shop, they can decide their policies as they see fit,” Ms Truss said. “I have been to the bra fitting service in M&S and it is behind a curtain. No one has ever tried to open the curtain while I am in there.”

Liz explained why she does not want asylum seekers to work:

The Foreign Secretary says we also have huge numbers of people who are “economically inactive” and it should be our “first port of call” to get those people into work.

The reason why we don’t allow asylum seekers to work is because the UK will become “even more of a magnate” for people to travel here illegally, she adds.

Good answer.

Liz reiterated her support for Net Zero.

Media outlets picked up on the candidates’ responses to the ‘stuck in a lift’ question:

https://image.vuukle.com/af49e1b0-abd8-4147-a73a-be8ab0fdccee-3e389bcd-aee7-410a-99bc-6316b427958c

Their divergent answers on Emmanuel Macron also made the news.

Liz got both barrels, from Labour and Conservatives alike. The BBC reported:

… she was asked if Mr Macron was a “friend or foe” of the UK at a Tory leadership hustings.

She added that if elected PM she would judge him on “deeds not words”.

But Labour’s David Lammy accused Ms Truss of “a woeful lack of judgement”, saying she had insulted one of “Britain’s closest allies”.

Ms Truss, widely seen as the clear front-runner to be the next Conservative leader and prime minister, made the remark at the penultimate leadership hustings in Norwich, to loud applause.

Her comment came at the end of the hustings during a series of “quickfire questions” posed by the host, TalkTV’s Julia Hartley-Brewer.

When asked the same question Mr Sunak said Mr Macron was a “friend”.

One Conservative minister said Ms Truss’s comments had “completely undermined our relationship with France”, calling her a “faux Thatcher”, a reference to the infamously Eurosceptic former Tory prime minister.

In a tweet, former foreign minister Alistair Burt said Ms Truss has made a “serious error” and should have struck a more diplomatic tone.

Former Conservative minister Gavin Barwell also questioned Ms Truss’s comment saying: “You would have thought the foreign secretary was aware we are in a military alliance with France.”

Guido reported Macron’s reaction:

Macron replies to Liz’s comments on the French President at last night’s husting:

“The United Kingdom is a friendly nation, regardless of its leaders, sometimes in spite of its leaders”

As for the ‘better Prime Minister’ question, Guido says:

When asked whether Rishi or Boris would be a better PM, Liz emphatically shot back “Boris”. Not unsurprising, though rather awkward given Rishi was asked the same question of Liz and graciously chose his opponent…

Conclusion

So, here we are, at long last.

At 12:30 p.m, on Monday, September 5, Sir Graham Brady of the 1922 Committee announced that Liz Truss will be our new Prime Minister. She will meet the Queen at Balmoral on Tuesday, at which point she will form a new Government. More on that later this week.

Liz Truss is our third Party leader in six years.

Conservative MPs must stop the regicide and support her premiership.

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While Foreign Secretary Liz Truss continues to dominate the polls in the Conservative Party leadership contest, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak needed a break.

He got two breaks: an interview on GB News and TalkTV’s hustings.

GB News

GB News announced last week that Truss would be the guest of a People’s Forum on Wednesday, August 10 at 5 p.m. She took questions from the public for an hour. I will have more on that in a separate post.

By contrast, GB News allowed Sunak a private interview with MPs Esther McVey, one of his supporters, and her husband Philip Davies.

The couple host a two-hour current affairs programme every Saturday morning.

The interview aired on Saturday, August 6, and was interspersed with other segments on their two-hour show. Judging from the room, it took place somewhere in the Palace of Westminster.

Philip Davies asked a couple of harder questions but his wife dominated the interview, making her candidate look good.

Rishi defended his Gordon Brown policy of raking in tax and giving it back to the taxpayer in insignificant token amounts:

Sunak said how difficult it was for him to resign as Chancellor. He painted it as a moral dilemma. Never mind that he, like Boris, also received a Fixed Penalty Notice for attending a Downing Street gathering. He just happened to be working in that room at the time, as he did often:

He said that he was against a Christmas 2021 lockdown — which didn’t happen, thanks to 101 rebel Conservative MPs — and said he made a special effort to make his opposition known. That said, he would not, like Truss, rule out a future lockdown:

He gave a weak answer on stopping the Channel migrant crossings, which are costing the taxpayer £5 million a day in hotel accommodation. By now, we must be running out of hotel rooms — no joke:

Sunak also said he was appalled by the grooming gangs and said that he would consider introducing a life sentence for child rape and repeated sexual assaults on children.

TalkTV

TalkTV’s Tom Newton Dunn presented a Conservative Party hustings in Darlington on Tuesday, August 9, broadcast as a special edition of his evening show:

As this was a Conservative Party event, the format was the same as in Eastbourne on August 5.

Andrew Stephenson MP, the new Party co-chair, gave the introduction.

Tom Newton Dunn introduced himself. It would have been helpful if he had added he leans towards the Liberal Democrats. Incidentally, he regularly loses in the ratings to GB News, although perhaps his Tuesday show bumped him up a notch or two.

Then Angela Sterling, a Conservative councillor from Durham, went up on stage to pledge her support for Sunak (9:56).

Sunak introduced himself to the audience and spoke for several minutes (16:20). From the moment he appeared, it was apparent he was on home turf. Darlington is just north of his constituency. He had many supporters from Teesside, sporting Ready for Rishi shirts and placards.

Fortunately, he didn’t make the same mistake he did on July 20 and say the city was in Scotland:

Afterwards, Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, explained why she was supporting Truss (30:00).

Then Truss introduced herself (35:00).

Sunak’s Q&A session began after that (48:32).

Newton Dunn gave him an easy ride. There was only one tough question from a woman who had paid all her National Insurance stamps but was still not getting a full pension. He asked her to email him and said that he would definitely look into the matter for her.

Some say that Sunak received a hard question from the man who asked about Boris, but the audience took care of that by booing him.

However, we can see from this clip that a negative question can irritate Sunak:

Sunak did mention grooming gangs to the audience and repeated what he told Esther McVey and Philip Davies. The audience applause indicated they were pleased, although Newton Dunn looked visibly uncomfortable.

Guido Fawkes has three more highlights, one involving a delicious regional dish, the parmo (emphases his):

    • Rishi was on home turf this evening in his newly-adopted home of Teesside – “It is so great to be home!”. Within his opening speech we got everything from the Darlington Treasury Campus to parmos, and – to be fair – he got a very warm reception.
    • He even cracked a decent gag: “My parents are staying with us at the moment, and I realised I’d been campaigning a lot when last night I was talking to them – and I started telling them that my dad was a GP and my mum ran the local chemist when I grew up”
    • Among Rishi’s backers in the audience was none other than co-conspirator favourite Tom Harding – Anna Soubry’s former chief of staff who slipped through Sky News‘ debate vetting and laid into LizHe came armed with a massive “Ready for Rishi” poster…

Then it was time for Truss’s Q&A (1:19:00).

Newton Dunn interrupted Truss from the beginning. She handled the situation well and kept her composure, making quips where she could.

He would not even allow her to take a question from one of her own supporters:

I wouldn’t want to make it easy for you.

How petty.

Guido has more. Once again, as it was in Eastbourne, Truss Derangement Syndrome was the order of the day (purple highlights mine):

    • Last night’s husting saw a rather feisty Liz Truss, not least with quite a few barbs at the media
    • There were at least three digs towards the fourth estate, including over their continued use of the phrase “handouts” in regards to her proposed tax reductions
    • She also had a minor bust-up with Tom Newton Dunn when he asked her who was responsible for Boris’s downfall. Multiple members of the audience shouted out “the media”, with Liz laughing along and asking “who am I to disagree with this wonderful audience?”
    • At the end of the session, as she hugged TND, she jokingly apologised for her barbs. TND was caught on mic bitterly saying “it’s cheap and you know it”
    • The press isn’t happy, even calling her jibes “Trumpian”, though every one of Liz’s comments were made in a lighthearted way.
    • Aside from her press scrap she also said she’d vote against continuing the Privilege’s Committee investigation into Boris given the hypothetical that MPs were allowed a say

Guido’s readers appreciated the video montage of Truss’s barbed but witty comments about the media:

Here’s Guido’s video:

His accompanying post says:

At points during last night’s husting it felt like Tom Newton Dunn was getting more of a pasting from Liz than Rishi. During the course of her sit-down interview she – quite rightly – attacked the press for framing her tax cuts as “handouts“; bringing down Boris; proposing a “bizarre” “kangaroo committee” of her, Rishi and the CBI; and for not believing in Britain. Tom was clearly smarting, telling the foreign secretary off when they hugged for her “cheap” attacks. Grow a pair…

I couldn’t agree more. Tom Newton Dunn, who, amazingly, was The Sun‘s Political Editor for many years, is one of the worst offenders.

Although Truss might not have had an easy time of it in Darlington, something positive happened afterwards.

Chris Skidmore was the first backbench MP to switch from Sunak to Truss. He wrote an exclusive editorial for The Telegraph, which the paper summarised:

Chris Skidmore has become the first Conservative MP to publicly switch his backing from Rishi Sunak to Liz Truss in the in the Tory leadership race.

Announcing his defection in an article for The Telegraph, Mr Skidmore said he had became “increasingly concerned” by the Sunak campaign’s “consistently changing position” on policy

He urged other Tory MPs to join him in switching support to the Foreign Secretary, saying: “It is never too late to make the right decision”.

The switch is especially noteworthy as Mr Skidmore, one of the most prominent Tory supporters of Net Zero, is seen as being on the party’s liberal wing, while many of Ms Truss’s most prominent backers are on the traditionalist Right.

A Truss campaign source claimed the “floodgates could open” now Mr Skidmore, the MP for Kingswood and a former universities minister, had flipped support, with other defections possible later this week.

Red Wall MP Aaron Bell followed suit, explaining his views in an exclusive for The Times. Excerpts follow:

It has been a tough campaign for everybody. There has been a lot of in-depth policy debate about the future of our party and country, much of which has been productive and insightful. And it’s important that there has been a contest, because it’s right that the candidates have been tested under pressure — we need to know that our next prime minister has what it takes to lead. But there has been a darker side to the campaign too. The blue-on-blue attacks have been bruising and have left me concerned for the good reputation of our party.

Because of this, I have come to the conclusion that, above all, what we need out of this leadership campaign is unity. The whole party — our members, councillors and activists, and MPs — will need to pull together after the division of the past few months. Without that unity we cannot deliver for our party or our country, and we certainly cannot defeat Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party

For years, Newcastle-under-Lyme had been taken for granted by the Labour Party and this came to a head in 2019 when, following our vote for Brexit and the ensuing holdup by the political establishment, my constituents turned to the Conservatives

They watched as big cities and other areas progressed and benefited from serious investment, private and public, while their own town was forgotten and got left behind. In 2019 I pledged, alongside my Conservative colleagues, to turn this around. Indeed, after getting Brexit done, it was to be our government’s guiding mission: restoring not only investment but also local pride in towns such as Newcastle …

We need, with increasing urgency, to deliver on our promises to level up. We have two years until the next election, and if we are to have any hope of beating Labour and continuing to be able to deliver for our country, this is an absolute must. That is why I am supporting Liz Truss to be our next prime minister.

Once Tom Tugendhat, my initial choice, was eliminated, I was leaning towards supporting Rishi Sunak. But, having observed the campaign, I now believe that Liz is the best person to unite the party, deliver on our promises to level up, and beat Keir Starmer in the red wall seats.

Well done!

I will feature Liz Truss’s GB News appearance tomorrow.

On Tuesday, July 26, the UK’s fledgling news channel TalkTV scheduled a Conservative Party leadership debate with The Sun for 6 p.m.:

Kate McCann was the moderator.

She was to have been joined by Guido Fawkes alumnus Harry Cole, The Sun‘s political editor, but he had coronavirus:

TalkTV asked for questions from viewers, as well as their audience, half of whom had voted Conservative in 2019.

It promised to be a debate quite unlike the ones on Channel 4 and the BBC:

With The Sun involved, one knew that the candidates would get hard-hitting questions rather than boring ones from the media establishment.

In the opening round, Kate McCann gave the candidates 60 seconds each to present themselves and their platform.

Rishi Sunak did well …

… even if he was still in Tony Blair mode and sounded like Labour’s Keir Starmer …

… but Liz Truss had to glance at her notes:

Then it was on to the questions.

It was gratifying to see that the audience members, both in person and remotely, asked them of the candidates directly.

The first one came from John Hughes in Birmingham, who spoke remotely. He is a cancer patient and said that, since the pandemic, he has had a very difficult time getting the care and the support he needs. He said that a cancer charity has been helping him but the NHS and Macmillan Cancer Support nurses have not been available:

Rishi said that it was good that John was getting the support he needed. John retorted that he was not getting the support he needed. Rishi corrected himself.

Rishi gave a long answer, which did not respond to the question.

The Times has the dialogue:

Sunak said that he had been criticised for raising national insurance contributions to tackle the NHS backlog and fund social care reform, but that it was a “brave decision” and the right thing to do.

Liz said that she would reform the NHS, reducing layers of management so that the focus could be on patient care rather than bureaucracy:

I want to see fewer layers of management in the National Health Service and less central direction because I simply don’t think that people can sit there in Whitehall and direct everything that happens in local communities across our country.

It seemed that John preferred her answer to Rishi’s. At least Liz offered a plan. Kate McCann asked John what he thought. He said that:

he remained unconvinced by their answers and stated that the Conservative Party had been given 12 years to fix the NHS.

The next question came from a member of the studio audience. A lady said that she was used to buying steak several times a week, however, the price has gone up so much that she can no longer afford to buy meat of any kind. She asked whether she should become vegetarian:

The Times reported:

The debate then moved on to the cost of living, with Gemma from Manchester, a Sun reader, telling the candidates about the rising cost of meat in supermarkets and asking if more people should go vegetarian to save money.

Rishi said:

he would ensure that prices came down by “making sure that the supermarkets and all the other people in the supply chain are being fair in how they price these things [and that] no one is taking advantage of the situation to pass on price rises.”

Surely, although I agree with the principle, if everyone in the supply chain is being fairly remunerated, prices will go up even further.

Liz told Gemma that becoming vegetarian was ‘a choice’ and one that the Government leaves to individuals.

I understood what Gemma meant by asking about vegetarianism, because with this year’s price rises, it does seem as if that is the end game.

Bloomberg’s Alex Wickham summed up this refreshing debate well:

For once, we had real people asking about real problems.

However, the candidates reverted to a subject with which they were more comfortable — tax cuts.

As the i paper‘s Hugo Gye pointed out, it seemed as if Rishi and Liz still couldn’t connect with the audience as well as a certain Prime Minister — Boris Johnson:

Harry Cole, watching from home, tweeted this at 6:27 p.m.:

The Times reported:

The candidates’ response quickly turned to the economy, with Truss saying that Sunak’s manifesto-breaking tax rises had been “morally wrong” as she accused the former chancellor of having policies which are “making us less competitive” as a country.

Sunak said that tackling inflation remained his priority but suggested that some businesses were also profiteering from the cost of living crisis. He said he would ensure that prices came down by “making sure that the supermarkets and all the other people in the supply chain are being fair in how they price these things [and that] no one is taking advantage of the situation to pass on price rises.”

Sunak also defended his plans to increase corporation tax. He said: “I think it’s entirely reasonable to ask the largest companies in this country, just the top 10 per cent of companies, to pay a bit more because they’re received a lot of help during the pandemic.”

Truss countered by telling Sunak: “You’ve made it worse”. “Companies have a choice about whether they invest in the UK or whether they invest elsewhere. Rishi’s policies are making us less competitive,” she said.

The Mail‘s Henry Deedes described other exchanges between the candidates and the optics. Rishi still looked vexed when Liz contradicted him. Liz almost fell into the same trap this time (emphases mine):

Rishi seemed to have eased a little on the caffeine since the night before.

He’d also rediscovered his manners and used his opening spiel to wish his opponent a happy birthday. Truss, 47 yesterday, shot him an icicle smile

The Foreign Secretary wore a purple dress the colour of a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk wrapper. Très snazzy. She went into a brief monologue about how her upbringing was more modest than Sunak’s. ‘I know what it looks like when economic times are hard,’ she said. Rishi bit down and resisted making a tart response. There was a bit of early tit-for-tat, but nothing that required Kate to pull them apart. The candidates had a brief struggle over who had the stronger family connections to the NHS. ‘My father was GP,’ said Rishi. ‘Well, my mother was nurse!’ countered Liz

Tempers frayed whenever Truss began to discuss her economic plans. Rishi’s blood pressure would visibly spike, his eyes flickering from side to side as if to say: ‘Leave the maths to me, luv.’ 

Once again their main beef was over taxes – Liz wants to cut them, Rishi thinks it’s unaffordable to do so. 

He accused Truss of funding her cuts by saddling future generations with more debt. ‘That’s not true, that’s not true!’ Liz retorted, shaking her head crossly. 

Kate McCann was doing an excellent job as moderator, keeping everything going at a rolling pace which made it interesting. I was settling into an unusual comfort zone, which I normally don’t do when watching debates.

Just after 6:30 p.m., Kate asked Liz a question.

While Liz was speaking, viewers at home could hear a soft rocking noise, possibly a perspex podium against the floor.

Seconds later, there was a crash of perspex on the floor.

Viewers saw this:

The Telegraph‘s Tim Stanley was also watching from home and describes what happened:

It was one of the strangest, most shocking moments in TV history. Liz Truss was in the middle of denouncing Russia with her characteristic tics – her hands gripping that invisible tea tray for dear life – when there was an almighty crash off-screen.

“Oh my God!” Liz covered her mouth. Then she stepped towards the camera.

Turns out that poor Kate McCann, the talented journalist and host, had fainted.

Rishi also went to Kate’s aid, but we didn’t see that.

We didn’t know what had happened.

The Mail reported:

A loud noise caused the clearly worried Foreign Secretary to hold her face in shock as she exclaimed: ‘Oh my God!’. Ms Truss was then seen leaving her podium and walking towards where Miss McCann had been standing.

The broadcast feed was swiftly cut, with viewers shown the message: ‘We’re sorry for the disruption to this programme. We’re working hard to fix the issue and will return to normal programming soon.’

Stanley wrote:

For 25 excruciating minutes, viewers speculated if a light had fallen, a bomb had gone off, or Boris Johnson had rushed the stage demanding to be heard – all the while that producers tried to carry on as normal by cutting to a promo for their other shows.

What were they thinking? That this was a great chance to promote their product? We’re lucky they didn’t try to flog us some diamante earrings …

debating tax policy is exactly how Liz would want to spend her birthdayand though the evening took an alarming turn, the gods did her a favour by having the camera focused on her when Kate passed out. Liz’s instinct to run towards the disaster did her credit, a reminder that whatever her job, she is first and foremost a mum.

And her mother was a nurse!

Just before 7 p.m., when the debate would have ended:

TalkTV put on two talking heads who calmly discussed what we’d been watching – vegetarian options, clown doctors – without substantial reference to the one bit we were all shouting at the telly about: “What the hell just happened?!”

It was surreal: the commercial equivalent of Soviet TV cutting from the coup against Gorbachev to 72 hours of Swan Lake. Thankfully, Twitter was still reporting the news: Kate was ok. By then it was 7pm and time for Piers Morgan’s landmark show on Ukraine – at which point what was probably TalkTV’s largest ever audience, all 250 of us, turned off.

Kate, you’re a star and your peers wish you the very best.

Henry Deedes said:

Doctor’s orders were that she was done for the evening. It must have been frustrating for Team Rishi, who are running out of time. The former chancellor has agreed to be interviewed by that fearsome rottweiler of an interviewer, Andrew Neil, on Channel 4 on Friday. For politicians, such encounters rarely end well.

The candidates spent the remaining half hour talking to the studio audience:

Kate received many supportive messages.

Harry Cole tweeted:

BBC Newsnight‘s Nicholas Watt complimented Kate on her moderation of the debate:

The candidates also sent their best wishes, saying they would like to return to finish the debate:

I hope the debate is rescheduled — and agree that it should pick up where it left off:

Harry Cole is an excellent journalist.

That night, The Sun reported that, after all these days of insisting his tax plan was the right thing to do, Rishi decided to do an about-face and cut VAT on energy bills.

But has he stolen Work and Pensions Minister Thérèse Coffey’s idea? Hmm:

Polling results must have been eating away at the former Chancellor.

The Telegraph also carried the story on its front page for Wednesday:

The Mail alleges that this was Boris’s plan but Rishi wouldn’t allow it:

Rishi Sunak makes a desperate bid to claw back lost ground in the Tory leadership race today by promising a £4billion VAT cut on energy bills just hours after he and his rival Liz Truss led tributes to TalkTV presenter Kate McCann after she fainted live on air.

The former chancellor has repeatedly refused to match rival Liz Truss on cutting taxes, labelling her plans a ‘fairytale’ and insisted such cuts must wait until inflation is curbed.

But today he pledges to scrap the 5 per cent VAT rate levied on domestic energy bills for a year.

Last night No10 insiders told the Daily Mail that this plan was something Boris Johnson tried to implement to ease the burden on consumers – but was blocked by Mr Sunak.

‘Boris begged him to do it – but he wouldn’t budge’, said the source. ‘It’s astonishing that he’s now claiming it as his own policy.’

A source close to Liz Truss’s campaign told The Telegraph: ‘It’s good that Rishi has finally woken up and decided to offer something to people struggling with the rising cost of living.

‘However, this feels like a screeching U-turn from someone who has spent the last few weeks of the leadership campaign branding everyone else’s tax cuts immoral and fairytales.’

The article states that this was also Labour’s policy:

Mr Sunak’s energy bill tax move, which would save an average household £160, has been Labour Party policy for nearly a year, and Mr Sunak voted against the proposal in the Commons in January.

He told the Commons in February that the policy would ‘disproportionately benefit wealthier households’.

He added: ‘This would become a permanent £2.5billion Government subsidy… when we are trying to rebuild the public finances.’

This month he argued that tax cuts are ‘immoral because there is nothing noble or good about racking up bills on the country’s credit card that we then pass on to our children and grandchildren’.

One can understand his point, but when the Work and Pensions Minister and the Prime Minister both want it, it’s the right thing to do.

I read only this week that VAT is an EU tax. Therefore, we can scrap it.

No one ever mentions that VAT is an EU tax. Why not?

The Mail says:

Until yesterday [Wednesday] Mr Sunak had refused to consider tax cuts before autumn 2023, the earliest point when a 1p cut in the basic rate of income tax could come in.

Autumn 2023 would be way too late, especially if our next general election is held in May 2024.

The Telegraph reported that Rishi’s team denied a U-turn:

The Sunak camp denied there had been a U-turn, adding that the tax cut was “a tool that was always in our arsenal”.

“We didn’t use it back in spring because the size of the jump of the bills was way bigger, and it wouldn’t have touched the sides,” a source said. “This is a response to latest estimates that suggest the rise might be £100-200 more than anticipated.”

For me, this volte face comes too late in the contest, because Rishi was adamant in three debates that he would not cut taxes.

As such, in Truss we trust.

———————————————————–

UPDATEGuido Fawkes posted TalkTV’s ratings for Tuesday night. The debate’s ‘off air’ message beat Piers Morgan’s show by far:

Morgan tweeted McCann, who has since recovered:

On Wednesday, July 27, the i paper reported ructions at TalkTV about the interruption of the debate, with staff asking why it didn’t continue with another presenter:

Rupert Murdoch’s TalkTV is holding an inquest into why there was no “plan B” to keep its Prime Ministerial debate on air after presenter Kate McCann fainted.

Presenters at TalkTV and its sister radio station were said to be ready and able to jump in and replace the stricken presenter during the abandoned live broadcast, i has been told.

As panic spread, executives asked Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss to remain at their podiums at the Ealing studio, normally used for Piers Morgan’s nightly programme, while they considered their options.

However it was decided that stunned viewers would continue to be shown a recorded message saying normal programming would resume, rather than restart with a new presenter.

Trouble began behind the scenes when planned co-presenter Harry Cole was forced to pull out on the morning of the debate after contracting Covid.

An insider said: Tom Newton Dunn (presenter of TalkTV’s 7pm news show) would have stepped up to co-present but the bosses wanted Kate to front it solo as a showcase for her.”

McCann, Talk’s political editor, was said to be “nervous” at fronting the high-profile event but had shown no sign of ill health, even during the broadcast’s first half hour.

The source said: “It was very sudden. She crashed forward into the podium. That was the loud bang viewers heard.”

Truss, speaking on camera at the moment, said “oh my god” and rushed over towards McCann. At that point, with the clock showing 6.31pm, the channel cut from the debate.

“Rishi also rushed over. He knelt on the floot and held Kate’s hand, he was very comforting,” the insider said.

Faced with a crisis playing out live on TV and social media, some in the building believed that the show must go on.

“There were plenty of experienced on-screen talent already there who felt they could have taken over. They could have winged it.”

“All the News UK bigwigs were there. There was a panicked pow-wow. Some said ‘who can we get to fill in?’ but they decided against it.”

Instead the candidates were asked to stay in the studio and take questions informally from The Sun readers in the audience.

The insider added: “Today there is an inquest into why there wasn’t a Plan B to keep the debate on air. It’s a given for any serious broadcast channel”

The incident gave a brief boost to TalkTV’s struggling ratings. The channel has recorded zero viewers at low points in its schedules and Piers Morgan’s flagship show has even been beaten by rival GB News on occasions.

The screen message telling viewers TalkTV was off air was watched by one of the channel’s highest ever audiences.

Some 141,000 people tuned in, numbers comparable to Morgan’s opening week on Talk in April before his figures tumbled.

The debate peaked with 183,000 viewers tuning in shortly after its 6pm start. However Talk’s numbers dropped across the night with Morgan’s programme dropping to 14,000 viewers at its conclusion.

Despite the lure of the debate, Sky News, BBC News and GB News all recorded a greater audience than TalkTV across the whole of primetime, according to Barb data.

Insiders said this would disappoint NewsUK’s bosses who had hoped to relaunch TalkTV off the back of the debate, which was shared with sister title, The Sun

The podium “crash” even gave TalkTV what it has been seeking since it launched three months ago – highly-shareable viral content that creates a buzz on social media.

On this occasion though, that content, seized upon by media rivals including the BBC, was unintended.

On Monday, July 25, 2022, Conservative Party leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak headed to Stoke-on-Trent, comprised of three Red Wall constituencies, for a BBC debate:

Burning issues: earrings and China

The day began with controversies over handling China and how much each candidate had spent on their respective wardrobes.

Boris loyalist Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport tweeted about the latter. The photo is from last week on the final day of Conservative MPs voting:

The normally charming Angela Richardson MP tweeted a rather sharp reply to Dorries, requesting that she be quiet.

On China, things were more complex, as Guido Fawkes reported:

Neither candidate has the edge here.

Guido wrote (red emphases his):

It’s unsurprising, given his tacit endorsement from the Chinese propaganda arm Global Times, that Rishi has decided to go in hard on the country’s security threat this morning. Declaring the Chinese Communist Party “the largest threat to Britain and the world’s security and prosperity this century”, Sunak attacks Liz for “[rolling] out the red carpet” and turning “a blind eye to China’s nefarious activity and ambitions”. He calls for a new NATO alliance to be set up to counter it the threat, and pledges to close all 30 Confucius centres, which teach Mandarin in the UK and are thought to be used as fronts by the Chinese intelligence services.

In response Team Truss returned fire last night, using Iain Duncan Smith to call the policy “surprising” and asking where Sinophobe Sunak has been for the last two years. Her team points to the above Sunak’s endorsement by Global Times, and says he has been consistently soft on China.

Sunak’s Confucius closure policy is directly levelled against Truss’s supposed record at DfE, where during her two-year stint nine of the 31 centres were established:

His team pointed out that nine of the 31 Confucius centres in Britain were established when Ms Truss was an education minister between 2012 and 2014.

Hmm.

Who is behind Rishi’s race to No. 10?

Before I get to the debate, I have been thinking more about Rishi than Liz. Who is pulling Rishi’s strings? I don’t think Liz has an unseen agenda, but Rishi could well do.

On Thursday, July 21, The Express gave us background on Rishi, some of which not all of us knew (emphases in purple mine):

recently made headlines after he became . He and his fashion designer wife Akshata Murty’s fortune stands at an eye-watering £730m. The recently resigned Chancellor owns four properties with his 42-year-old wife, including in Santa Monica, California, but now hopes to add another to his collection, in the shape of No 10.

Before landing a job with Goldman Sachs and making his millions, Mr Sunak studied at one of the most expensive private schools in the country before heading to the University of Oxford.

The 42-year-old was born in Southampton to GP mother Yashvir and pharmacist father Usha Sunak.

Mr Sunak — the eldest of three — first attended Oakmount Preparatory School in Southampton, Hants, before attending Stroud School, King Edward IV Preparatory, where the school fees grow alongside the student: the older they get, the higher the tuition.

It is thought Mr Sunak joined Stroud School in Year 4 after Oakmount closed suddenly in 1989.

In Lord Michael Ashcroft’s biography, Going For Broke: The Rise of Rishi Sunak, it is claimed that the former Chancellor was well-liked, being both head boy and captain of the Stroud cricket team

After leaving in 1992, Mr Sunak joined the 600-year-old Winchester College as a boarder, where the yearly school fees today amount to £45,936 per year, and £33,990 for day pupils …

Winchester College, founded in 1382 by William of Wykeham, has numerous notable alumni — known as “Old Wykehamists” — including several archbishops and Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter.

Why does Rishi want to be PM when he could be leading a charmed life?

His wife has non-dom status. Do they intend to move to India? It would be a return to that nation for her, as her father founded Infosys.

There’s a story here.

In any event, so far, Rishi has more than 20,000 Conservative Party supporters, apparently.

He also agreed to allow Andrew ‘Brillo’ Neil, a notorious tough interviewer, to question him on Channel 4 this Friday evening:

In 2019, when Neil was still on the BBC, he was frustrated that Boris did not go on his television show to be grilled for the leadership contest that year.

Guido says that Liz Truss might follow Boris’s example:

Rishi Sunak has agreed to do a sit-down Andrew Neil interview this Friday on his Channel 4 show at 19.30. Liz Truss’s team are yet to say whether she’ll also agree. Given she’s the Boris continuity candidate, there’s a past precedent she may not…

Boris petition gets 10,000+ signatures

Speaking of Boris, the petition from Conservative Party members to add him to the ballot surpassed 10,000 signatures on Monday:

Guido said:

On Wednesday, Guido reported that 3,500 Conservative Party members had signed a petition calling for Boris to be allowed to compete in the leadership contest. Since then, that number has tripled, with 10,000 fully paid-up Tories now adding their names to the list, and presumably ruining the CCHQ inbox. As Rishi and Liz take to the campaign trail, this demographic may well prove difficult to ignore. It’s already over 20% of Boris’s stonking majority from the last leadership election…

BBC debate

The BBC chose to hold Monday night’s debate in Stoke-on-Trent — the Potteries.

Stoke-on-Trent has three constituencies, all of which are Red Wall. I wrote about their first-ever Conservative MPs earlier this year: Jo Gideon, Jonathan Gullis and Jack Brereton.

It was commendable of the BBC to get an audience of local residents who voted Conservative in 2019.

Sophie Raworth was the moderator. Off to one side were BBC experts Economics Editor Faisal Islam and Political Editor Chris Mason, who also asked questions of the candidates.

During the debate, one of the voters said that she was concerned about the ongoing issue of trust in the Government overriding the all-too-real need for strong policies.

The Express has the video. The woman spoke briefly and eloquently:

It just seems very very easy, and as we’ve heard a lot, to blame Boris over trust issues, as though everything is going to be fine now.

But it seems to me there is a more fundamental issue around a culture in Westminster.

It seems very much more focused on the short term, you know, the catnip of a media soundbite.

Rather, it should be focussing on, okay, ‘What are the difficult things that need a long-term solution’.

She actually said, ‘the short-term catnip of a media soundbite’.

She should copyright that. It sounds just like something Boris would say.

Liz had gravitas. I would rather have a reserved presentation from her than Rishi’s Tony Blair impersonation, which was unsettling to watch — and hear.

Rishi also should have worn a tie. Maybe he wanted to look in touch with the audience. Even so, these debates are interviews for the next Prime Minister. One should look the part.

Overall, Rishi interrupted Liz too much. Guido counted a total of 14 times.

Often, Rishi looked as if he were mansplaining:

He was irritated. We saw this during his parliamentary campaign.

Rishi’s facial expressions and voice inflection show that he does not like being contradicted:

That’s not the best look and it will not go over well if he tries that with Andrew Neil on Friday. Neil will zero in on it.

Sophie Raworth only interrupted Rishi’s interruptions of Liz once. That is likely because Liz is the ‘continuity candidate’, meaning she is loyal to Boris. By now, we should all know that the BBC, along with others, wanted desperately to get rid of Boris because of Brexit.

Ergo, Raworth was not there to do Truss any favours.

Rishi was adamant that his tax rises were the right thing. Liz said they were Project Fear:

Here’s the video:

Nadine Dorries’s tweet about attire came up:

Liz said that she would not give Rishi any fashion advice:

She did, however, advise him to be ‘bolder’ in carrying out Government policies. She did not specify any, but one that comes to mind is the amount we are still paying the EU for our exit. He should have nipped that in the bud in January 2020.

Rishi grilled Liz over her conversion to Brexit. She had been an active Remain campaigner before the 2016 referendum.

However, Guido points out that Rishi has not always been consistent. Corporation tax comes to mind:

Guido says:

Rishi’s going in hard on Liz over her change of mind on Brexit – it turns out it’s quite easy for them to hit back at him with even more recent examples of political conversions…

The debate ended with a quick-fire round of questions:

The candidates agreed on nearly everything. The only difference was when Sophie Raworth asked them to rate Boris on a scale of 1 to 10.

Liz Truss gave the former Party leader a 7.

Rishi hemmed and hawed a bit, then gave Boris a 10 for handling Brexit and the 2019 election well.

The Express has the exchange:

Mr Sunak said: “You know what, my views are clear: when he was great, he was great; but it got to a point where we needed to move forward.”

BBC host Sophie Raworth asked: “What does that mean? Five out of ten?”

Mr Sunak replied: “Well, actually, in delivering a solution to Brexit and winning an election, that’s a 10 out of 10.

“You have got to give the guy credit for that. No one else could have probably done that.”

The crowd then erupted into a loud round of applause.

So, Liz did well on the topic of Boris …

… but did Rishi do better?

The hint might be that Conservatives prefer Liz.

Afterwards, Opinium took a snap poll. Liz won the Conservative vote hands down:

Guido offered this analysis:

Overall Rishi bests Liz by 1% among all voters. Rishi needed a slam dunk victory, this is the opposite of what he’d have wanted polling to show…

YouGov also polled Conservative Party members who watched the debate. Guido has the detail.

YouGov’s summary results show that Liz is streets ahead of Rishi:

The UK’s newest channel, TalkTV, hosted a debate sponsored by The Sun on Tuesday night:

Too bad that GB News couldn’t have pipped them to the post. Then again, TalkTV and The Sun are Murdoch outlets.

More about that debate in a separate post.

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