AK: What’s your reaction to how the debate went last night? Would you say there was a winner as such?
GB: Overall, I think that it was fairly close. That has been reflected in the polling following the debate which put Rishi Sunak at 39% and Liz Truss at 38%. Therefore, I don’t think that either candidate can suggest that they came out on top.
Nevertheless, I think that Liz Truss’ camp will be more buoyant as there was no real ‘knockout blow’ from Rishi Sunak. With Truss already being ahead in the polls, there has been no indication of a narrowing of that gap as we go into the hustings period which starts later this week.
I believe that this was Truss’ best performance in one of the televised debates. She came across as confident and the calmer of the two candidates. With the circumstances in the polls of Conservative members, where she has a comfortable lead, I think that was always going to be the case.
Neither candidates had any major slip ups, but I don’t think that a clear ‘winner’ can be identified from last night’s debate.
AK: You’ve previously told us that you’re not keen on Liz Truss. Did anything happen last night to improve or to reinforce that opinion?
GB: I think that Liz Truss came across well and handled the offensive from Rishi Sunak adequately. I was impressed by that.
Nevertheless, I still am more sympathetic towards Rishi Sunak. I think that he is the better of the two candidates. In particular I agree with his economic vision that now is not the time for unfunded and inflationary tax cuts.
So I don’t think I’ve changed my tack too much. I still will be supporting Rishi Sunak, but, giving credit to her, I was impressed with Liz Truss’ calmness and confidence last night.
AK: Some of the newspaper frontpages this morning are describing it as getting personal with “Blue on Blue warfare”. Plymouth MP, Johnny Mercer, said yesterday that the contest has become “puerile”. How much is all of this infighting harming the Conservative Party?
GB: I think that it is important for the Party to keep this leadership debate civil. I don’t think that these personal attacks, from both sides, is necessarily a good thing for the Party. Of course, scrutiny is good and both candidates should be open and prepared for that, but both candidates and their teams should be considerate and bear in mind the damage that in-fighting causes the Party and its perception.
Some of the behaviour, such as from Nadine Dorries, who criticised Rishi Sunak’s clothing, I think is unnecessary and wrong. It was disappointing that Liz Truss did not denounce that behaviour when given the opportunity to do so during the debate last night.
We should be focusing on policies, not personalities, in electing this next leader of the country and of the Conservative Party. This is because there are so many more important issues to focus on in choosing this next Prime Minister. These petty criticisms and personal attacks, dubbed, as you mentioned, “Blue on Blue warfare”, is not going to benefit the Party, the British people, or the general perception of politics. Instead, the candidates, their supporters, and their critics too, should be focusing on the issues that matter the most to the British people, such as the economy and the rising cost of living. For the Party, the focus should be on being in a position to be able to win the next General Election, but this political in-fighting only plays into Labour’s hands.
AK: What should the Conservative Party members base their decision on?
GB: The members should choose someone who can restore trust in the Conservative Party and in politics more broadly.
The members will be closely considering the next General Election and picking someone who can restore trust, particularly in the “Red Wall” areas. Therefore, members must consider the electability of the candidate that they choose.
In the polling of Labour members, Rishi Sunak is the considerably more popular candidate. This is important, as if the Conservative Party stands any chance of winning the next General Election, they must choose someone that is able to appeal to Labour voters, as well as those in the “Red Wall”, like in Stoke-on-Trent where the debate was held last night, who voted Conservative for the first time in 2019.
Ultimately, members should choose a candidate who they think will deliver the best for this country and can give the Conservative Party the best chance of being re-elected in the next General Election. I believe that Rishi Sunak is that candidate. He is electable, has a sensible and measured economic plan, and is the best candidate to take this country forward.