Labour won the Tory leadership debate

18 July 2022

6:15 AM

18 July 2022

6:15 AM

That was quite a debate.I’ve never seen senior Tory ministers and MPs lay into each other so publicly.

Rishi Sunak accused Liz Truss and Penny Mordaunt of being socialists – not a compliment in the Tory lexicon – for being reckless with the public finances. Truss attacked Sunak for raising taxes to record levels. Kemi Badenoch called for unity while attacking more or less everyone for everything. Mordaunt seethed at what she saw as the cheap personal attacks she’s faced in recent days, especially over the trans debate. Tom Tugendhat attacked everyone else for being current or recent members of Boris Johnson’s government.

Given that every candidate said they wouldn’t have Johnson in their cabinet, maybe Tugendhat had a point.But, truthfully, he looked like what he is in terms of votes: the trailing candidate.He has performed eloquently at times in this contest. But tonight he looked deflated, and presumably he will be ejected in tomorrow’s heat.

Sunak kept up the look of the leader in the contest: the lion’s share of the candidates’ criticisms were directed at him, and he replied – or deflected – with some style.I would imagine he’ll consolidate his lead tomorrow.I simply can’t judge how the Brexiteer right of the Tory party will rate the relative performances of Mordaunt, Truss and Badenoch.

They all had good and bad moments – though the candidate most forensic in challenging Sunak was Badenoch.If I am right that Sunak is essentially guaranteed to be in the final two – the duo from whom Tory members choose our next PM – then the decision for the anyone-but-Rishi brigade is who’s best placed to stop him. I am going to break the habit of a lifetime by saying I am not sure who Tory MPs will ultimately say that is.

What I do know is this debate – and this contest – is a disaster for the Tory party. Labour will record and repeat every single attack made by these candidates on each other and on the actions of their government.

One of these five will win the contest and become the PM. But the Tory party looks set to lose.

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