The Tory leadership debate – as it happened

16 July 2022

4:00 AM

16 July 2022

4:00 AM

On Friday night the Tory leadership candidates faced-off in the first televised debate of the contest, hosted on Channel 4. The five contenders – Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, Liz Truss, Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat – set out their stalls on trust in politics, tax cuts and the NHS ahead of the next round of voting on Monday.

A snap poll carried out by Opinion after the debate put Tom Tugendhat in first place, followed by Rishi Sunak, and then Penny Mordaunt and Kemi Badenoch. Liz Truss came in last.

Follow the debate as it happened below:

9.21pm – Sunak’s second place will calm nerves

Katy Balls writes… The snap poll from tonight’s debate puts Tom Tugendhat ahead with Rishi Sunak in second place. Already Tugendhat’s supporters are heralding it as a big victory. However, given Tugendhat was effectively going against much of government policy in the debate, Sunak’s high polling is as significant. It is likely to calm nerves after a tricky few days in which critics have said his campaign has stalled.

9.18pm – Snap poll verdict in

James Heale writes… The first snap debate poll of 1,000 voters is in and it shows that Tom Tugendhat, the great unknown, was the winner of tonight’s hustings. Some 36 per cent say he performed the best, followed by Rishi Sunak on 24 per cent. Sunak will take great joy in the fact that he performed four times better than Liz Truss, who came bottom on a lamentable 6 per cent. Penny Mordaunt and Kemi Badenoch tied together on 12 per cent. Some 1,159 adults were polled by Opinium.

9.07pm – Who came out best in the debate?

Kate Andrews writes… The Tory grassroots will be voting soon. But for now, it’s still all about MP support, many of whom will be judging tonight’s debate on political performance, and imagining each candidate up against the opposition. For pulling in the fewest number of MP votes in the last round, Tom Tugendhat stood out tonight with punchy remarks and a decent amount of audience applause, which might help boost his support. Kemi Badenoch didn’t have much speaking time but showed she can stand among cabinet ministers (former and current) and hold her own. Despite bookies ranking her the favourite currently, Penny Mordaunt felt slightly side-lined tonight, not helped by her decision to focus in on very specific policy detail (important stuff, but not the right format to do so).

The big showdown was Liz Truss vs Rishi Sunak on tax. In the most surprising twist of the night, Truss presented herself not simply as someone willing to borrow more, but very happy to borrow more. This ‘stop worrying, learn to love debt’ narrative stood in direct contrast to Sunak, who came back hard with his economic philosophy that ‘borrowing your way out of inflation is a fantasy.’In the end, it was a particularly good night for Tugendhat and Sunak: Tugendhat because he showed off his abilities as a media performer, and Sunak because, on almost every question, he dominated the debate. It was telling, especially on issues concerning the economy, that when a difficult question came from the host, it was almost always directed to Sunak. He jumped in on several occasions, especially to explain how energy bill subsidies would work, while the candidates and the audience looked on, happy for him to answer. That put him in a tough position, but also gave the impression he’s already in charge. But there’s still all to play for in Sunday’s debate.


8.52pm – Net zero may end up being Boris Johnson’s legacy

Kate Andrews writes… No candidate threw the net zero target under a bus tonight (Kemi Badenoch flirted slightly with doing so but didn’t outright reject it). As far as major policies go – especially related to economic policy – net zero may turn out to be one of the only bits of the Boris Johnson’s agenda that lasts.


8.51pm – Who will the losers back?

Katy Balls writes… Which candidates will win the backing of rivals when they drop out? Tonight’s debate has offered a few clues. Kemi Badenoch’s message on the economy of delivering hard truths has more in common with Rishi Sunak than Liz Truss. Meanwhile, Tom Tugendhat’s decision to go for Sunak on the national insurance rise – disclosing a private conversation in order to depict the former Chancellor as answering overly to Boris Johnson is rather curious. There has been a hope amongst Team Sunak that Tugendhat’s supporters could go to him if he drops out in the next round. Tugendhat’s criticism suggests that an endorsement for Sunak from the man himself is unlikely.

8.49pm – Liz Truss proposes a nature survey

Isabel Hardman writes… Liz Truss has an interesting proposition to conduct a ‘nature survey’ of Britain, partly as a function of turning away from the EU. Would that produce the results she’s after, though? It might, for instance, find that the current political obsession with tree planting is in fact damaging nature because the incentives are so loaded towards trees and against proper habitat surveys that planting is taking place on species-rich land such as meadows and peat bogs. It might also find that Britain is by no means in a position to teach other European countries about biodiversity. This country is one of the most nature-depleted in the world.



8.46pm – The scary truth about the NHS backlog

Kate Andrews writes… Reminder: this is the utterly frightening forecast for the NHS backlog:

The candidates are talking about ‘doing better,’ ‘prevention’ and ‘dentistry.’


8.44pm – The candidates ♥ the NHS

Isabel Hardman writes… We are onto the I ♥ the NHS section. As well as paying tribute to the health service, the candidates have ended up falling into the same quite dull pledges, presumably because they haven’t paid that much attention to what’s actually going on in the health service. Kemi Badenoch, for instance, has vaguely talked about ‘doing things better’ and efficiencies, while also saying the service needs more doctors and nurses. Could it be that the NHS might be more efficient if the workforce crisis was confronted? That would be much harder to do than ending up going on about middle managers, which is generally what politicians like to complain about when they don’t want to consider the real solutions to an NHS crisis.


8.40pm – No candidate can solve the cost-of-living crisis

Kate Andrews writes… A grim reality check: not even the candidates ready to borrow and spend are pretending tonight that government can relieve the full cost-of-living crunch, especially what’s coming this autumn in terms of higher energy bills. Most pledges were incremental, with Truss pledging to cut green levies — roughly a few hundred pounds, and Penny Mordaunt calling for a look at how ‘standing charges’ are calculated. Sunak had a leg-up on this question, having had the power of the Treasury behind him the past two and a half years. He pointed to the £1,200 that a third of British households — the most vulnerable — will be getting this year to help with rising costs.


8.34pm – Get the Tory leadership look

Steerpike writes… Away from trivial issues like cost-of-living, inflation and Ukraine, there’s much excited chatter about the choice of candidate outfits. Unfortunately against the true-blue backdrop of Channel 4, four out of the five look washed out in dark suits. The one exception is Kemi Badenoch in Lib Dem yellow: a striking contrast. Tom Tugendhat meanwhile has opted to wear his old regimental tie of the Special Boat Service. How on-brand – do you know he used to be in the military?


8.28pm – Will Tugendhat’s strategy backfire with MPs?

Katy Balls writes… Tom Tugendhat is the outsider in the debate this evening. He has never served in government – not even in a junior role. It follows that he is winning quite a lot of applause by distancing himself from government decisions, including the national insurance hike. While this is going down well with the audience, the reception among MPs is a different matter altogether. As Kemi Badenoch put it in response to his tax comments: he has been sitting ‘at the back of class telling everybody they got it wrong’ when he’s never been bound to collective responsibility or had to make tough calls. Given the current electorate is MPs – a large number of whom have served in government – it’s a reminder that it is easy to criticise when you are the one on the sidelines.

“I asked why on Earth this was going to be necessary, you told me, ‘Because the boss wanted it’.”

Tom Tugendhat claims the rise in National Insurance tax was supported by Rishi Sunak only because Boris Johnson wanted it.#C4LeaderDebate

— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) July 15, 2022


8.27pm – Does Truss want to renationalise the Bank of England?

Kate Andrews writes… The bust-up between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak over tax cuts came after Truss pledged to roll back the National Insurance levy, brought in to raise more money to tackle the Covid backlog, and then pay for social care costs. This quickly expanded to a broader conversation about the practicalities, and dangers, of borrowing, with Sunak pushing back on Truss’s pledge to ‘expand’ Covid debt payments as her solution to pay for tax cuts. ‘There’s no such thing as Covid debt. Debt is debt,’ he said, insisting that borrowing is not the answer. Truss pointed out that other countries, including the United States, weren’t going for tax hikes, to which Sunak countered that every country is different, presumably hinting that the US has a reserve currency, making borrowing a much easier proposition. If there was any doubt before, there is none now that Sunak and Truss are at the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to tax cuts — summed up perfectly by Badenoch who followed up by pointing out there are no easy decisions, only ‘trade-offs.’

It’s also worth noting that a big part of Liz Truss’s plan for tax cuts seems to involve changes to monetary policy – something which, currently, politicians don’t control. Hiking interest rates – which could allow a looser fiscal policy – is in the hands of the Bank of England. Raising a serious question: is Truss engaging in ‘fantasy’ economics as Sunak would call it? Or is Truss seriously contemplating renationalising the BoE?

8.24pm – Tugendhat slams Sunak for National Insurance rise 

Steerpike writes… In a discussion about tax cuts, Tom Tugendhat gets a rare round of applause from the audience for telling the other four that: ‘I’m the only one who didn’t vote for the National Insurance rise and now it seems everyone agrees with me.’ Sunak, perhaps unwisely, chooses to respond. Tugendhat tells the audience that the pair ‘had a long chat about the rise and you told me the boss supports it.’ It’s a brutal reminder of one of Sunak’s lowlights as Chancellor; how he backed Boris Johnson’s tax hike last September despite private doubts about it. Kemi Badenoch delivers a much better retort, pointing out to Tugendhat that if wants to be a minister he will have to accept collective ministerial responsibility and ‘can’t just sit at the back of the class.’

8.22pm – Health and social care pledges

Isabel Hardman writes… Two curious pledges on health and social care from the two lowest-scoring candidates in this contest: Kemi Badenoch has pledged to improve social care, while Tom Tugendhat wants to restore the four-hour waiting target in Accident and Emergency. It would be wonderful if the former were possible, but politicians have been promising this since the 1990s with almost zero progress. The latter hasn’t been met since 2015, and is in many ways a clunky way of focusing attention and resources on emergency care. Both, frankly, would require a huge amount of money.


8.18pm – Truss clashes with Sunak

Katy Balls writes… Ding dong. It’s Truss vs Sunak. The pair have clashed on their economic strategies. The Foreign Secretary’s plan is to treat Covid debt as wartime debt. Sunak intervened: ‘Liz, we have to be honest – borrowing your way out is not a plan, it’s a fairytale.’ His comments received light applause. An ally of Truss gets in touch: ‘That exchange between Rishi and Liz just highlights they’re the two heavyweights on the economy.’


Rishi Sunak: “We have to be honest. Borrowing your way out of inflation isn’t a plan – it’s a fairy tale.”

Conservative leadership candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss clash over how to deal with inflation.#C4LeaderDebate

— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) July 15, 2022

8.17pm – Sunak laughs at Tugendhat 

Isabel Hardman writes… When Tom Tugendhat started attacking the Health and Care levy, Sunak did lose it, and started laughing out loud at him.

8.15pm – Sunak is on home turf now

Isabel Hardman writes… Rishi Sunak is warming up now the debate is on his territory. He has accused Liz Truss of offering a ‘fairytale’ rather than a plan, saying: ‘Liz, we have to be honest – borrowing your way out is not a plan, it’s a fairytale.’ Then he turned on Penny Mordaunt, asking her how she was planning to fund her proposed tax cuts. As she answered, he was smiling so much that it looked as though he was about to burst into peals of laughter.


8.12pm – Could Kemi back Rishi?

Isabel Hardman writes… The overwhelming impression of the Conservative party from this debate so far is that its key members don’t really like or trust each other very much. But it’s interesting to see who they give the benefit of the doubt to. Kemi Badenoch made a point of saying she did accept the explanation that Rishi Sunak (who she worked with in the Treasury) gave for his Covid fine. It’s not hard to imagine her moving to support him if she gets knocked out.


8.09pm – Get Penny

Katy Balls… Penny pile-on? For a while now, there has been a ‘Get Rishi’ element to the campaign but tonight it is the bookies’ new favourite Penny Mordaunt who is under the greatest pressure. It was already out there that her leadership rivals were querying her claim that she led the way when it came to removing gender neutral language from the maternity leave bill. Tonight Badenoch went public with her grievances over Mordaunt’s apparent support of self-ID. Mordaunt responded that this was wrong and that records would show this. Only both Badenoch and Truss put forward a different version of events. The effect is to make Mordaunt look shady on her big television debut.


8.06pm – Rishi Sunak’s new ally

Kate Andrews writes… Has Rishi Sunak found an economic ally in this debate? So far in this race, tax cut policy has been framed as everyone vs Sunak: most candidates are calling for tax cuts now, while Sunak insists that inflation must be under control before substantial cuts can be delivered. But tonight Kemi Badenoch is mirroring some of Sunak’s points, primarily about telling the public the truth about the (dismal) state of the public finances and ruling out overpromising, telling tonight’s audience ‘no cakeism with me.’ Badenoch has been consistent with this narrative, kicking off her campaign on the theme of hard truths, but having them both on stage together really highlights the extent to which there is more agreement than has previously been suggested. That’s not to say they’ll agree on tax policy — Badenoch wants to slash tax faster — but it’s a noticeable overlap.And perhaps she’s a broader ally too. After being asked to explain his Covid fine, Badenoch confirmed that Sunak’s explanation was ‘good enough’ for her. Extremely helpful timing in the debate, putting the question to bed, for now.


8.01pm – Is Truss really taking the high road?

Isabel Hardman writes… Quite an amusing line from Liz Truss, who says that she’s not going to ‘criticise other candidates in this race’. That is true – but only in a precise sense, as her campaign has been highly critical of other candidates. Just look at Lord Frost’s attack on Penny Mordaunt and the official rebuttals of Mordaunt’s claims about the Maternity Bill. A fascinating part of political culture is the way its operators are able to be incredibly precise when trying to avoid admitting to unattractive behaviour but dreadfully vague when they are asked for details on spending pledges, for instance.


8pm – Kemi and Penny clash again

Steerpike writes… Another spat between Kemi and Penny, this time on transgender rights. Badenoch claims that when she entered government last year, self-identification was existing Whitehall policy. Mordaunt disputes this; Liz Truss refuses to intervene as the head of equalities policy within government. A sign of further clashes to come?


7.58pm – Mordaunt says she was never in favour of self-ID 

James Forsyth writes… Penny Mordaunt says that she has never been in favour of self-ID, and that she doesn’t favour de-medicalising the process. Kemi Badenoch says that she finds it difficult to believe that’s true.


7.54pm – Are Tory members ready for brutal honesty?

Isabel Hardman writes… This section on trust and moving away from Boris Johnson is particularly hard for the two candidates who remained in cabinet until the final days of his premiership. Do they trash the record of the government they chose to stay in, or do they try to defend the indefensible? Kemi Badenoch has just criticised the way the government operated, saying ‘loyalty was prized more’ and that there would be ‘no more cakeism’ of just telling people what they want to hear. That’s fine – up to a point – but the problem that most politicians find with being baldly honest about the true scale of challenges is that voters just turn to the other figures who aren’t being honest. We saw that in the 2017 election when Theresa May’s decision to be blunt with the electorate about social care didn’t work, and then of course in the rise to power of Johnson himself. Are Tory members or indeed the public ready for brutal honesty?


7.52pm – Trust is an uncomfortable topic for the candidates

Kate Andrews writes… For the candidates, the main topic in the leadership race so far has been tax cuts. But in tonight’s debate, the most frequent questions submitted by the audience, say Channel 4 News, are about trust. It’s not a comfortable topic for anyone, not least because regardless of what each candidate personally thinks about Boris Johnson, the hustings are going to be full of his fans, many of whom will be frustrated that they’re being asked to vote for a new leader. There’s a clear divide in the answers between those who have served in cabinet and those who have not. Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are claiming trustworthiness based on their different, high-profile experiences in government. Tom Tugendhat, Kemi Badenoch and Penny Mordaunt are drawing focus on not being so closely linked to the current government, meaning they can represent, and create, real change.


7.51pm – Kemi swipes at Penny?

Steerpike writes…. Ouch. We’re 15 minutes into the debate and already there’s been the first swipe of the evening. Asked by host Krishnan Guru-Murthy whether each candidate trusts the others, Kemi Badenoch praises Tom Tugendhat for helping her when she was on maternity leave and Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss with whom she worked. But when it comes to Penny Mordaunt, Badenoch replies that she doesn’t know her so can’t say if she would trust her – but adds she would give her ‘the benefit of the doubt.’ Mordaunt’s face said it all.

“Have you had the dogs out attacking Penny Mordaunt in the newspapers?”@krishgm asks Conservative Party leadership candidates Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt if they trust the candidates they are up against. #C4LeaderDebate

— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) July 15, 2022

7.47pm – Do they trust each other?

James Forsyth writes… Penny Mordaunt won’t say that she trusts the other candidates. Kemi Badenoch says that she’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

7.45pm – Can any of them be trusted?

Katy Balls writes… Can any candidate be trusted? This is the first question to the five contenders to be the next Tory prime minister. Liz Truss tried to point to a record of delivery as truth she does what she says, before pointing to her loyalty to Boris Johnson. Tom Tugendhat pointed to the fact he was critical of Johnson early on. But the most interesting answer so far comes from Rishi Sunak: he says he tried to be loyal to the Prime Minister but it got to a point when ‘enough was enough’ and he resigned. The former Chancellor – who resigned last week – said the reasons were twofold. One, the Chris Pincher scandal and No. 10’s handling of it. And two, plans for a joint economic speech which Sunak felt lacked honesty when it came to tough truths on the economy. Sunak’s comments of reaching a tipping point with Johnson are likely to further inflame Boris loyalists – but he has also succeeded in putting some clear blue water between himself and the Prime Minister.

A show of hands from what you’ve heard so far.

Do you trust politicians right now?#C4LeaderDebate

— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) July 15, 2022

7.43pm – Rishi’s breaking point

Kate Andrews writes… Rishi Sunak confirms that his resignation was primarily about the economy, and that the prospect of doing a joint speech on the economy with Boris Johnson was his breaking point, as it became clear there were ‘big disagreements on that.’ Sunak says: ‘I wanted to be honest with you and everyone else in the country about the challenges we face with the economy… with inflation… even if it wasn’t convenient for me.’ There’s been a lot of speculation about the timing and reasons behind Sunak’s resignation. Now it’s clearer than ever that he thought that Johnson’s promise of ‘cakeism’ economic policy — all the spending and all the tax cuts — needed to be dispelled.

7.38pm – Tugendhat’s response

James Forsyth writes… Tom Tugendhat is pitching himself as the person who was sceptical of Boris Johnson from the off, saying he doubted him even when Boris was Foreign Secretary.

7.36pm – The first audience question is: Why should the public trust any of you?

James Forsyth writes… Truss talks about trust in terms of her own record. She says that she didn’t tell Boris Johnson to go because she is a ‘loyal person’.


7.12pm – Crunch moment for Kemi Badenoch 

Katy Balls writes… Which candidate has the most to gain from tonight’s debate? It’s a crunch moment for Kemi Badenoch. Badenoch is under pressure to fold her campaign into Liz Truss’s in order to unite the right of the party behind one candidate. Her supporters say this is a non-starter and believe she will shine in this evening’s debate and prove that she is the best candidate to unite around. It means tonight’s debate is particularly high stakes for Badenoch and Truss.


7.05pm – Tonight’s debate is make or break for the insurgents

Katy Balls writes… The first television debate of the Tory leadership contest is fast approaching. It’s viewed by all of the leadership teams as a critical stage that could make or break any candidate. Those who have the most to gain from tonight’s 90 minute debate are the insurgents: Penny Mordaunt, Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tughendat. Given these candidates have had less exposure, it’s a chance to make an impression with the general public. It follows that a breakout performance could give one of these MPs a much-needed boost ahead of Monday’s ballot. As for the better known names – Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss – they will be looking to hold the line and show their experience means they are on top of the detail in a way their rivals are not.

7.00pm – Debate kicks off in half an hour

The debate tonight takes place between 7.30 and 9pm and will be hosted by Channel 4 presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy. Channel 4 say the debate will see the candidates grilled by an audience of ‘floating voters’. For many in the audience and at home it will be the first time they have come across several of the candidates. Two other television debates are scheduled at this stage: on Sunday and Tuesday night.

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