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The next PM: my take from the TV debate

Greg Devine


The next PM my take from the TV debate

Shortly, either Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss will become Conservative party leader, and with that, our new Prime Minister. On July 17, ITV aired a debate hosted by Julie Etchingham, which featured the remaining candidates at that time. Etchingham asked many questions during the hour-long show, so I’ve only included the highlights. Here’s my take on what any of those candidates could bring, or could have brought, to the table.

What’s your idea to immediately help with the cost-of-living crisis?

Liz Truss would cancel the recent tax rises, especially in national insurance. She states you cannot grow the economy by raising tax levels. Tom Tugendhat claimed he had set out plans to cut tax. I liked how he mentioned that he’d previously voted against the rise in national insurance; this backed up his point and gave him an air of credibility that the others didn’t always portray. He also mentioned cuts to fuel duty, which we desperately need.

Penny Mordaunt reminded the audience that it’s not only families struggling but also small businesses; she would have looked at halving the VAT on fuel and also raising personal tax thresholds in line with inflation. Kemi Badenoch started her answer by stating how she remembered being on a low wage, ‘flipping burgers’, and seeing all her money go towards taxes. She proposed cutting fuel duty as an instant response but said the way to deal with the cost-of-living crisis is to fix inflation.

It was then the turn of Rishi Sunak. When he was chancellor, he introduced an increase in national insurance. He says he will deliver tax cuts if elected, but this will be done in a responsible way, whilst tackling inflation.

So, quite similar ideas—but what I found most interesting was the way each candidate delivered their answer. Rishi Sunak appeared the most natural public speaker, but he has had the most experience with this, especially on TV, where we watched him address the country during all those pandemic updates.

speech during press conference by the stage

speech during press conference by the stage

They then went on to debate each other’s answers. In truth, this was an incredibly boring section as each candidate just tried to ‘one up’ each other, like children in a playground. Penny Mordaunt played this very well; as Sunak and Truss argued about the former chancellor’s unwillingness to cut taxes, Mordaunt reminded them that the people at home wouldn’t be impressed by this when what they needed was an immediate response.

What did we learn from the opening question? Liz Truss really doesn’t like Rishi Sunak; Penny Mordaunt wanted to borrow money for day-to-day operations (something even Jeremy Corbyn was against); Kemi Badenoch doesn’t appear ready for the big job, though she could be a future PM; Tom Tugendhat seemingly came out of nowhere but actually appeared to be the only candidate I would choose to be our next PM.

Is a 5% increase in pay enough for public sector workers?

First of all, what a fantastic question from Etchingham. One big complaint that the vast majority of the country has is that public sector workers are simply undervalued and underpaid. None of the candidates said that 5% was enough, yet none of them said it was too little either. It was one of the rare occasions in which the entire panel agreed, at least to some extent, on a point. The general consensus was that pay increases can only happen when the economy allows for it. Sunak and Tugendhat both mentioned that it was the role of independent bodies to make recommendations about when it’s suitable to increase public sector wages.

During this section, Etchingham also asked the panel what they would do about the impending strikes on the horizon. Tom Tugendhat took this opportunity to make his point about trust. He knows the public don’t trust the government; his campaign was all about restoring that trust, which, he believes, would help ease the strikes—as trust makes negations easier for all parties. Badenoch said, ‘We need to work better with the unions, we need to show them respect’. Much like Tugendhat, she wanted to gain back the trust that’s been lost, so that negations can run more smoothly.

If he wished to serve, who here would be happy to have Boris Johnson in their cabinet?

Another brilliant question. Etchingham asked them to raise their hands if they would take the former PM in their cabinet. No hands were raised. No further points were made on that subject. Cut to adverts.

Rishi Sunak asks Liz Truss which she regrets more, being a ‘remainer’ or being a former Lib Dem

In another section, each candidate was given the opportunity to ask any of their opponents a question. Sunak chose to attack Truss, and her response was almost a good one. She spoke about how her background included attending a comprehensive school in Leeds. She said she became a conservative because she continually saw children being let down and ‘wasted potential’. I went to a comprehensive school in Rotherham, so I feel more than qualified to give an opinion on this. My school was actually really good, but did it have the same quality of education that a private school might have had, like the one Rishi Sunak went to? Probably not. Is this enough to turn you into a conservative though? Let’s not pretend that Liz Truss had poor parents or a lower standard of education. Her father was a maths professor at the University of Leeds, and she went to Oxford University. It was a good attempt from Truss, however, to appear ‘one of us’, even though she was stretching the truth yet again.

Would you call a general election should you win?

I’ll make this even quicker than they did in the debate. They all said no. Mordaunt and Tugendhat both mentioned the manifesto the conservatives won with and said it must be stuck to. Labour will have to wait two years for the chance to take over, whomever wins the leadership race.

So, who won the debate? I don’t think any one of them was a clear winner. They all seemed to be on the same page with most of their opinions, though there were subtle differences. Here are my thoughts on the last two in the leadership contest:

Rishi Sunak

He’s still the favourite to win, and watching the debate, it became clear why. In my opinion, he held the room really well and, apart from presenter Julie Etchingham, probably held the most natural respect and command. He addressed concerns about his wife’s wealth, too, which I think will only help his cause.

Liz Truss

Given her background, she should be my pick for PM, but she’s the only person I truly fear getting the role. She doesn’t come across as a natural leader—something that was very clear when she spoke. This is definitely not her strongest attribute. Her links with Boris Johnson may also prove worrisome, especially when her backers appear to be former supporters of Johnson.

Though the following candidates have now been knocked out of the leadership race, here are my thoughts on their TV performance.

Kemi Badenoch

She won the debate, in my opinion. Of all the candidates, my regard was raised the most, in a positive way, about Badenoch. She was passionate, to the extent where you could almost believe she cared. Her story is brilliant as well—she’s a mother of three, and whilst she was born in the UK, she spent a lot of her childhood in Nigeria and the United States. She touched on her move back to the UK and how the country is a shining beacon of light on the world stage, which is why so many people want to come here. Ultimately, though, I don’t think she is ready to become PM, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her become party leader at some point in her career.

Tom Tugendhat

He would be my pick for PM. He cleverly and effectively represented a clean slate for Britain—something we arguably need. Tugendhat served in the military, which I think shows the leadership skills others have argued he lacks. His answers all involved making changes for the benefit of the public, rather than businesses, and he didn’t shy away from the competition Kier Starmer and the Labour Party will bring at the next election. I think Tugendhat would be the best leader to break into Labour areas, too, thanks to his apparent care and concern for the public. I could probably tell he wouldn’t win the contest, but he was my choice.

Penny Mordaunt

I won’t lie—some things she said worried me. She didn’t seem too keen to accept the commitment to net zero in the same way Boris Johnson did (his only redeemable factor), which is especially concerning, given our commitment is supposedly legally binding. None of her answers were particularly memorable, which could have proved a good thing—an inoffensive PM could have seen the public forget Johnson’s misdemeanours of the last few years and secure the Conservatives another term at the helm. She comes across as a strong and confident leader; I could see her in the role of PM, which is probably the biggest compliment I can give her.

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