Conservative leadership race enters second week after lacklustre TV debates

No way back for Boris Johnson as potential successors rule out role for tainted leader

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss during the televised ITV debate on Sunday night.
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Conservatives enter a second week of voting on leadership contenders on Monday after televised debates between them left little to choose.

An hour-long clash between the three women and two men on Sunday night saw agreement that restoring lost trust was the big challenge for the next government.

But jibes of "just not true" were exchanged across the set as they made their statements.

All conceded they would not give a job to departing prime minister Boris Johnson but there was little desire to dwell on the reasons his resignation was forced.

The contenders also said they would not seek to send the country into an early election.

The key moment on Sunday was when each was allowed to pick a rival to put them on the spot with a question.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss asked the former chancellor Rishi Sunak about his economic credentials after two-and-a-half years in charge of the nation's finances, which ended with his resignation this month.

Junior minister Kemi Badenoch also turned on Mr Sunak, asking why the country had "lost £17 billion on Covid fraud".

Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt asked why Mr Sunak did not spend more on defence.

Tory leadership candidate Kemi Badenoch speaks during the televised debate on Sunday. ITV via Getty

Mr Sunak asked Ms Truss how she could reconcile an early role as a Liberal Democrat and support for Remain in the 2016 Brexit reference with her current hardline persona.

"Which one do you regret most?" he asked.

Meanwhile, Tom Tugendhat turned to Ms Mordaunt to ask when she was going to set out the details of her policies.

The closing statements were all quite personal and sought to reach beyond the room.

"I'm doing this not for myself but for the future," Ms Badenoch said. "I have three children and I want the very best future for them.

"It is vitally important we create a strong United Kingdom that is confident in itself. The United Kingdom is a beacon of shining light in the world.

"That's why so many people want to come here and we need to make sure that we keep it so. A future that is strong, bright, secure, with a thriving economy, that's what I'm about."

Ms Truss said her experience in government since 2010 meant she could hit the ground running.

"The next election is going to be about the economy," she said. "We only have two years to show the British people we can deliver.

"I can hit the ground running at No 10, driving economic growth by cutting taxes and delivering tough reform.

"I've shown what I can do on Brexit, on trade and on Ukraine. Britain's best days lie ahead.

"We need to reject the voices of decline and as Conservatives we need to stop apologising for who we are."

ITV presenter Julie Etchingham with Conservative leadership candidates, from left, Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Kemi Badenoch, Tom Tugendhat and Penny Mordaunt. ITV via Getty

Mr Tugendhat returned to the theme of trust in leadership, saying the fall of the current government had led to a collapse in confidence.

"This evening hasn't actually been about us, it's been about you and who you need as our next Conservative prime minister," he said.

"The government, I'm afraid, has led to a lack of trust and collapse in that confidence.

"We're all asking the right questions but the real answer is we need a clean start. We can do it. I'm ready to serve, I'm ready to lead."

Ms Mordaunt also sought to speak to the viewers with an admission that the party's model of leadership is broken.

"If you're still watching this debate well done," she said. "I wish tonight had been a little less about us and a lot more about you.

"I know you've got serious concerns and these are really uncertain times.

Penny Mordaunt makes a point during the debate EPA / ITV

"Our model of political leadership is broken. Only one of us has a plan to [change] that and that's me."

Mr Sunak said he was the only candidate who could see the Conservatives through the next federal election.

"We have a choice," he said. "Do we confront the challenges we face with honesty and responsibility or not?

"I'm standing because I believe I'm the only candidate who can take the fight to Labour at the next general election.

"Our potential is limitless. My parents worked hard to give me a better future and that's what I would do for your children and grandchildren as prime minister."

Updated: July 17, 2022, 11:17 PM
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