In a head-to-head television debate with rival Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in the leadership race to choose a new Tory party leader and British prime minister, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak convincingly won over a crowd of Conservative Party members. The Battle for Number 10 on Sky News on the night of August 4 pitted the finalists against Conservative members who are eligible to vote in the election but are generally undecided on their choice.

When asked who they believed had won the debate between the two candidates for the position of Boris Johnson’s successor at 10 Downing Street, the audience chose Sunak by a show of hands. Just hours after interest rates were raised, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak faced difficult challenges from Conservative members during a Sky News program. Here are the highlights from the debate that happened last night:

Here are some key points from Truss’ segment:

Truss won the coin toss and chose to speak to the audience of Tory voters first. While a recession “is not inevitable,” according to Truss, she believes she can “change the outcome and make it more likely that the economy grows.” Truss further acknowledged that the high taxes in place “are likely to lead to a recession.” A “new generation of members” would make up her cabinet, she promised, and she would ensure that they were chosen “on the basis of merit” and included “people from all parts of the party, all parts of the country.”

Additionally, Truss claimed that her policy announcement regarding regional pay was “misinterpreted” and that she “immediately” announced she would not proceed with it after hearing people speak out against it. She repeatedly asserted that she was running as the candidate of integrity and that while she would be happy to acknowledge when a policy was failing, she would not admit that she had made a mistake. Truss said she could “assure” she “will do all I can to help people who are struggling” in what might be her strongest hint yet that she is prepared to do more to address the cost of living crisis.

On Russia-Ukraine war, she stated that to suggest that Ukraine should cede any of its territory to Russia “would be completely wrong,” and would send a “terrible message” to China and the rest of the world. As for Taiwan, Truss declared that if she were to become prime minister, she would not travel there.

Sunak’s key points from the show:

On being asked if he planned to withdraw from the competition, he replied, “No, I’m fighting for something I believe in.” He, then, declared himself the best candidate to bring the party back together and vowed to form a government “of all talents.” He responded, “Yes, without a doubt,” when asked about raising the defence budget. In an apparent jab at Truss, he added that he did not believe in “arbitrary targets.”

When asked about NHS dentists, he responded that the UK “needs to be bolder.” “I believe in the NHS being free at the point of use but not free at the point of misuse,” Sunak said in defence of his proposal to impose a £10 fine on patients who miss GP appointments. On being asked about the most contentious accusation, that he stabbed Johnson in the back, he denied it, adding, “I got to a point when it was too difficult for me to stay, and I had no choice but to go as the government was on the wrong side of an ethical problem I couldn’t defend.”

Regarding Truss’ proposals to reduce living expenses, Sunak claimed that her plans “will make the situation worse.” He defended his foreign policy stances by asserting, “I’m tough enough,” that he would impose more sanctions against Russia, and by stating that he supported the Rwanda policy. Sunak was questioned about his abortion stance because he has previously abstained from voting, but he stated that this was simply due to his absence and that he firmly supports the current law that allows abortions up to 24 weeks.

Finally, defying criticism for his pricey tailored suits and Prada shoes, he denied having a perception problem, saying, “The British public judges people by their character, not their bank account.” The majority of the audience, at the end, claimed that Sunak most impressed them, and he ultimately won them over.

(With agency inputs)

Image: AP