The Conservative Party had urged them not to damage the ‘brand’, but Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak seemed quick to forget that they were actually party members. The first televised debate between the two candidate successors to Boris Johnson went a bit slow on Monday evening.
In the BBC’s first live debate between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, the two clashed over their plans for the UK economy. Sunak, one of the first officials to resign to force Johnson out, had raised taxes to the highest level in 70 years as finance minister. He wants to focus on a balanced budget and wants to pay off the national debt as soon as possible. Truss, who remained in office as Foreign Secretary, on the other hand, will immediately cut taxes to stimulate the economy. She said her plan would begin repaying the debt within three years.
“That’s just not true,” Sunak replied. He accused Truss of being a “Sugar intoxication in the short term’, which would be followed by a crash with higher inflation and higher interest rates. “You promised almost £40 billion in unfunded tax cuts, £40 billion more loans.” She would put it on ‘the country’s credit card’ and pass the bills on to ‘our children and grandchildren’, which is ‘not moral’. “I don’t think it’s right, I don’t think it’s responsible, and it’s certainly not conservative.” Truss would “add thousands of pounds to mortgages and throw millions into misery.”
Truss “doesn’t believe in the negative language.” She believes Sunak is a source of fear and speaks of ‘project fear’, a term used by the Leave camp during the Brexit campaign. Sunak delicately pointed out that Truss was originally a ‘Remainer’. She, in turn, accused him of plunging the country into recession. Crashing the economy to pay off debt faster is a big mistake that would be felt by everyone across the UK. She would not hesitate to go against the “orthodoxy” of finance, pointing out that no other major economy is currently raising taxes.
The two candidates also clashed over China. Sunak had said the day before that he would come down hard on China, but Truss pointed out that last month the Treasury argued for closer economic ties. Sunak criticized Truss for talking about a ‘golden age’ between China and Britain. “I think it was almost a decade ago,” Truss replied irritably.
What they both agreed on was that Boris Johnson would have no role in their government. Johnson had already hinted that he would like to make a political comeback and even stand for the next election as leader of the Conservatives. “I’m sure he’ll be vocal, but he won’t be part of the government,” Truss said. She even said that she has a strong suspicion that he does not want a future role in government. “He needs a well-deserved break.” Sunak, like Truss, also heaped some praise on Johnson, but stressed: ‘Enough is enough’. “I thought all the things that were happening in terms of behavior were not right. And we clearly had different views on economics.”
Sunak, who is trailing in the polls, repeatedly interrupted Truss during the debate or talked over her. He was later accused by a Truss spokesman of ‘mansplaining’ (explaining in a condescending, condescending way to a woman, ed.). “Rishi Sunak proved tonight that he is not fit for the job. His aggressive people-splaining and screaming private school behavior is desperate, inappropriate and a gift to Labour.’ Before the debate, Culture, Media and Sport Minister Nadine Dorries had also branded Sunak a snob in a £3,500 tailored suit and £450 Prada shoes, while Truss wears some £4.50 earrings from Claire’s. Asked about it during the debate, Truss said: “I have no problem with how expensive other people’s clothes are. I actually think Richi is a very well-dressed man. I’m a great admirer of his style. I’m not going to give him fashion advice.’
In polls after the debate, a slim majority of viewers thought Sunak was the most persuasive, but among the Conservatives – who must choose a successor to Johnson – Truss was the clear winner. Sunak seemed to do particularly well with Labor voters, not his target audience. According to the opposition Labor Party, both candidates had managed to disparage the previous work of the Conservative government during the debate.