Tory leadership debate: Candidates exchange blows as race to be next PM heats up

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The five would-be prime ministers clashed on live television

The five would-be prime ministers clashed on live television (Image: PA/CHANNEL4)

Some 36 per cent thought Mr Tugendhat fared best according to the Opinium Research poll with Rishi Sunak second on 25 percent. Penny Mordaunt and Kemi Badenoch were joint third on 12 percent with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss last on 6 percent.

When asked to define her position on gender identity against claims that she previously supported gender self-identification, Ms Mordaunt said she has “never been in favour of self-ID”.

“I can’t imagine why people are not comprehending what I say and have been regurgitating this issue for weeks and weeks, but I’m happy to state my position and evidence to back it up,” Ms Mordaunt said.

“I took through a consultation looking at the Gender Recognition Act, I’ve never been in favour of self-ID. I would have made the system much better but I would not have divorced it from healthcare.”

Penny Mordaunt was attacked over her attitude towards women's rights and transgender people

Penny Mordaunt was attacked over her attitude towards women’s rights and transgender people (Image: PA Images)

All five candidates exchanged blows as the would-be prime ministers clashed in the first of three live TV debates.

The gloves came off when Penny Mordaunt was attacked by Liz Truss and Kemi Badenoch at the Channel 4 leaders’ debate over her attitude towards women’s rights and transgender people.

When asked to define her position on gender identity against claims that she previously supported gender self-identification, Ms Mordaunt said she has “never been in favour of self-ID”.

“I can’t imagine why people are not comprehending what I say and have been regurgitating this issue for weeks and weeks, but I’m happy to state my position and evidence to back it up,” Ms Mordaunt said.

Kemi Badenoch clashed with Penny Mordaunt over transgender issue

Kemi Badenoch clashed with Penny Mordaunt over transgender issue (Image: PA Images)

“I took through a consultation looking at the Gender Recognition Act, I’ve never been in favour of self-ID. I would have made the system much better but I would not have divorced it from healthcare.”

When asked whether she accepted this account, Mrs Badenoch said: “I find it difficult to, because when I took over as equalities minister in 2020, the policy that was being pushed was self-ID. So, I don’t understand how that would have changed unless someone else did it in between.

“I didn’t work with Penny, but my understanding was that the previous minister who had done the role had wanted self-ID, and that was something that I reversed with Liz.”

Ms Mordaunt hit back, saying: “That is not correct and this will all be on record in Government.”

Liz Truss said there had been a plan to move forward on self-ID

Liz Truss said there had been a plan to move forward on self-ID (Image: PA Images)

Mrs Badenoch pointedly remarked: “It is on record.”

However, Ms Truss, who also had responsibility for equalities alongside her role as Foreign Secretary, said there had been a plan to move forward on self-ID.

“I believe in women’s rights I also believe that transgender should be treated with respect, so I changed the outcome so we made the programme simpler and kinder, but not move ahead with self-ID,” she said.

Earlier, Ms Mordaunt said the attacks showed that she was the candidate to beat.

“I take it as a big fat compliment that nobody wants to run against me,” she said.

There were further clashes over tax as former chancellor Rishi Sunak defended his record in the Treasury as he attacked Mr Mordaunt and Ms Truss over their promised cuts.

Stressing the need to grip inflation, he said: “We cannot make it worse, inflation is the enemy that makes everyone poorer.

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak defended his record in the Treasury

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak defended his record in the Treasury (Image: PA Images)

“I don’t think the responsible thing to do right now is launch into some unfunded spree of borrowing and more debt, that will just make inflation worse, it will make the problem longer.”

Ms Truss pinned the blame on the Bank of England, saying “we have inflation because of our monetary policy, that we haven’t been tough enough on the monetary supply, that’s the way that I would address that issue”.

Mr Sunak told her: “Borrowing your way out of inflation isn’t a plan, it’s a fairytale.”

Ms Truss responded: “I think it is wrong to put taxes up.”

Earlier, Tom Tugendhat sought to make a virtue of the fact that he was the only candidate without ministerial experience.

“We need a break from the Johnson years. That is why I am here. We need to make sure we can trust our politicians,” he said.

He drew applause from the audience when – alone among the candidates – he answered the question was Boris Johnson an “honest man” with the single word answer “No”.

And the 49-year-old channelled his inner wizard and quoted Albus Dumbledore during the debate.

The former military officer quoted JK Rowling’s character from her beloved Harry Potter series after being asked by an audience member: “Why should the public trust you?”

Mr Tugendhat echoed Dumbledore’s sentiment when he told the debate: “It’s easy to stand up to your enemies – it’s sometimes harder to stand up to your friends.”

In another incendiary exchange Mr Tugendhat accused Mr Sunak of only backing the National Insurance rise because “the boss wanted it”.

Mr Tugendhat claimed that Boris Johnson had effectively pressured Mr Sunak into imposing the tax hike.

The clash erupted when Mr Tugendhat pointed out that he was the only candidate who didn’t vote for tax hikes on National Insurance.

Mr Sunak defended the rise in National Insurance, prompting Mr Tugendhat to reveal details of a private conversation.

He said that the pair had a lengthy discussion about the proposal where Mr Sunak was trying to persuade Mr Tugendhat to vote for the rise.
Mr Tugendhat suggested Mr Sunak only agreed to put taxes up because the PM wanted him to.
The Tory candidate said: “The reason you gave was that the boss wanted it.”

A second live TV debate will be held on ITV on Sunday.

Sky News will be hosting a third debate on Tuesday night at 8pm – after more candidates have been eliminated through a further round of voting in Westminster the day before.



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