Live Tory Leadership Debate Cancelled After Sunak and Truss Pull Out
13:26 GMT 18.07.2022 (Updated: 14:00 GMT 28.08.2022)
© AP Photo / Frank Augstein / British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss speaks at the launch of her campaign to be Conservative Party leader and Prime MinisterBritish Foreign Secretary Liz Truss speaks at the launch of her campaign to be Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister
© AP Photo / Frank Augstein / British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss speaks at the launch of her campaign to be Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister
Tory leadership hopeful Liz Truss accused Rishi Sunak of 'promoting socialism' by raising taxes to pay for the COVID-19 lockdown furlough scheme in Sunday night's Channel 4 debate, while Penny Mordaunt faced attacks over her U-turn on transgender rights.
A televised Tory leadership debate has been cancelled after two of the top three runners in the race to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister pulled out.
"Conservative MPs are said to be concerned about the damage the debates are doing to the image of the Conservative party, exposing disagreements and splits within the party," a statement by the broadcaster said.
That followed Sunday night's hot-tempered debate between the five remaining candidates broadcast by liberal-leaning Channel 4 News.
During the programme, Truss accused Sunak of "promoting socialism" by raising taxes to pay for the COVID-19 lockdown furlough scheme and clearing the resulting backlog of cases in the National Health Service.
"It is not the right time to be doing more debates when this part of the contest only has 358 voters," a source in the Truss campaign said, referring to the ongoing knock-out rounds of voting by Conservative MPs. "The broadcasters should stop squabbling amongst themselves. The C4 debate in particular was a massive mistake and candidates were wrong to take part in it."
"We are very happy to do more debates if we are lucky enough to get to the next stage," a Sunak campaign source claimed.
Trade Policy Minister Penny Mordaunt, currently the joint favourite along with Sunak to make it through to the ballot of Conservative Party members, also had to defend herself from claims she had made a U-turn on her support for allowing transgender people access to single-sex spaces on the basis of 'self-identification' alone.
The issue has become increasingly toxic among women voters since leading members of the opposition Labour Party were put on the spot by journalists — and were unable to answer whether a woman is someone with female sex organs.
Paul Goodman, editor of Tory grassroots website Conservative Home, likened the candidates' performance in Sunday night's debate to the death-match contestants in the film 'The Hunger Games', "knifing, shooting, bludgeoning and strangling each other on live TV" to the benefit of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
"Tory MPs and activists will have watched in horror as several of the candidates flung buckets of manure over each other," Goodman wrote.
Other candidates said they were happy to take part in more debates — as long as the hosts did not try to provoke arguments between them.
"The people standing in this contest are friends as well as colleagues and afterwards the party must come together to deliver for the country," said a spokesman for candidate Kemi Badenoch, the favourite of party members out of the remaining five.
"Kemi welcomes public scrutiny — it builds trust," he added. "She is open to a debate which sheds light on the issues that matter, but not one which is designed purely to cause a row."
The third ballot of Tory MPs will begin at 5pm on Monday, with the result announced at 8pm. Remaining Europhile candidate Tom Tugendhat came fifth in last Thursday's second-round ballot and is expected to be eliminated.
Opposition Makes Hay
The Labour leader said the debate's cancellation showed the ruling party was "tearing itself apart".
"I'm astonished that those that want to be prime minister of the United Kingdom are pulling out of debates and out of scrutiny," Starmer said. "I can see based on what I've seen in the debates so far why they want to do so because this is a party that is out of ideas, out of purpose, they're tearing each other apart."
"This Conservative 'leadership' contest is so scarily embarrassing they've pulled out of the debate — so you can't see them fighting like rats in a sack," chimed Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner.