Sunday 17 July 2022

Who Won the ITV Tory Leadership Debate?

Having already had one televised debate, there wasn't much hope tonight's blue-on-blue action would add much to the discourse. But happily, it did poison the well and provide opposition parties with more zingers for the next general election.

It's interesting. Some candidates are aware that once the contest is over the Tory party have to appear unified behind their new Prime Minister. This is the case with Penny Mordaunt and Tom Tugendhat and (mostly) Rish! Sunak, whereas Kemi Badenoch and Liz Truss are happy to go all in without regard to party discipline or how they might manage a parliamentary party if they win. For instance, the three draw the line of the last three years of failure at Boris Johnson's faults. Nothing else is wrong, we just need to begin again (a "clean start", you might say) and go from there. Truss and Badenoch have no truck with these considerations. For Truss, her target was Sunak's National Insurance rise and record generally. In the back and forth between the candidates on economics, a much more confident Truss attacked the former chancellor for the highest tax burden for 70 years, and on the question of Bank of England independence Truss got a dig in about two years of economic stagnation with Sunak at the Treasury. On character, Truss said she didn't resign during the ministerial rebellion that brought Johnson down because it would have been a dereliction of duty, or some such rubbish. The clear implication that ambition mattered more than integrity for Sunak. And not to be outdone, in her tailored question Badenoch accused Sunak of not taking Covid loan fraud seriously. He waffled an answer about loan repayments, but the damage was done. Those Labour billboards were writing themselves.

Sunak did hit back with a few barbs of his own. Replying to Truss's accusation he was driving the economy into recession, he argued her spending plans, which involve a big corporation tax cut, were "socialism". Going after Mordaunt for suggesting that the Tories shouldn't be so precious about the debt, he said that borrowing for day-to-day spending was something so "dangerous" that even Jeremy Corbyn didn't go there. And on the questions they could ask other candidates, he recalled Truss's previous life as a Liberal Democrat and a remain campaigner and asked which one she regretted the most. Bitchy.

It was not without interesting moments about more substantive issues. Asked about the five per cent proposed rise in public sector pay and the prospect of strike action against a real terms cut, Mordaunt dodged the question with a "now's the time not to discuss detail". Tugendhat said it should be left to independent public pay bodies to determine. Truss said the government had to negotiate with the unions but remain firm lest it sparks a wage-price spiral. Profit-price spirals are seemingly fine. Tugendhat came back in with strikes and the break down in industrial relations as an issue of trust. Action wouldn't happen if unions felt the negotiators were on their side. Badenoch also (surprisingly) found a conciliatory note, saying unions "deserved respect", but prefaced this with a claim years of economic stagnation meant government couldn't afford decent public sector pay. Not that flat growth has harmed profits, mind. Truth telling can only go so far.

Tonight's debate was a tussle between Sunak and Truss, with the other candidates playing walk-on parts. Tugendhat was the one to dial it in, obviously aware that he's out in the next round of voting. Badenoch got her "I was a minimum wage kid flipping burgers" line in, and promised to tell the truth. One truth that was probably best left unsaid was her swipe at Tugendhat for not serving on the the front lines of government. He was quick to snap back about actual front lines.

According to quick polling by Opinium, 24% thought Sunak came out top. Tugendhat and Mordaunt were runners up on 19% and 17% respectively, with Truss and Badenoch scoring 15% and 12%. In truth, in as much as these things matter, Sunak again looked like he knew what he was talking about. Truss was much improved on her last outing. She was more spiky, whereas what was previously described as "Mordmentum" appears to have deserted the former favourite. According to ConHome's (unrepresentative) poll of its audience, Badenoch is now favourite among the membership. She wins in every permutation of run off, whereas Truss wins three and loses one, and Sunak is evens on two wins, two losses. Which leaves open the possibility of the MPs denying members the contest they want, or the members give the MPs the leader they don't want. The last time this happened was when Iain Duncan Smith took the helm, and you might recall the problems that caused. The result is pregant with division.

Who won the ITV debate? It's tempting to provide the same cliched answer from Friday, but judging from the bad tempers and assaults on the leading candidates' records, it's possible, just possible that tonight's loser is the Conservative Party itself.

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Blissex said...

«The result is pregant with division»

That is quite funny as the *premises* more than the result have been divisive: Cameron was sunk by the brexiters, May was sunk by the brexiters, now Johnson is being sunk by the europhiles.

In all three cases property prices were booming and all three Conservative leaders has substantially increased the number of Conservative voters in the preceding elections (even if May lost seats), so normally they should have been invulnerable.

Since a large part of our ruling oligarchies were dismayed by the happening of the 2016 referendum even more than by its result, they are more determined than ever that questions of state should be decided by internal faction warfare, above the heads of the little people.

Blissex said...

I was just reading “The Guardian view on Tory economics: for haves, not for have-nots” commenting on the TV debate and I was much discombobulated to see that the editors are on the side of COMMUNISM! :-)
Financial market deregulation solved this by enabling households and corporations to borrow from a lightly supervised moneylending sector, which sustained purchasing power in the economy. For Conservatives this was more congenial than paying higher real wages. Brexit allows consumer protections to be further reduced to boost lenders’ profits. This will turbocharge a form of capitalism that caused the last economic crash. All of those in the race for the Tory party leadership appear committed to such moves.

It is depressing that Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer seems committed to them too.

A political economy driven by bigger property prices and rents and more affordable wages is what "Middle England" voters want, and New Labour is fine with that. It is a customer-centric approach, :-)