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Katy Balls

Rishi Sunak’s Tory leadership debate boost

Rishi Sunak's Tory leadership debate boost
Rishi Sunak (Credit: Getty images)
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Rishi Sunak gained a boost from last night's Sky News's head-to-head. Despite a difficult week in which Truss has extended her poll lead, the former chancellor succeeded in winning over a majority of the live studio audience of undecided Tory members after battling questions on the economy and whether he had stabbed Boris Johnson in the back. Had this been one of the first debates, it could even be viewed as a moment that could move the dial. But given all the polling suggests Sunak has a mountain to climb to beat Liz Truss – and the ballots drop this week – it's unlikely one media performance is enough to turn the tide.

Supporters of Truss are already questioning the validity of that audience – pointing to previous comments made by members which suggests they were unlikely to support the Foreign Secretary. Even if you take the audience as undecided and largely moving in Sunak's favour, it is a small pool he is fishing from – polling suggests about only 11 per cent of the membership are undecided with 60 per cent already in favour of Truss. Supporters of Sunak are adamant – as Liam Fox says on this week's edition of the podcast – that the polling does not correspond with what they are hearing on the ground and that the result will be closer than many think.

That said, the clear consensus in the parliamentary party is that Truss will be the next prime minister. Her camp are trying to win over Sunak supporters and encourage them to switch – as a way to keep momentum up and suggest her victory is inevitable. MPs are more focussed on working out what she will do and who will get what job under Truss than the state of the race. But yesterday's Bank of England recession warning (which Truss said last night is not an inevitable outcome) is a reminder that for all the current talk of grand policy plans, the next Prime Minister will be firefighting from day one.

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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