HENRY DEEDES: Sunak jabbered like a man who'd washed down Pro Plus

HENRY DEEDES: Sunak jabbered like a man who'd washed down Pro Plus

Rishi Sunak jabbered furiously like a man who’d washed down Pro Plus with a treble espresso: HENRY DEEDES analyses the BBC leadership debate

Ding, ding! Seconds out. Time for the latest round in the bad tempered brouhaha also known as the Tory leadership contest.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak’s travelling verbal tussle staggered on to Stoke-on-Trent last night where the challengers came face to face in a live, hour-long BBC studio debate.

All the early signs suggested we were in for right old dust up. Insults were being tossed about like grenades at the Somme throughout the day.

At one point, a Twitter tantrum erupted when that perpetual trouble magnet (and ardent Truss supporter) Nadine Dorries (made a dig about the price of Rishi’s sharp, bespoke suits.

If the two sides keep this up, UN peacekeepers may at some point need to intervene. And, sure enough, this debate was every bit as ill-tempered as we expected.

Ding, ding! Seconds out. Time for the latest round in the bad tempered brouhaha also known as the Tory leadership contest

Even a tad nasty at times. No chance either these will be serving in each other’s Cabinet. Boris was probably watching it back at No 10, feet up, chortling away and pouring himself a large one.

Sunak was more willing to flash the bat a bit, but since he’s trailing heavily in the polls he had little alternative.

What the former chancellor really needed was a big reveal, a ‘gotcha’ moment which might change the tide in this race before ballot papers start arriving through Conservative members’ letter boxes next week. He didn’t produce one.

Our host for the evening was Sophie Raworth, a model of courtly sophistication with the crisp discipline of a pony club instructor.

The opening shot of the night featured our two candidates grinning at the camera awkwardly. A somewhat unnerving image. They looked like two contestants about to do battle on Blankety Blank.

Actually, the whole format had a gameshow feel to it. Raworth kept on billing it as the ‘race to be Prime Minister’, as though the keys to Downing Street would be handed over at the end as the grand prize.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak’s travelling verbal tussle staggered on to Stoke-on-Trent last night where the challengers came face to face in a live, hour-long BBC studio debate

‘Are you ready?’ she asked her guests excitedly. ‘Er, yes,’ they both stuttered gormlessly. We kicked off with a question from the audience about the cost of living squeeze. Truss went straight in, attacking Sunak’s hated National Insurance hike.

We also needed growth in the economy, she said. Growth Rishi had failed to provide.

Sunak responded by attacking Truss for wanting to rack up ever more charges on the nation’s credit card. Her economic plans would ‘tip millions into misery’ he said.

At times, he took to mansplaining things to his opponent. It was a wince-making sight at times. It was patronising. Unedifying. And it won’t have gone down well with traditional Tory voters.

Truss frowned. She shook her head. There was even a cursory roll of the eyes. Say what you like about The Truss, but faced with such aggression she did extremely well to keep her composure. The two of them stood on futuristic looking stage behind neon-lit lecterns. Dread to think what the electricity bill must be in this gaff. Flashing lights to the left of them, flashing lights to the right.

Whenever a political debate is hosted on TV now, the production crew are under strict instructions to make the set resemble the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. 

All the early signs suggested we were in for right old dust up. Insults were being tossed about like grenades at the Somme throughout the day

If the two sides keep this up, UN peacekeepers may at some point need to intervene. And, sure enough, this debate was every bit as ill-tempered as we expected

Over to one side were the Beeb’s Political Editor Chris Mason and Economics Editor Faisal Islam. Confusingly, they were allowed to chuck in their own questions, too. Liz kept mispronouncing Faisal’s name ‘Fay-zal.’

Sunak jabbered away furiously, like a man who’d washed down Pro Plus with a treble espresso. He denounced Truss’s tax cut plans as ‘short term sugar rushes’. Truss insisted Sunak was scaremongering. ‘This is Project Fear!’ she declared.

Every now and again you had to remind yourself Truss and Sunak are members of the same party. The Government’s levelling up programme was raised. Rishi talked about his humble upbringing in Southampton; GP Dad, pharmacist Mum. Liz brought up her lowly comprehensive schooling in Leeds again. Translation: ‘Don’t forget Rishi’s a private school posho.’

Soon, they were back at it, this time rowing about who had the tougher stance on China. Sunak ribbed Truss for once saying the UK was entering a ‘golden age of relations’ with the Chinese. ‘I think you’ll find that was a decade ago,’ Truss replied huffily.

On and on the squabbling went. Why did Truss vote Remain? Why did Rishi wear such expensive clothes? Did Rishi really stab Boris in the back? You could almost hear the exasperated moans erupting from Tory HQ.

Where the two candidates were heading off to afterwards wasn’t disclosed. But I think it’s fair to say they weren’t going to be repairing to the Green Room to share a nightcap.

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