Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are poised to go head to head in the first official hustings with Tory members in Leeds, PA Media reports. PA says:
It is the first of 12 sessions for party faithful across the country to quiz the final two candidates before voting for the next party leader and prime minister closes on 2 September.
The two-hour hustings will be broadcast on LBC radio from 7pm and hosted by presenter Nick Ferrari.
The event takes place in Leeds, where Truss was hoping to shore up voters’ support by backing Northern Powerhouse Rail in full and pledging to “turbocharge investment” into the north of England.
During a visit to the Yorkshire city, Truss insisted she is “completely committed” to the scheme to improve rail connections between Liverpool and Leeds, which was originally announced by Boris Johnson but subsequently scaled back.
She told reporters: “I grew up in Leeds, I know how poor the transport is and, frankly, it’s not got much better since I was a teenager getting the bus into Leeds city centre. What I want to see is really fantastic rail services, better roads so people are able to get into work”.
Asked how she would afford the scheme, given the vast tax cuts she has pledged, Truss said: “The taxes that I am cutting are affordable within our budget. By creating new low-tax investment zones in places like West Yorkshire, by enabling the post-Brexit reforms to take place, unleashing more investment from the city, we will grow the economy faster – that will bring in more tax revenue, and that will enable us to afford those projects”.
She also promised to “fix the Treasury’s funding formula” if she gets the keys to No 10 to make sure the region gets a “fairer share” of resources.
Truss took a thinly veiled swipe at Sunak, who is the MP for the North Yorkshire seat of Richmond, when she was asked whether he was as committed to the rail project, saying: “The thing about me is I’m prepared to take on the Whitehall orthodoxy, I’m prepared to challenge the groupthink that has, over decades, not put enough investment into this part of the country.”
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A question from Ferrari on image, Sunak is told he has Prada shoes, a photo opportunity with a car he doesn’t own, he pours pints for cameras despite beign teetotal, and has a green card despite living in Downing Street. Ferrari asks what people should make of this.
“This is not about what shoes I wear, it’s about what I want to do in Downing Street,” he says. This gets the most applause he’s had this evening.
Ferrari says that about 14,000 members of the Conservative party want Johnson back on the ballot. This gets support and applause from the audience. He asks what Sunak thinks of this.
“Close to 60 people resigned in parliament, it’s incumbent on the prime minister to have the confidence of the parliamentary party. That wasn’t there at the end. Whether he’s on the ballot or not, you have to command the confidence of your MPs, and we got to a position where 60 of them resigned from government,” he replies.
Ferrari asks about using Boris Johnson as an envoy to Ukraine, after Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s praise for him. He asks whether the former chancellor would give him a role in his government. Sunak says he wouldn’t offer him a job in the cabinet.
“I don’t know if he would want to do it … I’m not going to sit here and allocate jobs to people, but I do think we need to move forward, I don’t see that being a role in the cabinet for Boris, but I do think he’ll have a role in public life. He’s an extraordinary figure and I’m sure he has a lot more to give.”
Ferrari asks how striking workers would be tackled. Sunak says there should be a legal minimum level of service for critical industries including rail.
Some quick-fire questions from Ferrari: firstly Sunak says he would support the return of grammar schools, adding it’s in line with his prioritisation of education that he mentioned in his stump speech.
When Ferrari talks about water company directors going to jail in response to pollution, Sunak demures and says they should be “held to a high standard”, but doesn’t say they should go to prison.
Sunak then says he has never used illegal drugs, in response to a final question.
Ferrari asks that with the economic sitaution so dire, why should people trust Sunak.
Sunak says that the UK had a faster recovery than other countries from Covid.
“If you look at it over the period, we are actually very much in line or to the top end of the G7. Of course I want to see growth. We have to look at how we do that. We’ve had a very narrow conversation about tax, and in a 21st-century economy there is many more things we have to get right.”
Sunak talks about financial markets reform, about a visa regime for migrant workers, and reviewing regulation to support entrepreneurs. The former chancellor says he wants to get more investment in the economy.
In response to another question he says that Margaret Thatcher was the best Conservative prime minister. Ferrari asks what her reaction would have been to Sunak raising corporation tax.
“If you look at her early budgets and what we had to do as a country, she understood that you had to get a grip of inflation first, and public spending and borrowing. Her mantra was to do that first, because if inflation had run out of control, it would have been far worse for the economy. It was only after that was under control that she embarked on a plan of supply-side reform,” he says.
He adds that he would cut tax on business investment, which gets applause.
LBC’s Nick Ferrari takes the stage now, ready to ask questions of Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak.
Ferrari speaks to Sunak first. he asks if he has done a U-turn over VAT on energy bills after saying it was “unconservative”.
“No, definitely not. There’s two very different things here. We have a short term problem with energy bills. We need to make sure that the support with energy bills is appropriate fo rthe scale for the challenge millions of households are facing.
“We announced support earlier this year for people after it was announced that energy bills will get to £2,800. For the most vulnerable families, that gets to about £1,200 of help. Now, people’s expectations of what will happen to energy bills has gone up. It is reasonable that there is more we can do.
“That’s a temporary and time limited support to help people.”
Another Yorkshire line from Liz Truss, who says that the Conservatives need to summon the spirit of former Leeds United manager Don Revie, who went on to have a chequered spell as England manager after leaving Elland Road.
“We need to win. My friends, we can win against Keir Starmer, who is a patronising, plastic patriot. He is beatable, but he is only beatable if we deliver. I can assure you, if you select me, if you elect me, I will work my socks off in No 10 to deliver all of the promises we made in 2019 and to deliver a victory for the Conservatives in 2024.”
That’s it for Truss’s speech, there’s a break now for a few minutes before it resumes with a question and answer session.
Truss said that people should be encouraged to “love their country”, after more references to straight-talking people in Yorkshire, free-speech and people knowing “a woman is a woman”.
She adds that people need to be proud to be Conservative. “The people who voted for us in 2019 in seats like Keighley or Dewsbury, they didn’t vote for us because they wanted Labour policies. They were fed up of Labour and Labour councils. They voted for us because they wanted opportunity and aspired to better things and aspired for better things in their area.”
Truss then turns to say that the UK needs to continue to stand up to Vladimir Putin, talking about the action that has been taken so far.
“I will not let up until Ukraine prevails and Putin fails.
“We have to recognise that we need to spend more on defence. After the cold war we let our guard slip and alowed the aggressors to expand. That is why I would put defence spending up to 3% of GDP by the end of the decade. There is nothing more important than freedom and democracy.”
After being introduced by James Cleverly, and a promotional video being played, Liz Truss walks on to the stage, which is round with chairs surrounding it.
Truss talks up her Leeds connections, among other things jokingly apologising to any former teachers of hers in the audience, saying she got “grit, determination and straight-talking” from Yorkshire.
“The fact is, we face a huge global economic crisis. We have the worst war that has taken place on European shores happening in Ukraine. Now is not the time for business as usual. Now is not the time for the status quo, we need to be bold and do things differently.”
She said she would reverse the increases in national insurance, stop the green levy on fuel bills, and not increase corporation tax in an attempt to encourage investment. Truss said she would abolish “Soviet-style” housing targets.
“I believe that we need to be on the side of people who work hard and do the right thing. People who save their money, people who start their own businesses, the self-employed, people who go into work every day. That’s whose side I’m on,” she said.
Truss says she will give power back to local people over planning, saying rules should not be the same in London as Yorkshire or Cornwall. She goes on to refer to the transport system in Leeds, saying it is the same as it was when she was a teenager. The foreign secretary repeats her pledge to go ahead with Northern Powerhouse Rail.
Sunak, speaking without notes, says borrowing is “not Conservative”, referring to Liz Truss’ plans, and adds that he will cut taxes for both people and business.
He says that he will take advantage of the benefits of Brexit, including reforming regulation in financial services, data and life sciences.
The former chancellor says that the Conservatives need to win a fifth election term. “It’s a challenge but I know we can do it together. But in order to do it, we will have to appeal to swing voters in every part of our country, north and south, remain and leave, urban and rural, Scotland and Wales, and I believe with all my heart, I am the person, I am the candidate, that gives our party the best opportunity to secure that victory and ensure that the Labour party and Keir Starmer never walk through the doors of No 10 Downing Street.”
Sunak admits he is the underdog, but compares his leadership candidacy to his attempt to become the candidate for Richmond seven years ago, when he became an MP.
“I promise you I am going to fight for every single vote. I am going to fight for the Conservative values that are core to who I am and what I stand for, and I am going to fight hard for the argument that we should not mortgage our children and grandchildren’s future to make our lives easier for today.”
“I want a Britain where the birthright of every child is a world-class education. A Britain which is built on hard work, aspiration and hope. A Britain where we lead the world in setting the standard for integrity, decency and leadership, and a Britain where we have enormous pride in our history and enormous confidence in our future.”
Sunak adds that trust needs to be restored, saying he has not taken an easy road and has wanted to be honest about the challenges that Britain faces.
“That’s what leadership is about,” he says.
He talks about his plans to tackle the NHS backlog, illegal immigration and address the cost-of-living crisis and soaring inflation.
“Yes, this is a compassionate and welcoming country but we must also have control of our borders and as prime minister I will grip that problem and solve it and restore trust back in the system.
“We need to grip inflation because it’s the enemy that makes everyone poorer. It reduces their living standards and erodes their hard-earned savings. It pushes up mortgage rates, and I will grip inflation and get it back down.”