They are still five in the race for power launched after the announcement last Thursday of the resignation of Boris Johnson, swept away by an avalanche of departures triggered by an overflow of scandals and lies.
Secretary of State for International Trade Penny Mordaunt, ex-finance minister Rishi Sunak, head of diplomacy Liz Truss, ex-secretary of state for equality Kemi Badenoch and MP Tom Tugendhat were able to discuss their vision on the British television channel Channel 4.
The candidates refused to indulge in polemics and personal attacks, emphasizing their common membership in the Conservative family. But the question “Is Boris Johnson honest?” embarrassed them.
“Sometimes,” replied Kemi Badenoch, laughing. “No,” said Mr. Tugendhat to applause as the other three kicked into touch, sputtering vague answers.
Cultivating his very smooth image, Rishi Sunak, 42, said he was “proud” to have participated in the Johnson government but resigned last week because “enough is enough”, bringing with him the departure of around 60 other members of the executive.
He came top on Thursday in a second vote organized by Tory MPs to eliminate candidates, ahead of bookmakers favorite Penny Mordaunt and Liz Truss.
Little known to the British, the former Minister of Defense Penny Mordaunt would beat all her rivals in the event of a duel, according to the polls.
After being attacked by her competitors for comments deemed too “woke” concerning transgender people, she is now facing criticism for her professional seriousness, with former minister David Frost having expressed “serious reservations” about her ability to lead the Kingdom -United.
“We are all responsible for our own campaigns and I take it as a big compliment that no one wants to compete against me,” she reacted during the debate.
For her part, Liz Truss highlighted her record in government, citing Brexit, Northern Ireland and the war in Ukraine.
The 46-year-old candidate, the darling of the Johnson camp, is now trying to catch up and is trying to rally the right-wing of the Conservative party around her. She received Thursday the support of Suella Braverman, eliminated by the deputies.
According to an instant poll taken after the debate among 1,159 viewers, Mr Tugendhat was deemed the most convincing (36%), ahead of Mr Sunak (25%), Ms Mordaunt and Ms Badenoch (12% each) and Mrs. Truss (6%).
If the Prime Minister has refrained from publicly expressing any preference for “not harming anyone’s chances”, according to the Times, he urges the eliminated candidates to support “anyone except Rishi”.
The close guard of the future ex-head of government is convinced that the ex-minister, whose departure from the government helped precipitate the fall of Boris Johnson, had been biding his time for months. What supporters of Rishi Sunak deny.
– Tax cuts –
In order to select the new Prime Minister, Conservative MPs will vote again on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to eliminate the candidates one by one. Once the cast of the final face-off has been determined, the choice will fall to members of the Conservative party who will vote by mail during the summer. The result of the vote is expected on September 5.
The appointment of a new head of government comes in a complicated economic context in the United Kingdom with inflation of 9.1% in May.
While Liz Truss and Penny Mordaunt explained that they were planning tax cuts, Rishi Sunak castigated “fairy tales”, judging it unrealistic to lower them given the situation.
At the Treasury, Rishi Sunak has raised taxes and has been accused of not doing enough to relieve British households strangled by the cost of living crisis.
The candidates also discussed the National Health Service (NHS) weakened by years of austerity, climate issues and energy prices. Two other televised debates are organized, Sunday on the ITV channel and Tuesday on Sky News.