Tory leadership hustings: Dates of events in the battle to be next prime minister

·10 min read
Liz Truss is the bookies' favourite in the race to be the next Conservative leader and prime minister - Getty Images Europe
Liz Truss is the bookies' favourite in the race to be the next Conservative leader and prime minister - Getty Images Europe

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss took their battle for the Tory leadership to Belfast on Wednesday, facing off in their eighth hustings in the race to become prime minister.

Hit with a barrage of questions from Conservative Party members, Mr Sunak vowed to be "much tougher" on how the UK's benefits system work and Ms Truss promised to fix Brexit bureaucracy.

The two leadership hopefuls will next battle it out on Friday, August 19, when they go toe-to-toe at another hustings in Manchester.

The final two candidates previously went head-to-head at a hustings in Perth on August 16, where Mr Sunak pledged to take on and defeat Nicola Sturgeon's SNP and Ms Truss promised to block a second independence referendum.

Tory leadership hustings: timeline of key dates and events

August 19: Members' hustings in Manchester

August 23: Members' hustings in Birmingham

August 25: Members' hustings in Norwich

August 31: Members' hustings in London

September 2: Deadline for ballots to be returned

September 5: New Conservative leader and Prime Minister announced

What happened in the eighth hustings?

Rishi Sunak vowed to be "much tougher" on how the UK's benefits system works, suggesting he would force unemployed claimants to take jobs when they become available.

He said he wanted to get more people "off benefits and into work" and that this would help businesses which are currently struggling to fill staff vacancies.

Meanwhile, Ms Truss said the current version of the Northern Ireland Protocol was undermining the UK.

She said that she was not prepared to "let the situation drift" on the issue of post-Brexit border problems.

What happened in the seventh hustings?

Both Ms Truss and Mr Sunak vowed to take a tougher line on Ms Sturgeon's SNP government and subject it to more scrutiny.

Mr Sunak pledged not to "ignore" Ms Sturgeon, but to "take her on" and beat the SNP at the ballot box.

"We have to deliver the economic growth," he said.

"We can't trust the SNP to do it, can we? They can't even get the ferries to work. I don't want to ignore Nicola Sturgeon, I want to take her on and beat her."

Ms Truss also referred to Labour's cost-of-living plans as a "sticking plaster" and insisted tax cuts should be the immediate priority in the face of the current crisis.

What happened in the sixth hustings?

During the sixth husting in Cheltenham the two candidates were grilled by The Telegraph's Camilla Tominey, on key issues from cost-of-living, tax cuts and the economy.

Notably, Ms Truss rejected calls to increase the windfall tax on energy companies in order to fund cost of living handouts for households in her clearest comments yet on the issue.

Ms Truss argued that increasing taxes would "choke off economic growth" and send the country to "penury".

The Foreign Secretary also said she would not hold an election before 2024 and would "hold water companies to account" to tackle waste in the UK's rivers if she became prime minister.

Mr Sunak, on the other hand, contested claims that he is "not Brexity enough" to become the next prime minister and said he "came up with" the idea of freeports.

He also claimed that, without pledging further direct payments, his rival would leave pensioners and those on very low incomes at risk of "real destitution".

What happened in the fifth hustings?

The fifth Conservative leadership hustings in Darlington on August 9 did not dramatically shift the dial of this campaign, but it showed the coming weeks could still be crucial in determining its result.

More than a month into the Conservative leadership contest, and with just under four weeks remaining, the focus is now firmly on the cost-of-living crisis facing Britain.

Both prime ministerial hopefuls insist only their plan will avert catastrophe this winter – in the case of Ms Truss it will be through immediate tax cuts, while Mr Sunak has pledged targeted but direct support for the most vulnerable households.

Ms Truss's planned tax cuts alone were "not much good", Mr Sunak warned as he said the party risked electoral oblivion in 2024 without providing direct support.

Mr Sunak has suggested he would commit tens of billions of pounds to tackling the crisis, while Ms Truss is yet to be drawn on whether she would provide any direct payments to Britons.

What happened in the fourth hustings?

Liz Truss vowed to crack down on “militant activists” after six Extinction Rebellion protesters disrupted the event.

The Foreign Secretary said she would pass new laws to stop hardline unions and activists “who try and disrupt our democratic process and our essential services”.

Ms Truss and Mr Sunak also clashed about the likelihood of a recession and the best way to tackle the forecasted downturn and soaring inflation.

Ms Truss, the Foreign Secretary, said a recession could be avoided: "What the Bank of England have said today is of course extremely worrying but it is not inevitable. We can change the outcome."

She insisted her tax cuts, including scrapping the Corporation Tax rise and reversing the National Insurance increase, would help avert the downturn, saying: “You simply cannot tax your way to growth.”

Rishi Sunak earlier insisted he will not drop out of the Tory leadership race, despite opinion polls showing that Liz Truss has double his support among party members.

Asked during the Sky News debate on August 4 whether he would quit the race, the former chancellor said: “The quick answer is no”. He stressed that he would continue “fighting”.

What happened in the third hustings?

Rishi Sunak was accused of a major U-turn on onshore wind after announcing he would scrap a ban on new turbines.

The former chancellor said at the Cardiff hustings on August 3 that he supported building new wind farms if they had the consent of local communities, and suggested residents could be financially incentivised to support them.

The Truss campaign said it was a “policy flip-flop” after Mr Sunak said last month he did not agree with a plan to relax the ban on onshore wind, which has been in place since the coalition years.

At the event, Liz Truss insisted her public sector pay plans were "misinterpreted" but would no longer proceed after she abandoned a plan to bring in regional pay boards. Ms Truss axed the policy less than 48 hours after announcing it.

Pressed on her "U-turn" at the Wales hustings, Ms Truss said: "What happened was we announced a policy, it was misinterpreted by the media, it was never intended to apply to doctors, nurses and teachers. So I wanted to clear the matter up straight away."

What happened in the second hustings?

Penny Mordaunt hailed Ms Truss as the "hope candidate" as she became the latest – and one of the most significant – Tory MPs to back the Foreign Secretary.

Speaking at the hustings in Exeter, the former defence secretary said deciding between Ms Truss and Mr Sunak had been "difficult" but that she had "seen enough".

"Her graft, her authenticity, her determination, her ambition for this country, her consistency and sense of duty – she knows what she believes in, and her resolve to stand up against tyranny and fight for freedom," Ms Mordaunt said, introducing Ms Truss.

"That's what our country stands for and that's why I know with her we can win."

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak defended resigning as chancellor from Boris Johnson’s government, claiming it wasn't "disloyal" but the "right thing to do".

“It wouldn’t have been right for the country to have a prime minister and a chancellor who weren’t on the same page about economic policy going into the situation that we are going into,” he told Conservative members.

What happened in the first hustings?

During the first hustings event with Conservative members on July 28, Mr Sunak admitted he was the underdog in the leadership battle, but said he would fight for every vote.

He was confronted by one party member in the audience who told him many people believed he had been "treacherous" against Mr Johnson and had "stabbed him in the back".

Mr Sunak replied that resigning was the right thing to do – and that he would be able to bring the party together.

Rishi Sunak at the hustings in Leeds - Charlotte Graham
Rishi Sunak at the hustings in Leeds - Charlotte Graham

Mr Sunak originally appeared to say he wanted to bring grammar schools back in England. But his team later confirmed he only meant expanding existing selective schools.

Speaking at the same event in Leeds, Ms Truss said she would review inheritance tax as part of a general review of Britain’s tax system.

She said she wanted to ensure girls in schools had access to single-sex toilets.

Ms Truss described herself as a “freedom fighter” on Ukraine, telling party members they could trust her to do all she can to ensure Vladimir Putin is defeated.

What happened in the first TV debate?

In a head-to-head debate dominated by economic issues, the Foreign Secretary claimed Mr Sunak’s warnings that her plan would fuel inflation and send interest rates soaring were “scaremongering” and “Project Fear”.

But Mr Sunak, the former chancellor, went on the attack as he declared Ms Truss’s promise to borrow to fund tax cuts was neither “moral” nor “conservative”.

A snap poll by Opinium found Ms Truss was judged by Tory voters to have performed better in the debate, while Mr Sunak won narrowly with all voters.

What happened in the second debate?

The debate was cut short after TalkTV presenter Kate McCann fainted around halfway through the hour-long programme.

In the debate in Stoke-on-Trent, Ms Truss accused Mr Sunak of endangering Britain's economy with plans that could push the country into a recession, comparing him to Gordon Brown.

The former chancellor hit back, saying the Foreign Secretary’s plans would drive up interest rates and “tip millions of people into misery”.

Mr Sunak and Ms Truss made further arguments on tax and had the most substantive discussion of the NHS to date.

Mr Sunak said he does rely on the NHS "as do all of us and I know it's people's priority". While Ms Truss said she was "committed to the extra money that was announced for the NHS".

It is understood that when Ms McCann fainted, Ms Truss dashed over to help her.

What happened in the third debate?

During the Sky News event on August 4, the former chancellor vowed not to stand down from the race despite Ms Truss's significant lead in the polls.

Mr Sunak was asked by an audience member if he would withdraw from the contest at any point and replied: "The quick answer is no. That's because I'm fighting for something I really believe in and I'm taking my ideas across the country."

Ms Truss came under fire over her recent about-turn on her pledge to "introduce regional pay boards tailoring pay to the cost of living where civil servants actually work, saving up to £8.8billion per year".

She said the policy was misinterpreted and she "took an immediate decision not to go ahead with it".

Ms Truss and Mr Sunak also clashed about the likelihood of recession and the best way to tackle the forecasted downturn and soaring inflation.

This article is kept updated with the latest information.