by Henry Hill
Friday, 29
July 2022
Analysis
09:50

Tory hustings have one fatal flaw

There is still a lot that we don't know about the two candidates
by Henry Hill
There was no face-off at last night’s hustings. Credit: Getty

Last night’s official Conservative Party leadership hustings in Leeds amply demonstrated the superiority of the model over the US-style TV debates we have been subject to so far.

But tuning in, it seemed as though CCHQ wasn’t convinced about this. Fully the first 45 minutes of the event was taken up by an interminable string of introductions, endorsement speeches, and videos from the candidates. (Those tuning in to the livestream were treated to shots of the bored-looking audience as these last were played to the auditorium — another media-management triumph for the Party.)

Yet the format did have one big drawback. Because the two candidates did not appear side-by-side, they were not asked the same questions. This makes it tricky for Conservative members to do a direct comparison on the issues. Which is, ultimately, their entire job.

Take education, a vital issue which the Tories are prone to neglect. Last night, we learned that Sunak is in favour of allowing more grammar schools. This is potentially a very interesting development.

But due to the format, we got zero details. Does he merely intend to allow existing grammar schools to expand, which was the policy explored by Theresa May? Or does he actually want new grammars to open for the first time since the Sixties? For Truss’ part, we do not know her answer because she was never asked.

It’s the same story with the Northern Ireland Protocol. Yes, both candidates have committed to supporting the Bill currently going through Parliament. Sunak said that it “will fix” the problems with the sea border.

But this isn’t true. The Bill — which Truss introduced against his objections in Cabinet — solves nothing by itself. It merely gives the Government the power to address the problems created by the EU’s trade border in the Irish Sea.

What we really need to hear is what both candidates will do with the new powers the Bill will grant the next prime minister. But again, we don’t know because one wasn’t asked the right follow-up questions, and the other wasn’t asked about Northern Ireland at all.

So far, the Tory leadership debate seems to be in the Goldilocks phase. The TV debates were too focused on a narrow range of macro-economic issues; the first husting was a wide-ranging but incoherent tour of what matters to Conservative activists.

Hopefully, the next few weeks — and the next 11 hustings — will see the Party and the broadcasters finally get the balance right, and properly interrogate both hopefuls on what their Conservative vision for the 2020s actually looks like.

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Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
20 days ago

Yes, there’s a great deal we don’t know about the candidates. We can hear what they say on these staged occasions, but we cannot see how they run a department, how they respond to events, routine and unexpected, how they relate to colleagues and others. For this, and for everything else relevant to how the candidates might perform as prime minister, we have to rely on the judgement of those who know them better than we ever can.
And their political thinking, anyway, may count for little. Look at Johnson. He was down, as a journalist, for his laissez-faire approach to issues, but when PM he was faced with circumstances (the pandemic) which forced him to be the most prescriptive PM ever.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
20 days ago

The rest of the world, not least India, but crucially including the US and the EU will see Rishi as the single most highly qualified, high acheiving country leader anywhere on the globe, who is immune from corruption, due to his wealth- what more do we want?!!!!!

Matt M
Matt M
20 days ago

I’ve never seen a British PM that was corrupt or accused of corruption. Possibly Lloyd George but that was over a century ago.

Last edited 20 days ago by Matt M
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
20 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

clinging on to jobs in politics because the money is needed is corruption… and what about the 1960s award of road building to a Transport minister who was closing railways , Ernest Marples and his business Marples Ridgeway? … and who fled to Israel to avoid prosecution? All covered up by then PM. What about advisory jobs to MPs and ministers from vested interests?

Matt M
Matt M
20 days ago

I shall read up on the Marples case, sounds interesting.

But the misdemeanours of Tony Blair (holiday on a yacht) or Boris (borrowing some money to pay for No10 renovations, eating some non-work related cake ) would hardly count as corruption in most countries. Didn’t two recent French presidents get done for corruption? And the mysterious wealth of some US Members of Congress is notorious.

Last edited 20 days ago by Matt M
John Tyler
John Tyler
20 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

History does not support you, but you have to go back to the nineteenth century (and further) for clear examples.

Matt M
Matt M
20 days ago
Reply to  John Tyler

Sorry I meant recent, say post-war PMs. Yes there was a lot of corruption if you go back. In the eighteenth century the main way to succeed in life was through the perks of official office.

John Tyler
John Tyler
20 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

Recent? Ah! but I can almost recall Pitt the younger.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
20 days ago

“This makes it tricky for Conservative members to do a direct comparison on the issues. Which is, ultimately, their entire job.”
Wrong. This process is an extended job interview, not a policy development process. A commitment to delivering the 2019 manifesto is all that is required on that front.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
20 days ago

At least this article is a serious piece of journalism, and touches on a problem i referred to in commenting on the “Tory Clown Show” nonsense – the poverty of the questioning of politicians and the inability of questioners to allow them to either finish their answers or elucidate sufficiently to provide a meaningful insight. Or, perhaps to prove themselves lacking in it!

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
20 days ago

There are going to be 11 more of these???

John Tyler
John Tyler
20 days ago

“ There is still a lot that we don’t know about the two candidates”. Apart from the fact they are both more of the same old political status quo. What a chance the conservative MPs have thrown away!