OPINION - Truss vs Sunak – reflections on *that* leadership debate

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 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

The joy of modern technology is that I was able to watch last night’s leadership debate on iPlayer, with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones while my partner, who has no interest in politics, enjoyed an episode ofThe Real Housewives of Atlanta on the TV.

This peaceful co-existence lasted until roughly 9.30pm, when I bellowed with incredulity, “recycling?” after Rishi Sunak cited the practice as an example of how to combat climate change.

Now in fairness to the former chancellor, it was a bad question. Personal behaviour – flying less, walking more, cutting out beef – certainly makes a difference, but unfortunately enough of one. That’s why we have governments.

As the climate scientist Corinne Le Quéré told Henry Mance of the FT recently: “A perfect person could cut their own emissions by perhaps 25 per cent.” This is because carbon emissions are built into the infrastructure (transport, heat, electricity) necessary for participation in society. As a result, “It really needs to be a society-wide movement.”

It was only a small example of how this debate fell flat. In fairness, the evening started well, with a real back-and-forth on the economy. Sunak wants to focus on inflation and fiscal rectitude, while Liz Truss yearns to deliver tax cuts, to boost an economy that she believes is not operating at full capacity.

But more time was dedicated to earrings from Claire’s Accessories (apparently it’s called Claire’s) than the record number of people on NHS waiting lists. Or social care. Or housing. Or Northern Ireland. The only Brexit reference I can recall occurred in a ‘quick-fire’ round in which both candidates refused to concede Brexit had anything to do with queues at Dover.

Some stray observations:

  • Truss wants to be the Thatcherite candidate, but spends a lot of time alluding to how bad things were growing up in the 1980s

  • Sunak keeps saying how brave he was to defy David Cameron and support Leave in the EU referendum. But given the Tory membership and the clear direction the party was taking, this seems a stretch

  • Truss's allies briefed out that Sunak was "unfit for office" while she was simultaneously offering him a place in her cabinet

  • According to post-debate polls, Sunak did better among Labour voters, Truss among 2019 Tory voters. I know who I'd rather impress in this contest

  • Speaking of which, the loudest round of applause Sunak received all evening seemed to be when he gave Boris Johnson 10/10 for delivering Brexit and winning the general election

All in all, a pretty odd debate. If you’re looking for a positive spin, the odds are at least you don’t have a say in the matter.

Elsewhere in the paper, a reminder of what politics at its best can achieve. David Trimble has passed away, aged 77, following a short illness. Ulster Unionist Party leader from 1995 to 2005, Trimble was instrumental, alongside others – notably John Hume – in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. If you have a spare few moments, you could do worse than read his 1998 speech on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize .

In the comment pages, Nimco Ali predicts that a general election is coming, but the country needs a deeper change. While Isobel Van Dyke welcomes the LGBT+ World Cup – Eurovision – to the UK. (And if you missed it, here’s what this year’s runner-up, Sam Ryder, had to say, perfectly as ever.)

Finally, I haven’t poured over the small print so don’t know exactly what cutbacks the government is demanding in return for a long-term bailout for Transport for London but... TfL is starting a book club, and asking commuters to pay £4.99 a month to join. Which suggests it is looking to diversify its revenue streams.

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