Outsiders pin their hopes on ‘doing a Nick Clegg’ in TV debates

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Hopeful: Tom Tugendhat is hoping to win over the nation at the debates (AFP via Getty Images)
Hopeful: Tom Tugendhat is hoping to win over the nation at the debates (AFP via Getty Images)

Tory leadership hopefuls were on Thursday preparing for make-or-break television showdowns in the fight to become the next prime minister.

Two TV debates, hosted by Channel 4 and ITV, are scheduled to take place on Friday and on Sunday.

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak was leading the field with MP support this morning, closely followed by Penny Mordaunt and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

Former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, Tom Tugendhat and attorney general Suella Braverman made up the remaining candidates.

Ms Mordaunt has consistently come top of Conservative member polls.

But Mr Tugendhat’s team are hoping the debates will be his “Nick Clegg moment” where the soldier-turned-MP will win over the nation.

The ex-Liberal Democrat leader stole the show at the first televised leaders’ debates ahead of the 2010 election, fuelling a surge of “Cleggmania” support in his campaign.

Sources in Mr Sunak’s campaign say they want the debates to expose Ms Truss’ weaknesses and highlight that she is the “continuity” candidate.

Ms Truss did not resign from Boris Johnson’s Government last week and at her campaign launch on Thursday she said she remained “loyal” to the Prime Minister.

Pressure is reportedly growing from the Foreign Secretary’s allies for Ms Braverman and Ms Badenoch to abandon their bids and for their supporters to unite around Ms Truss.

A second round of voting among Tory MPs was taking place on Thursday, which will see the candidate with the least amount of support eliminated.

Others may drop out but up to five candidates are expected to take part in the first debate.

After another candidate is eliminated on Monday, the frontrunners are expected to thrash out the issues in a third debate on Sky News.

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