- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
In a combative performance in the first televised debate of the contest on Friday night, the former chancellor rounded on his rivals saying proposals to raise borrowing to pay for tax cuts were a “fairytale”.
Speaking during a visit to Teesside, where he secured the backing of regional mayor Ben Houchen, Mr Sunak doubled down on his message saying the priority had to be curbing spiralling prices.
“I think the number one economic priority we face as a country is inflation.
“I want to get a grip of inflation because inflation is what makes everybody poorer,” he said.
“If we don’t get a grip of it now it will last longer and that is not a good thing.
“Once we’ve done that, I will deliver tax cuts.”
Mr Sunak topped the voting in the first two ballots of Tory MPs but polling has suggested he would struggle against either of his main rivals – Foreign Secretary Ms Truss or trade minister Penny Mordaunt – in a final run-off vote of the entire party membership.
He insisted however that he remained the candidate who was best equipped to take on Labour and win in a general election.
“I am going to continue making the positive case for my candidacy and I believe I am the best possible person to help our party defeat Keir Starmer and defeat the Labour Party in a general election,” the Richmond MP said.
“That’s what the new leader needs to be able to do. They also need to restore trust, rebuild the economy and reunite our country, and I believe I am the best placed to do all of that.”
Following the televised showdown on Channel 4, Mr Sunak’s campaign team claimed that he had “unambiguously won” the debate.
A snap poll of 1,159 viewers by pollsters Opinium put him in second place, with 24% saying he had been the strongest performer, behind Tom Tugendhat – seen as the outsider in the contest – on 36%.
Ms Mordaunt, the international trade minister, tied with former equalities minister Kemi Baden for third place on 12%, while Ms Truss, the Foreign Secretary, trailed in fifth with just 7%.
Meanwhile, a poll of more than 4,400 people by JL Partners for The Sunday Telegraph found that of those who had heard of all five candidates, Mr Sunak had the highest approval rating among Tory voters.
Of those who voted Conservative in 2019, 48% thought the former chancellor would make a good prime minister compared to 39% for Ms Truss, 33% for Ms Mordaunt, 29% for Mr Tugendhat and 21% for Ms Badenoch.
Mr Tugendhat, the one candidate without ministerial experience, said on Saturday that he was committed to delivering on Brexit, despite having been a strong Remain supporter in the 2016 referendum.
He said there were still important issues relating to the working of the Northern Ireland Protocol which needed to be resolved with the EU.
“One of the other things I’ll be making sure is delivered is Brexit,” he told GB News.
“What Boris Johnson has done is delivered most of Brexit, let’s be honest there’s still Northern Ireland, and that’s a really big issue. Let’s not kid ourselves that it’s going to be easy because it’s not.”
Despite having seen his tally of votes fall in the second ballot of MPs, in which he finished fifth, the former Army officer said he had no intention of dropping out.
“I have never turned down a challenge because the odds were against me. I don’t plan to start now,” he said.
Mr Tugendhat, who says he offers a clean break with Mr Johnson’s premiership, drew applause from the studio audience in the TV debate when he was the only candidate to answer with an unequivocal “no” when asked if the Prime Minister was an honest man.