Summary of key points from Tory leadership hustings in Darlington
Here are the main points from the Tory leadership hustings in Darlington.
Sunak said the Conservative party would be “absolutely hammered” at the next election if it did not offer targeted help to the people who would struggle most paying their energy bills this winter. The electorate would not forgive the party if instead if focused on tax cuts that would benefit the wealthy, he said, in a reference to Liz Truss’s preferred approach. (See 8.05pm.)
Sunak signalled that the energy support package he was planning for the autumn would not be as extensive as the £15bn one he announced in May – but that it would be exclusively focused on those most in need. Asked if he was planning to spend another £15bn, he replied;
I don’t think that will be necessary because what we are talking about now ... is the extra increase on top of what we thought. And we already thought bills were going to go up to £3,000 when we announced that support.
I want to go further than I did previously because the situation is worse. It’s right that we target that on the people who most need our help.
The only way to help them is with direct support because tax cuts alone are not much good if you’re a pensioner who is not earning any extra money. They are not much good if you are working hard on the national living wage, because Liz’s tax cut is worth about a quid a week for that person, it’s worth zero for a pensioner. That’s not right.
Although the May package was directed mostly at lower-income households, there was a universal element, because all households were offered £400. Asked if he would do this again, Sunak replied:
No, because I think what we need to do is target our support for the most vulnerable.
Truss restated her preference for general tax cuts over targeted support for those most in need through benefit-type payments. She said:
There’s a fixed pie, we have to share out the pie and we have to give out the money and hand out. My view is that we can grow the pie, and having lower taxes actually helps us generate more income into the economy so there is more money to go around.
What I fundamentally don’t agree with is putting up taxes and then also giving out benefits. I think that is the wrong approach.
She also described relying on cash payments as the main means of helping people with the cost of living as “Gordon Brown economics”.
Truss said that, if given the chance, she would vote to end the privileges committee inquiry into whether Boris Johnson lied to MPs about Partygagte. But she also said there was not a vote, and the inquiry was going ahead. (See 8.46pm.) However, as PM she would be able to table a vote to end the inquiry (which was set up at the request of the Commons as a whole, following a vote of all MPs) if she wanted. Gavin Barwell, the Tory peer and former chief of staff to Theresa May, said if Truss did try to end the inquiry, she would be making a terrible mistake.
Truss refused to say that Johnson was to blame for his own downfall – while Sunak said it was his own fault. (See 8.47pm.)
Truss and Sunak both rejected suggestions from the CBI and Gordon Brown that they should sit down with Johnson now to agree a joint plan for dealing with rising energy bills. According to Truss, because this was a matter for the current chancellor, such an initiative would be “constitutionally deeply undesirable”. Sunak said the idea would not work because he and Truss did not agree on what should be done.
Truss was overheard at the end of the evening apologising to the host, TalkTV’s Tom Newton Dunn, for criticising the media during the Q&A – in a way that suggested she might not have meant what she had said. (See 9.13pm.)
Sunak suggested that if he became PM he would move some Downing Street staff to the new Treasury campus in Darlington. He said:
I put the Treasury in Darlington because I wanted to send a loud message to Whitehall that there is more to the North than Manchester. And I tell you this ... if this works out, it won’t just be called the Treasury Campus in Darlington, it will be the Downing Street Campus in Darlington.
Here’s the clip of the Truss/Newton Dunn exchange. (See 9.13pm.)
At least my colleague Jessica Elgot, who was covering the hustings, has found something joyous and uplifting to celebrate in Darlington.
Truss heard apologising to TalkTV's Tom Newton Dunn after jibe against media
The Sun’s Noa Hoffman heard Tom Newton Dunn’s reply to Liz Truss’s apology for being mean about the media.
Perhaps Truss was only trying to be conciliatory and polite. But it was also perhaps insight into how she is willing to stir up populist grievances (anti-MSM sentiment is a mainstream of populism, in both its milder and nastier incarnations) without really believing in any of it at all.
The questioning is now over. Newton Dunn asks for another show of hands from people who are still undecided as to whom they will vote for. He says only about 10% of people are raising their hands, compared with 40% earlier.
And that’s it. The hustings is over.
As she gets up to leave, Truss embraces Newton Dunn, and the microphone picks up her saying: “I’m sorry I was mean about the media, Tom.”
Q: Would you go ahead with plans to cut the size of the armed forces?
Truss says she is committed to reviewing the defence and security review.
Q: Speaking as a farmer, a lot of us are worried about the trade deals you have done. Will the meat coming into the UK be to the same standards as British meat?
Truss says she thinks British beef and lamb is world beating. She got it back into the US.
She is proud of the trade deals with Australian and New Zealand, she says. She says she is glad the UK has righted the wrong done in the 1970s (when the UK entered the Common Market, hitting exports to the UK from Australia and New Zealand.)
Q: How are you going to get civil servants back into the office when people at the top are all remainers?
Truss says she is good at getting things done.
Truss says she believes biological sex is important.
Q: Under the Gender Recognition Act, people can change sex. Would you change that?
Truss says the act allows people to change gender, but that is not the same as biological sex.
Truss says there are “real issues on the frontline” with the NHS. She says its budget would have to go up in real terms. And she says would appoint a really good health secretary.
Q: Rishi Sunak? It has been rumoured it could be him.
Truss says she does not want to get ahead of herself.
Truss says she would be willing to serve in a Rishi Sunak cabinet. She says she may have disagreements with him, but she prefers him to Keir Starmer.
Truss, unlike Sunak, refuses to say Johnson was to blame for his own downfall
Q: Was Johnson to blame for his own downfall?
Some members of the audience shout that it the media was to blame. Truss says she would not want to disagree with the excellent audience.
Q: Do you really think it was the media’s fault?
Truss says she was one of Johnson’s first backers. What’s done is done, she says.
Earlier Sunak said Johnson was to blame for his own downfall. See 8.12pm.
Truss says she would vote to end privileges committee inquiry into whether Johnson lied to MPs
Q: Should the inquiry into whether Boris Johnson lied to parliement go ahead?
Truss says that is a matter for parliament, but she goes on:
I don’t believe he misled parliament.
Q: Would you vote to stop it?
Truss says she would, but she says “there isn’t a vote and it is going ahead”.
(As prime minister Truss could schedule a vote to end the inquiry – although that would be hugely controversial.)
Q: You keep changing your mind, not just on Brexit but on other policies too.
Truss says she did back remain. She was loyal to David Cameron. But as soon as the vote came in, she tried to make it work.
Q: Is it true your team is in talks with the Cabinet Office about implementing your programme?
Truss says that is not true.
Q: The CBI want you and Sunak to agree an energy policy. Will you do that?
Truss says she is foreign secretary. She is focusing on Ukraine.
And we have a chancellor, she says. It would be constitutionally wrong for her and Sunak to try taking these decisions.
She says the “kangaroo committee” Newton Dunn is talking about sounds bizarre.
Newton Dunn says he is not proposing it. It is the CBI and Gordon Brown.
Truss seizes on the name Brown, and suggests that proves her point.
Q: Your tax cuts might provide people with £323? Will your giveaways ….
Truss says these are not giveaways. She says Newton Dunn is framing this in a leftwing way.
Q: Are you prepared to help people, in the light of today’s predictions about what will happen to energy bills?
Truss says the important word in that question is today. These are predictions for today.
She says she wants to cut taxes, and also deal with supply issues. They have to increase the supply of energy. There is more they can do on nuclear, from the North Sea and on fracking.
But in any budget she would look at the situation at the time.
Q: So you are not ruling out handouts?
Truss says she will not write her budget in the middle of August.
Truss takes questions
Truss is taking questions now. Newton Dunn is asking them.
Q: Rishi Sunak would spend billions on helping people with energy bills. Would you do that?
Truss says her priority is cutting tax. That would help the economy grow.
She does not believe in taking money from people in tax and then handing it back to them. That is “Gordon Brown economics”, she claims. It led to a slow growth economy.
(In fact, economic growth has been even slower in the 12 years since Brown left office than it was before.)
Newton Dunn says he can see more Sunak supporters than Truss ones in the audience. People wearing Truss T-shirts make themselves visible, and Newton Dunn says he can see them now.
Q: What would you do about business rates?
Sunak says he has cut business rates. And he says he would do the same as PM. Helping high streets is an absolute priority, he says.
That’s it now. The Sunak questions have finished.
Q: Why don’t you reduce the double taxation people pay on fuel?
Sunak says he represents a rural constituency. He introduced the biggest ever fuel duty cut. But that was not passed on, he says. He says there is a problem with the way the market works.
He says he believes in focusing on interventions that work.
As an MP for a rural area, he has also been conscious of the need to help people who are not on the gas grid, he says.
Q: I find the term recreational drugs objectionable. Children are suffering as a result.
Sunak says he agrees. He approaches this as a parent. He has never taken drugs, and he will be “incredibly tough” on people who do and those who supply them.
He also says he will be tough on grooming gangs. He wants the ethnicity of offenders to be recorded. No government he leads will let political correctness get in the way of dealing with this, he says.
Q: What does levelling up mean? I don’t want a political answer, I want a practical, man to man answer?
Sunak says he wants everyone in the UK, wherever they live, to have fantastic opportunities, and pride in their home.
The questioner says he still does not understand the policy. Stockton has high rates of crime. Huge sums of money are being spent, but the town still has problems. And there are not enough jobs in the centre.
Sunak says enabling people to be proud of where they lives involves tackling problems like crime.
Q: What is your attitude to climate change? And what will you do to encourage innovation?
Sunak says his daughters, aged nine and 11, are only interested in the climate change aspect of his job. They do not ask about anything else.
He says we in the UK have to provide the new technologies of the future. And it is happening in the north-east, he says.
He is committed to addressing climate change, but in a “pro-innovation” way, he says.
Having taking questions from Newton Dunn, Sunak is now taking questions from the audience.
Q: Do you know the quote that he who wields the dagger never inherits the throne?
Sunak says the questioner is wrong. He did not wield the dagger. He says the government was on the wrong side of an ethical decision, and nearly 60 people were resigning.
Q: Do you really believe you are the only candidate who can beat Keir Starmer?
Yes, says Sunak.
Q: Should the privileges committee inquiry into Boris Johnson continue?
Sunak says he trusts the MPs on the committee to take the right decisions.
(That is not a direct yes but the members of the committee want to carry on with their inquiry – at least, they do now – and so in practice that’s a yes.)
Q: Was Boris Johnson to blame for his own downfall?
Yes, says Sunak.
Q: Your family is wealthier than the Queen’s. How can you know what life is like for people?
Sunak says he has been asked that many times. In this country people judge you by your actions and your character, not your bank accounts.
He says he now is working to give other people the same chances in life he has had.
Newton Dunn puts it to Sunak that, although he claims “efficiency savings” will fund his next energy support package, that is not possible.
Sunak says Newton Dunn is wrong. He says he has found £1bn through efficiency savings to fund military aid to Ukraine.
Tories will be 'absolutely hammered' at election if they don't target energy bills support on those most in need, says Sunak
Q: You spent £15bn on your last support package for energy bills. Are you willing to spend the same again?
Sunak says last time he provided help to people most in need. He will do the same again. And he will go further this time, because bills are going up.
He says Truss was “wrong” to rule out direct support for households. (Truss did say last week she was opposed to “handouts” but now she is not ruling out that sort of support.)
Sunak says the Tories should target help on people who need it most. If they don’t, “the British people will not forgive us”, he says.
Our support should be targeted, not on massive tax cuts for very wealthy people, it should be targeted on helping the people who most need it.
And if we don’t do that, I can tell you not only will millions of people suffer, we will get absolutely hammered when it comes to an election. The British people will not forgive us for not doing that.
This is a version of the argument used by Dominic Raab in his Times article this morning. See 9.13am.
Sunak takes questions
The first half of the hustings, the opening speeches, is over. The two candidates are now taking questions.
Sunak goes first.
Q: Why are you so behind?
Sunak says the campaign has only just started.
Truss says the next PM will have to be someone who can deliver.
As international trade secretary, she delivered trade deals. People said it could not be done, she claimed. But she she delivered more and better deals.
And she claims that she got the Northern Ireland protocol bill through parliament.
(That is not true. It has gone through the House of Commons, but it has not started its passage through the Lords yet, and it is widely expected that when peers do start considering it, they will remove many of its key components.)
Truss is now talking about policy. The government needs to get rid of unnecessary retained EU law, she says. Taxes need to be lower. And corporation tax needs to stay low to promote investment. She would have low-tax enterprise zones, she says.
And she would change planning rules. She was a councillor, and sat in planning meetings. It was pointless, she implies, because key decisions were taken in Whitehall. She would give more power to local communities.
She says as foreign secretary she has stood up to Russia and supported Ukraine.
She says it is important to ensure the British bill of rights is not overruled by the European court of human rights.
As a straight-talking Yorkshire woman, she knows a woman is a woman. But there are people in Whitehall who don’t know that, she says.
Liz Truss arrives and says it is fantastic to be in Darlington. She remembers when Ben Houchen and Simon Clarke were elected in 2017. They made a crack in the red wall but 2019 was a massive demolition job. The Tories won constituencies like Darlington, and Tony Blair’s Sedgefield. As Blair would say, “things can only get better”.
Truss says she is not from a traditional Tory background. She was brought up in Paisley and in Leeds. She went to a comprehensive school, and she says pupils were being let down because people did not have ambitions for them. She blames the leftwing Leeds council.
(The many comments from Truss’s contemporaries in Leeds saying that she is wrong about this – see here and here, for example – don’t seem to have had any impact on her spiel.)
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary, is speaking now, introducing Liz Truss.
Both candidates are fantastic, she says, but she is backing Truss for three reasons. First, she is incredibly ambitious for the country. She is bold in taking decisions. And she is confident she can succeed.
She says the Northern Ireland protocol bill is an example of Truss pushing something through to make sure the union stays secures.
And she went to Russia to take on her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. She had to be bold to do that, Trevelyan says.
And Truss is confident for the country. She thinks the best days of the country are ahead of us.
This is from my colleague Jessica Elgot, who is at the hustings.
Newton Dunn asks people to raise their hands if they have not decided how they will vote yet. The party approved the question, he says. He reckons about 40% of the audience put their hands up.
Sunak says, to win the election, the Tories will have to win over swing voters. All the evidence suggests he is the best candidate to do that, he says.
He says people saw him act during the pandemic. He would bring “the same sense of urgency and grip” to other problems as PM.
And he says he will “work my socks off” to ensure that people can be proud of the Conservative government he would lead.
Seven years ago he asked to be selected candidate for Richmond. Being selected was the greatest privilege of his life, and many of those people who selected him are here tonight. He says he is now asking to be selected as PM.
Sunak says he wants to “stand up to this leftie woke culture that seems to want to cancel our history, our values and our women”.
He would have a bold plan to tackle illegal immigration, he says.
He says he would tackle inflation, because it makes everyone poorer.
And he says he has been surprised to be described as anti-Brexit, because he actually voted for Brexit. (Liz Truss didn’t.)
Sunak suggests as PM he would move some Downing Street staff to Darlington
Sunak has moved off the joke, and he is talking about his values. They are patriotism, family, service, hard work, and aspiration. And he tells the audience he knows they are their values too – because they are Conservative values.
He says he wants to restore trust, fix the economy, and reunite the country.
On trust, he says it is important to be honest. He says he has not helped himself in the contest because he has been honest.
He put the Treasury in Darlington because he wanted to show Whitehall that there was more to the north than Manchester.
And if he wins the contest, it won’t just be the Treasury campus in Darlington, but “the Downing Street campus in Darlington” too, he says.
Sunak suggests as PM he would move some Downing Street staff to Darlington.
Rishi Sunak comes on stage. He is laughing – although it is not obvious why, and his enthusiasm seems a tad contrived.
He says it has been great to be able to sleep in his own bed for the last two days. (Darlington is very close to his Richmond constituency.) But he is still obsessed with the campaign. He jokes that he realised he had been campaigning too much when he started telling his parents, who were staying, about how his mum used to run a chemist.
(If telling jokes is the key to winning this contest, then – judging by this – Boris Johnson will be staging a comeback.)
Angela Sterling is speaking now to introduce Rishi Sunak. She is a county councillor in Durham but she only joined the party recently, she says.
She says she joined because of what happened during Covid. As a small business owner she was terrified when the virus struck. She reached out to her MP, Richard Holden, a Conservative, and he got her involved in talks about what was needed. As a result, the bounceback loan scheme was created, she says.
She says she could not believe that the chancellor had been listening. It was her first positive experience of a politician, she says. She says as someone born and brought up in the north-east, she was used to being ignored by politicians. Even when Tony Blair, a north-east MP, was prime minister, he ignored the region, she claims.
She says Sunak has done more for the north-east than any other politician. He has even brought a government department, the Treasury, to Darlington, she says. (Not the whole Treasury – just a branch office.)
She says if Sunak can persuade her to join the Tories, “then taking on Keir Starmer is an absolute piece of cake”.
Tom Newton Dunn, the TalkTV presenter and former Sun political editor, is speaking now. He is chairing and jokes about how he has covered quite a few leadership contests because the Tories do them every three years. The joke does not seem to go down particularly well.
He says Darlington is significant because it is the place where in 1992 a young Alan Milburn beat a young Michael Fallon.
Among “red wall” constituents 46% of families say they are struggling to cope. The UK average is 33%, he says. He says he will be asking about that tonight.
Andrew Stephenson, the Tory co-chair (although he is introduced as just the chairman), is speaking now from the platform.
He has been campaigning in the north-east, he says. Seats in the region are key to a general election victory, he says.
He says they have had “an incredibly strong slate of candidates” in the leadership contest, and the most diverse set of candidates in a contest like this in history. Labour would love to have its first woman leader, he says. But the Tories could be on course for their third, he says.
He says the Conservatives are “the world’s most successful political party”.
Boris Johnson has shown how the Tories can rise to the challenges the country faces – like getting Brexit done, getting the UK through the pandemic, rolling out the vaccine programme, or supporting Ukraine, he says.
Peter Booth, chairman of the Conservative party’s national convention (its voluntary wing), is now opening the hustings from the platform.
The winner will be announced on Monday 5 September, and will become prime minister very soon afterwards, he says.
He urges members to ask searching questions. And to make them succinct, so lots of people get a question, he says.
Members will want to test the candidates, he says. But he says he is sure people will be “respectful” and keep their questions positive.
People should receive ballot papers by 11 August, he says. If you have not had one by then, contact your constituency chairman, he says.
The video now features Andrew Stephenson, the Conservative party co-chair, talking about the party’s 80:20 election campaign – which is focusing on holding 80 marginal seats, and winning 20 target seats.
The hustings event starts with a video, which is currently featuring scenes from the 2019 general election victory.
John-Paul Campion, the Tory police and crime commissioner for West Mercia, has endorsed Rishi Sunak.
Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak poised to start Tory leadership hustings in Darlington
We are now about 10 minutes away from the start of the next official Conservative party hustings. This is the fifth, and there will be seven more to go before the contest ends at the end of this month, but it is the first taking place in what would be described as proper “red wall” territory. Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are in Darlington, where the Tories gained a seat in the 2019 general election that had been Labour since 1992.
Rishi Sunak has arrived for the Tory leadership hustings in Darlington, TalkTV’s Tom Newton Dunn reports.
Johnson says he is 'absolutely confident' government has 'fiscal firepower' it needs to help people with energy bills over winter
Boris Johnson has said that he is “absolutely confident” the government has the “fiscal firepower” to help people with rising energy bills over the winter. Speaking at a Points of Light Award reception in the Downing Street garden today, he said:
In these difficult financial times people are feeling the squeeze across our country and they’re feeling the impact in particular of the energy price spikes that are being caused by Putin’s war in Ukraine. And of course it’s right that the government is doing everything that we can to help, and we’re putting £1,200 into the pockets of the eight million most vulnerable households and £400 for everybody to help with the cost of energy, £300 for pensioners, £150 off council tax, and the money will keep coming in throughout the autumn, more coming in September and October.
And of course, as some of you may have picked up, this is going to be one of my last events in the garden in Downing Street and there will be a new prime minister very shortly. I can tell you for certain [they] will be either a man or a woman.
Whoever he or she may be, I’m absolutely certain they will be wanting to make some more announcements in September/ October about what we’re going to do further to help people in the next period in December/ January and I just want you to know that I’m absolutely confident that we will have the fiscal firepower and the headroom to continue to look after people as we’ve done throughout.
Truss and Sunak must no longer ignore energy bills 'cataclysm', says money saving expert Martin Lewis
Martin Lewis, the campaigner, journalist and Money Saving Expert website founder, is one of the most respected voices on cost of living issues. This is what he posted on Twitter earlier after Cornwall Insight published its latest forecast for the energy price cap. (See 10.54am.)
He says that the energy bills crisis is a “national cataclysm” and that the Tory leadership contest should not ignore it any longer.
Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak would argue that they are not ignoring it. Lewis is arguing that they are, because their proposals do not address the scale of the problem.
Here is the TalkTV presenter Tom Newton Dunn explaining why tonight’s official Conservative party leadership hustings from Darlington (which he is hosting) could be seen as the most important one yet.
The hustings start at 7am. I will be covering them here, and we will have a live feed at the top of the blog.
Labour says it's 'complete disgrace' that Britons at risk of power cuts this winter
Ed Miliband, the shadow secretary for climate change and net zero, says it is a “complete disgrace” that people are at risk of power cuts this winter. (See 5.14pm.) Responding to the Bloomberg story, he said in a statement:
Whilst the Tories squabble over tax cuts, Britain is now readying itself for catastrophic power cuts this winter. This is a complete disgrace to a British public already struggling at the hands of an absent government that has left our economy in tatters. What we are faced with is the result of 12 years of Tory government which has failed to prepare and refused to invest, leaving bills higher and our country less secure.
Instead of mending the roof while the sun was shining, they cut back on the things that would be protecting families and businesses now: scrapping all home insulation programmes, blocking the cheapest, home-grown energy like onshore wind and solar, and shutting down our remaining gas storage.
Labour would upgrade 19 million draughty homes to reduce energy demand and massively accelerate the renewable rollout with a green energy sprint, to strengthen our energy security and cut bills for good.
UK facing 'planned power cuts' amid shortages in winter, reports say
The government is making contingency plans for what might happen if Britain runs short of gas over the winter, Bloomberg’s Alex Wickham reports. Under what is being described as a “reasonable worst-case scenario” (which means something that could be reasonably described as the worst-case scenario, not a worst-case scenario that would be reasonable to experience), there could be “planned power cuts” for industrial and domestic users, Wickham says.
Readers who remember the 1970s will realise it is time to start stocking up on candles and torches.
MoD cancels plans to house up to 1,500 asylum seekers at former RAF base in North Yorkshire
Plans to house up to 1,500 asylum seekers at a disused North Yorkshire RAF base were “scrapped” after the Ministry of Defence withdrew its offer of the site, PA Media reports. PA says:
Ben Wallace, the defence secretary told reporters he had “obligations to do something else with that site” but that others have been made available to the Home Office if it wishes to press ahead with the proposed reception centre in another location.
The controversial plans for an accommodation and processing centre in the small village of Linton-on-Ouse were announced by the Home Office in April, with around 60 men expected to be housed there by the end of May.
But the move was delayed, with a letter to Hambleton district council in May saying “no final decision” about the site had been made by ministers.
The plans were met with significant opposition from residents of the village, near York, while the local authority said it would seek a judicial review of the proposals.
Earlier this week, Rishi Sunak said he would scrap the plan if he becomes prime minister.
The former chancellor, who represents the neighbouring North Yorkshire constituency of Richmond, told the Yorkshire Post the centre “clearly does not have local support” and he would look for an “alternative solution”.
Asked about Sunak’s comments during a visit to Huddersfield on Tuesday, Tory leadership rival Liz Truss told reporters: “My understanding from the Defence Secretary is that site is not going ahead. So it’s a moot point because it won’t be going forward.”
Wallace confirmed during the same visit he had “withdrawn the offer of that site to the Home Office”.
He told reporters: “[Sunak] didn’t oppose it when he was in government, so that’s a new surprise, but I think, because he’s not in Government, he won’t know what’s been going on and I’ve withdrawn the offer to the Home Office for that site.
“It’s been with them for a number of months, I have obligations to do something else with that site and there are other sites that have been made available to the Home Office if they wish to take it up.”
Sunak says he would prioritise pensioners and low-income families in energy bills support package
Rishi Sunak has given an interview to ITV’s Daniel Hewitt that reveals a little bit more about the sort of energy bills support package he would introduce in the autumn if he became prime minister. Here are the main points.
Sunak says he would announce a new energy support package worth “hundreds of pounds” to individuals. This was implicit in his overnight declaration that he would bring forward further measures modelled on the £15bn programme he announced in May (see 9.13am), but speaking to ITV he was more explicit. Asked if people would get help worth “hundreds of pounds”, rather than just worth £100 or £200, he replied: “Yes.” He would not give precise figures. But he said:
The increase in bills compared to what we thought before is as a few hundred pounds more. Now it’s hard to be precise, because we don’t know yet, but what people can see is that’s the kind of scale that I did before.
Sunak signalled that he would prioritise help for pensioners and people on low incomes. He said:
I want to make sure pensioners and the low-income households that I care most about do get the help that they need. And I want them to have peace of mind. That’s what I stood up and announced a few months ago. And I’m always going to want to make sure that those families have that peace of mind, particularly those on pensions and low incomes.
This is a key dividing line with Liz Truss. The Truss camp depict this as an ideological split (whether it is better for the state to tax people and then return the money to people, or whether it is better not to take it from them in the first place, her approach), but it is also a redistributional split (because cutting payroll taxes as a solution to the cost of living crisis helps the richest most – see 12.50am). Conservative party members are better off than members of the population as a whole (86% of them would be classified as in the social category ABC1, as opposed to 59% of the population as a whole, according to one assessment) and so if self-interest is a factor (which it normally is in elections), this is important. (Interestingly, though, at the 2019 general election, Conservative voters turned out to be disproportionately weighted towards the C2DE social group.)
Sunak defended his decision to tell an audience in Tunbridge Wells that he deserved credit for diverting funding away from “deprived urban areas” to places like theirs. He said he was making the point that poverty was not just urban. He said:
My point is that there are pockets of poverty that exist everywhere. They’re not just in big urban cities. They are in small towns. They are in rural areas. There’s poverty everywhere that we need to tackle and make sure gets the investment it needs.
He said he had not spoken to Boris Johnson since he resigned from government. Asked if relations between them were still raw, he replied: “That’s a question for him rather than for me.”
No government can fully protect people from impact of rising energy bills, says Truss ally Ben Wallace
Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, has said that no government would be able to fully protect people from the impact of rising energy prices this winter.
Speaking to reporters as he accompanied Liz Truss on a leadership campaign visit to a defence company in Huddersfield, Wallace said it was “fraudulent” to suggest a total solution was available. Asked about the new forecast that the energy price cap could rise above £4,000 (see 10.54am), he replied:
There’s not a single person who is offering a solution to those significant rises, not the Labour party, not Rishi Sunak, not anyone else.
That scale is not entirely going to be solved by the government. I think that’s what people need to understand. That’s the honest truth. We are all feeling it in our pocket.
And the idea there is a magic wand coming out of Whitehall, no matter who is prime minister, including the Labour party, is fraudulent to say so.
Wallace also defended Truss’s approach to tackling the cost of living crisis, saying that tax cuts – her preferred solution – did amount to direct help for people struggling to pay their bills. He said:
I think it is direct support if you cut their taxes. I mean, people hold a burden every day. What takes money out of your pocket every day? It’s your tax and your cost of living. Whether you cut that tax or whether you alleviate the impact of the cost of living, it’s the same thing.
So, she’s choosing to do it that way. But she hasn’t ruled out any other alternatives. She’s said she’s going to look at that at the budget.
Senior Tory hits out at 'sort of terrorist campaign' being waged by critics of inquiry into whether Johnson lied to Commons
The senior Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin has in effect accused the Daily Mail and the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, of being part of “a sort of terrorist campaign” to discredit the inquiry into whether Boris Johnson lied to MPs about Partygate.
Jenkin, who chairs the Commons liaison committee and who sits on the privileges committee, which is carrying out the investigation into Johnson, was speaking on Radio 4’s Word at One about the campaign – championed most prominently by the Mail newspapers – for the inquiry to be shelved.
Jenkin and all other members of the committee were accused of being in effect biased against Johnson in reports in the Mail on Sunday at the weekend, and again in the Daily Mail yesterday. Today the Mail is running a story just focused on Jenkin, suggesting that his past comments about Johnson mean he is unlikely to give the PM a fair hearing.
Dorries, a Johnson loyalist, has used Twitter to express her support for the Mail’s call for the privileges committee’s inquiry to be halted.
At the end of an interview mainly about the Tory leadership contest, Jenkin was asked about the claims that the committee was rigged against Johnson. He said that House of Commons voted for the inquiry to take place and that the committee had set out how it intended to proceed (in this report), taking into account advice on fairness from a judge. He said:
If any member of parliament is not happy with the process that we set out in our July report, which reflects the advice of a high court judge, respect for article six of the European convention on human rights about making sure that we have a fair process and Boris Johnson is not subjected to an unfair prosecution of any kind – if anybody is unhappy with that, they should write to the committee with their arguments and we will be compelled to consider them …
Don’t just conduct a sort of terrorist campaign to try and discredit the committee because the privileges committee is how we self regulate our affairs. The House of Commons attaches great importance to the self regulation of our affairs. We don’t want to hand them over to the courts or to statute law. So if people have proper criticisms to make, make them to the committee and we will have to consider them.
Jenkin suggested that, if the Commons were to vote to end the inquiry, then that would imply that claims that MPs had been misled by Johnson were not important. He said:
If the House of Commons were to decide to rescind the original motion referring the matter to us, well, then, I think we would all have to answer questions as to why suddenly it’s not important any more when it was very important before.
Jenkin also insisted he had a “completely open mind” on the question of whether or not Johnson misled MPs.
Truss accuses Sunak of being 'declinist' as she rejects claim her economic plan would be 'electoral suicide' for Tories
Liz Truss, the frontrunner in the Tory leadership contest, has hit back at claims from the Rishi Sunak camp that her economic plans would amount to an “electoral suicide note” for the Tories because they would not protect people from soaring energy bills. (See 9.13am.) Speaking on a visit to Reliance Precision Ltd, a defence company in Huddersfield, she insisted that her approach would help people. Here are the main points she made.
- Truss accused Sunak of being “declinist” and of spreading “portents of doom”. Asked about the “electoral suicide note” claim, she said:
My campaign is all about growing the British economy ... What I care about is Britain being successful. I don’t agree with these portents of doom. I don’t agree with this declinist talk.
I believe our country’s best days are ahead of us. What I’m going to do, if selected as prime minister, is keep taxes low, get the economy growing, unleash the potential right across Britain. That’s what I’m about.
Truss claims that Sunak’s high-tax policies are taking the UK into recession and that, by cutting taxes to stimulate growth, she would be able to avert this.
- Truss said she was committed to “making sure people are supported” through the cost of living crisis, but she would not give details of what payments she might make available to people. She said:
What I’m doing is making sure people are paying less taxes and also having a temporary moratorium on the green energy levy to save people money on their fuel bills.
I’m not going to write the budget in advance. We’ll see what the situation is like in the autumn. But I’m committed to making sure people are supported and I’m committed to growing the economy.
Even though Truss ruled out “handouts” in a Financial Times interview last week, her team have subsequently clarified her position and she is now not ruling out offering people some form of one off-payments in an emergency budget in the autumn.
- But Truss also insisted her main focus was on bringing down the tax burden. She explained:
What I don’t believe in is taxing people to the highest level in 70 years, and then giving them their own money back.
We are Conservatives, we believe in low taxes. What I’m not going to do is announce the next budget in advance - of course we’ll need to deal with the circumstances as they arise - but my fundamental principle is that people should keep more of their own money.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a leading poverty charity, says, in the light of the latest forecast about how energy bills will rise (see 10.54am), the government needs to at least double the help already provided to help people through the cost of living crisis. This is from Peter Matejic, its chief analyst.
The latest projections of annual energy bills exceeding £4,200 from January is the latest in a series of terrifying warnings over the past week, from the Bank of England and others. Families on low incomes cannot afford these eye watering sums and as a nation we can’t afford to ignore an impending disaster.
Both candidates to be prime minister must now recognise the extraordinarily fast-changing situation and act to protect the hardest hit from the coming emergency.
Every day action is delayed is increasing anxiety for low-income families who do not know how they will get by this winter. The payments promised by the government earlier in the year offer some help but their scale has been overtaken by events, and they must now be at least doubled if they are to protect people from serious hardship on a massive scale.
The foundation has also published a briefing saying the plans announced by Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss to help people with the cost of living won’t help those most in need.
Sunak has proposed a temporary cut in VAT on fuel bills, but the JRF says “this would help those who use more energy rather than those who need most help with their bills” and only save a typical consumer around £154 a year.
Truss wants to reverse the national insurance contributions (NICs) increase and remove green levies from energy bills. But for every £7 spent cancelling the NICs rise, £6 would go to people in the top half of income distribution, JRF says. And it says suspending green levies would only cut bills by around £150 a year - when costs will rise by more than £2,500 a year.
Unite ballots healthcare workers on industrial action over 'miserable' pay offer
Around 100,000 NHS workers in England and Wales are being balloted for industrial action in protest at a “miserable” pay offer, PA Media reports. PA says:
Unite said the 4% increase for staff in middle pay bands announced by the government last month is a “massive pay cut” because of soaring inflation.
The union will now consult with its 100,000 health members across the NHS in both England and Wales on whether they accept the “imposed deal” or want to challenge it through industrial action, which could mean strikes this winter.
Unite is recommending its members, including health visitors and speech therapists, vote yes to industrial action.
The union’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “This offer is nothing other than a massive national pay cut for NHS staff. After everything they have been through with the Covid pandemic and the service this workforce gives this country day in, day out, this is a kick in the teeth from the government and an insult to staff and patients alike.
“This ballot is a chance for our members to have their say, and, whatever they decide, they will have the full backing of their union, Unite.”
In England, the ballot closes on Sunday 11 September, and in Wales the ballot closes on Friday 15 September.
The Royal College of Nursing is also balloting its members for strikes over pay.
'Fundamental difference of opinion' means leadership candidates cannot agree joint energy bills plan, says Sunak ally
Tony Danker, director general of the CBI, has urged Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to agree a joint plan now for helping people with rising energy bills in the autumn, at a meeting convened by Boris Johnson. But, in an interview this morning, Mark Harper, the former Tory chief whip and a leading Sunak supporter, said he did not think this proposal was realistic because the two candidates disagreed too much. He told Sky News:
There’s a fundamental difference of opinion between the two leadership candidates. Rishi thinks we are going to need to give direct support to people because, if you’re going to help the poorest and most vulnerable, you can’t just cut their taxes because they don’t pay a lot of tax.
Liz Truss thinks that you can simply cut national insurance. But that gives a big boost to people on the biggest incomes, doesn’t help pensioners at all and gives very little help to people on the national living wage who are working full time.
Harper also said he expected civil servants to be working on both options so that, when the new PM takes over in early September, the government can implement a new policy quickly.
Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak must set out emergency water plans to tackle “immoral” wastage, the president of the National Farmers’ Union has said. My colleague Helena Horton has the story here.
Truss and Sunak 'living in a parallel universe' by ignoring fuel bill crisis, Lib Dem leader Ed Davey claims
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, wants the government to spend around £36bn halting any further rise in the energy price cap. My colleague Jessica Elgot has filed a story on this overnight.
The latest forecast from Cornwall Insight (see 10.54am) will make this proposal even more electorally compelling - as well as even more expensive.
In an interview on the Today programme this morning, Davey said a policy like this was needed to avoid a social catastrophe. He also accused the Tory leadership candidates of failing to address the crisis and “living in a parallel universe”. He told the programme:
We all know that energy prices are going to go up dramatically in October, but we’ve heard nothing from either candidate of the Conservatives for prime minister. They’ve got no plan, it’s almost as if they’re living in a parallel universe.
Liberal Democrats are now publishing our plan and what we’re saying is the Government should cancel the October energy price rise. If it does, it will avoid a social catastrophe. Millions of families and pensioners will go hungry and cold this winter unless bold measures like Liberal Democrats are proposing is put in place. They’ve got to act now.
Last night the Davey plan won a semi-endorsement from Momentum, the Labour group set up to promote Jeremy Corbyn’s policy agenda.
UK energy bills forecast to hit £4,266 a year from January
The energy price cap is now forecast to reach £4,266 a year in the first three months of next year, according to the consultancy Cornwall Insight. My colleague Alex Lawson has the full story here.
These are from Bloomberg’s energy specialist Javier Blas.
Sunak claims 'efficiency savings' could fund new energy bills support package in autumn
In his statement issued overnight about his plans for dealing with the cost of living crisis (see 9.13am), Rishi Sunak said he would fund a new energy bills support package through efficiency savings. He said:
It’s important for people to know how this extra support will be paid for. In order to keep any one-off borrowing to an absolute minimum I will first seek efficiency savings across Whitehall to provide direct support for families to help with the unprecedented situation we face.
This is not really plausible. The last energy support package Sunak announced as chancellor, which is the one he seems to want to replicate this time around, cost £15bn and it would be impossible to find “efficiency savings”, in the conventional meaning of the term, that would raise this sort of money. If “efficiency savings” are a euphemism for massive public spending cuts, then the proposal would be more credible. Alternatively, Sunak would have to raise taxes somewhere, or borrow.
According to Politico, the Liz Truss camp are describing this as “another big U-turn”. One Truss source said:
How is [Sunak] going to fund these new promises? Three weeks ago he was saying more borrowing was irresponsible and inflationary. Has he changed his mind? Intellectually it’s as watertight as a sieve.
Of course, Truss herself is not a great advert for consistency. Famously, she is now an evangelist for Brexit having voted remain in 2016. But the campaign has also seen her abandon other policies she was championing more recently. She has completely dropped her 2019 proposal to build 1m homes on the green belt, she is now backing calls for civil servants to return to the office, despite only last year saying she was “ a passionate supporter of results over presenteeism in every possible area”, and only last week she dropped a plan for regional pay for public sector workers only hours after it was press released by her team.
Paul Scully, the business minister, has been giving interviews this morning on behalf of the Liz Truss campaign. Referring to the Dominic Raab article in the Times (see 9.13am), Scully criticised the Rishi Sunak campaign for negative campaigning. He told Times Radio:
It’s a shame that we’re hearing that sort of language. That sort of blue-on-blue, as it’s always known, language doesn’t really help. People looking from the outside must be tearing their hair out because all we want to do is do the best for the country, for people.
Scully also defended Truss’s cost of living proposals (described by Raab as a potential “electoral suicide note” for the Tories). He said:
What Liz has said is the right thing to do, the Conservative thing to do, is don’t take the money from people in the first place, rather than just taking money to give it back to them ...
Ofgem will be deciding the price cap in the next few weeks. And at that point, we can make a quick decision ... We clearly need to support people as best we can.
Liz is far more bold, ambitious, she’s more optimistic for the economy. And the combination of targeted tax cuts, and targeted support can help both the short term and grow the economy for the medium-term solutions.
As Annabelle Dickson reports in her London Playbook briefing for Politico, in private the Truss camp response to the “electoral suicide” article is much stronger. “The suicide note here is Rishi’s high taxes and his failed economic policy that he’s peddled for the past two and a half years when he was chancellor,” they are saying.
Truss’s cost of living policies could be ‘electoral suicide note’ for Tories, says Raab
Good morning. At 7pm this evening Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak will speak at the fifth official Conservative party hustings. Tom Newton Dunn from TalkTV is in the chair, and the event may give some insight into how both candidates appeal in “red wall” territory. The Tories won Darlington in 2019, but until then it had been a Labour seat since 1992. It is a key target seat for the opposition.
Truss and Sunak will also come under pressure to clarify exactly what they would do to help people cope with crippling energy bills later this year. A column in the Sun yesterday said Britain was “on the brink of a full-blown calamity of wartime proportions”. In a statement released overnight Sunak went further than he has gone before in saying that essentially he would replicate the support package he announced earlier this year as chancellor. He said:
People need proven methods that will deliver for them quickly. So I will use the framework I created to provide further support and give millions of people the peace of mind they desperately need ahead of the winter.
In fact, Sunak announced three energy support packages in the first half of this year, but the briefing note from his campaign only refers to the £15bn May package, implying that this will be the model. Economists praised these measures as “highly progressive”, saying they would help the poor the most.
Truss has been less clear about what she would do. Her team has said that an interview she gave to the Financial Times at the end of last week, in which she said that she wanted to “do things is in a Conservative way of lowering the tax burden, not giving out handouts”, did not mean that she was ruling out providing people with Sunak-style one-off payments. But she insists that her primary focus remains on helping people via tax cuts.
This morning the Guardian has splashed on a story by my colleague Rowena Mason about the criticism “Trussonomics” is getting from economists and others who say that her plans might cost £50bn a year, while failing to protect those most at risk from the cost of living crisis.
You can read Rowena’s story here.
And it turns out the Rishi Sunak camp largely agree with the experts quoted by Rowena. Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, deputy PM and a leading Sunak supporter, has written an article for the Times today and in it he claims that Truss’s policies would amount to an “electoral suicide note” for the Tories because voters would not forgive the party for not helping the most vulnerable. He says:
Deep down, we know that the aftereffects of a global pandemic, compounded by a war on our near shores, are having a palpable impact on people up and down the country. That is why, in addition to bearing ruthlessly down on inflation, it is wrong to rule out further direct support for families worried and unsure how they will make ends meet in the coming months. It is why it is right that we consider carefully how we step in and shield them from the full force of the global economic headwinds we now face. We must tackle these problems in a way that doesn’t drive up borrowing, and therefore inflation – and with our medium-term focus constantly fixed on that goal of reducing taxes and making taxpayers’ money go further. That is the economic tightrope we must walk, and there’s no avoiding it ...
As Conservative party members decide which way to cast their vote over the coming weeks, I urge them to consider this point carefully. If we go to the country in September with an emergency budget that fails to measure up to the task, voters will not forgive us as they see their living standards eroded and the financial security they cherish disappear before their eyes. Such a failure will read unmistakenly to the public like an electoral suicide note and see our great party cast into the impotent oblivion of opposition.
I’ll be here all day, reporting on this debate as it unfolds, and I will be covering the hustings in Darlington tonight.
Otherwise the diary is relatively empty, although Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader, is speaking at an event at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at 12pm, which may provide some news.
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