On her way to the eleventh – and penultimate – Tory leadership hustings in Norwich, Liz Truss visited the factory that makes Colman’s mustard. But sadly, these hustings lacked spice.
Husting fatigue? Possibly. The first, after all, was in Leeds back on 28 July. And the 11 so far have been just those events organized by the Conservative Party. There have been countless others as well.
But these hustings for Tory leadership candidates Ms Truss and Rishi Sunakchaired by the radio host Julia Hartley-Brewer, did come alive during the quick-fire rounds, when she really put them on the spot.
“President Macron, friend or foe?” was her first quick-fire question from her. “Macron,” said Rishi Sunak without hesitation. “The jury’s out,” said Ms Truss.
The best quickie, though, from the charismatic host was; “Who would you rather be stuck in a lift with, Keir Starmer or Nicola Sturgeon?”
After a big laugh, Mr Sunak responded: “I’d take the stairs.” The audience loved it. Ms Truss, however, replied: “Nicola Sturgeon.” why? Because she’d try to talk her out of her separatist policies.
That was a strange answer, given that at the Exeter hustings on 1 August the foreign secretary said she’d ignore Scotland’s first minister and dismissed her as “an attention seeker”.
MS Truss recovered slightly, however, from that inconsistency by dismissing the Labor leader as “boring”. The audience loved that, too, not surprisingly.
The Liz and Rishi roadshow had taken the Tory leadership candidates to a Holiday Inn close to Norwich airport. “It’s the first time we’ve had a disco hall,” said Mr Sunak as he bounced on to the stage.
He didn’t mention that the hotel also boasts a swimming pool. Touchy subject, swimming pools, for Mr Sunak, given the £400,000 pool he’s splashing out on at his £1.5m Yorkshire Dales mansion while the local baths in Richmond faces closure.
Ms Truss, wearing “Thatcher blue”, was on home turf here, as she noted immediately. “In Norfolk, we do things differently!” she exclaimed excitedly. And it was time, she said, that there was a Norfolk MP back in Downing Street.
As the Birmingham hustings chairman John Pienaar had done earlier this week, at the beginning Ms Hartley-Brewer asked for a show of hands from the audience on how many of them had already voted in the contest.
The majority had not yet cast their vote, she deduced, and many had yet to make up their minds. So it was still all to play for, she declared. really? That’s not what the evidence of the extensive polling suggests.
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At the end, the host asked the same question and reported that there were fewer undecideds. So it had all been worthwhile, she claimed. Well, yes, but we’d heard a lot of the candidates’ arguments many times before.
Early on here, Ms Truss was risk-averse, cautious and safety first. She was rather wooden in her delivery of her in her opening speech. To be fair, though, she came to life and showed more sparkle during the questions.
Perhaps the most revealing moment came when the pair were asked in the quick-fire rounds who would make a better PM. If not him, Mr Sunak was asked, Liz Truss or Boris Johnson?
“Oh gosh, I mean, Liz Truss, we’re here in her home town, her home area,” he replied. But when Ms Truss was asked “Rishi Sunak or Boris Johnson?” she replied defiantly: “Boris Johnson.”
Say it all. Her critics of Ella will conclude that she’s the “Boris candidate” or the continuity candidate and that Johnson loyalists will never forgive Mr Sunak for what they see as his treachery and disloyalty of him.
So, 11 down, one more to go. Both candidates should be congratulated on their stamina over the past month. There’s still a big finale, in London, next Wednesday, but only a week left for Tory members to cast their vote.
It will soon be over.