Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Tory rivals clash over tax and spending

Tory leadership frontrunners have clashed over how best to fund public services and control inflation in the contest’s first TV debate.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss attacked tax rises introduced under ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak as “wrong” and pledged to reverse them.
But Mr Sunak said they were needed to fund the NHS, and accused her of believing in economic “fairy tales”. Rivals also sparred over Boris Johnson, trans rights and trust in politics.
All five remaining candidates in the Tory leadership race took part in the Channel 4 TV debate, the first of two this weekend. They come ahead of the next round of MPs’ voting on Monday.
Tory MPs will whittle the field down to two final contenders next week, before around 160,000 Tory members decide the party’s next leader in a postal vote.
In a lively 90 minutes of exchanges, the economic backdrop loomed large as candidates were pushed on how they would fund public services and help people with the cost of living during a time of soaring inflation.
Mr Sunak, currently in pole position among MPs, was forced to defend tax rises introduced during his time as chancellor, including April’s hike in National Insurance to pay for social care and the NHS.
Ms Truss, who came third in the latest MPs’ voting round on Thursday, said the hike had been “wrong” and said she had “called it out” in cabinet.
She said if she won power she would reverse the rise, as well as removing green levies on energy bills – saying she would pay for it for by spreading the UK’s “Covid debt” over a longer period. The race to be the next prime minister is reaching a crucial phase.
By Wednesday, the shortlist will have been whittled down to two by Conservative MPs, who will then be put to Conservative party members over summer. There is a lot to play for in the next few days – and you could tell in the first TV debate. Three things stuck out for me in the exchanges.
Firstly, the Conservative Party is keen to move on from Boris Johnson.
Although it’s just eight days since Mr Johnson agreed to resign, the candidates to be his successor want the next chapter to start as soon as possible. But Mr Sunak rubbished her proposals, saying there was “no such thing as Covid debt” and warned against an “unfunded spree” of tax cuts, adding that “borrowing your way out of inflation isn’t a plan, it’s a fairy-tale”.
Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, currently second in the contest, said her economic blueprint, which involve raising income tax thresholds in line with inflation, was based on better “growth and competition”.
When pressed by Mr Sunak that her plans would also require more borrowing, she denied she had promised to “reduce a load of taxes” but said “people need help now”.
“Next April we are going to be one of the most uncompetitive nations in terms of our tax competitiveness. That cannot be allowed to happen,” she added.
Elsewhere, candidates traded blows over Mr Johnson’s legacy and trust in politics after the Partygate and Chris Pincher affairs that played a key role in the Tory revolt that forced the prime minister from office.
Mr Tugendhat, the fifth-placed contender among MPs and the only one not to have held a ministerial post under Mr Johnson, said his party needed a “break from those who sat around the table” to reset the party’s direction.
He pitched himself as a “clean face” and when asked for a yes or no answer on whether Mr Johnson was honest, Mr Tugendhat was the only candidate to answer with a direct “no”, which won applause from the crowd.
Asked the same question, Ms Badenoch said “sometimes”, Ms Mordaunt said she was “not doing a yes or no” but there had been some “really severe issues”, while Ms Truss said Mr Johnson “has been very clear himself that he made mistakes in government”. Mr Sunak said he had tried to give Mr Johnson “the benefit of the doubt for as long as possible but ultimately I reached the conclusion that I couldn’t and that’s why I resigned”.

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