RISHI Sunak’s campaign has denied he was too “aggressive” and patronised Liz Truss by “mansplaining” in the first head-to-head TV debate of the Tory leadership contest.

The former Chancellor repeatedly interrupted the Foreign Secretary in the bad-tempered clash on BBC One last night, especially in an early exchange over tax and inflation.

He accused Ms Truss of being prepared to “tip millions into misery” by adding to inflation with unfunded tax cuts, quoting her own economics adviser, Professor Patrick Minford, who said approvingly that her reforms could see interest rates jump to seven per cent.

A YouGov poll of around 500 Tory members found most thought Ms Truss had performed best in the debate, and was more trustworthy and more likeable than Mr Sunak.

Ahead of a second TV debate between the would-be prime ministers tonight, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said theConservatives had “absolutely lost the plot” and any sense of purpose.

He said he was not hearing answers to the problems of stagnant growth, wage erosion and high bills from the contenders. 

After Monday night’s debate, Ms Truss’s supporters briefed the media that the former Winchester College pupil had been condescending and “mansplaining” to his state-educated rival.

The Times reported a spokesman for Ms Truss saying Mr Sunak was “not fit for office”, adding: “His aggressive mansplaining and shouty private school behaviour is desperate, unbecoming and a gift to Labour.”

Former Cabinet minister David Davis, a backer of Mr Sunak, dismissed the claims as “spin”.

He told Sky News: “Sometimes it’s important to intervene in debates. When we’re in the Commons we have these comparatively fierce exchanges lots of times, all the time.”

He added: “This is a debate to find the Prime Minister of this country. Facing a time when the decisions are going to be really tough. 

“We need the person who a) knows what he stands for, b) is courageous enough to take the difficult decisions and c) determined enough to do it. And that’s Rishi Sunak.”

He also repeated the attack on Ms Truss’s tax cutting plans leading to higher interest rates.

 “I think you’ve got to win the arguments, and the arguments that matter, which is why the 7% matters. That’s why that matters. It’s very important. 

“The Tory Party, generally speaking, is a bit older than average. It’s a little bit more middle class, but not so much these days, but a little bit more middle class. It will care about things like their offspring having to face these sorts of interest rates in the future, so that matters.” 

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke, an ally of Ms Truss, accused Mr Sunak of some “pretty agressive moments” during a largely respectful debate.

He told Sky News: “There are important issues at stake and there’s no getting away from the fact that that will lead to robust debate.

“But I also think it needs to be respectful debate, and in large part we had that last night.

“I think there were some pretty aggressive moments at the outset from Rishi towards Liz in terms of interrupting her as she tried to set out her case, but by and large I think the debate was held in a reasonable spirit reflecting, obviously, the importance of the issues.”

Mr Clarke said 7% mortgage interest rates were “not part of Liz Truss’s plans”.

Disagreeing with his former boss at the Treasury, he said: “I think it’s really important to say that two targeted interventions on tax – reversing the national insurance rise of a few weeks ago, and then cancelling an increase in corporation tax that.. is due to come into effect next spring – there’s no evidence I can see that that would be inflationary.

“I think it’s instead about supporting jobs and families at a time when we know there is a lot of hardship out there, we know the tax burden is really very high.”

He said it is “absolutely critical” that people get behind Ms Truss’s vision for a pro-growth strategy “because that is what the country needs”.


Welsh Secretary Robert Buckland, a supporter of Mr Sunak, defended the “robust debate”.

He said: “There’s this balance to be struck between having a vigorous debate and being sort of almost too polite to each other. I think it’s inevitable that you’re going to have candidates disagreeing, and frankly, we need to hear what the arguments are. We shouldn’t shy away from robust debate, which is what we’re getting. I think it’s refreshing and good.”

Despite criticising the Tory hopefuls for a lack of detail on helping families with the cost of living, Sir Keir refused to say ifa Labour Government would give public sector workers the inflation-matching pay rises they want.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I completely understand why so many working people with stagnant wages and high prices need to see some movement.

“I support the right to strike but I think the role of Government is to facilitate, make sure those negotiations take place to an agreed settlement”.

He said he would again tell his shadow frontbench not to go on the picket lines outside railway stations during upcoming strikes, arguing: “A Government doesn’t go on picket lines, a Government tries to resolve disputes.”