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Rishi Sunak Accused Of Being "Extremely Aggressive" During Tory Leadership Debate

3 min read

Conservative leadership hopeful Rishi Sunak has been accused of being "extremely aggressive" and "mansplaining" during a fiery TV debate with fellow contender Liz Truss.

Supporters of Truss accused Sunak of repeatedly interrupting her during the first head-to-head debate between the final two leadership candidates.

The BBC debate became heated as the pair set out their financial policies, with Sunak claiming his opponent was chasing a "short-term sugar rush" of tax cuts. Truss accused the former chancellor of "project fear" over his economic analysis, which warns that tax cuts now will exacerbate inflation. 

But Sunak, who is fighting to overturn Truss' lead with party members, the only group now able to cast a vote in the leadership election, was accused of "mansplaining" by her team after he repeatedly interjected during the debate.

Conservative MP Simon Clarke, who is supporting Truss, said Sunak's approach was "certainly extremely aggressive in the early moments of the debate".

"Obviously, I am not going to attach labels to the approach that Rishi took, ultimately everyone has to account for their own performance in these debates and make their points passionately – there are important issues at stake here – but I can see why it got some people's backs up," he told LBC on Tuesday.

Clarke, who worked at the Treasury under Sunak, insisted that was not his normal approach to work. "I have always found Rishi very reasonable to work with, but it was a pretty intense approach to the early moments of the debate last night and I'm not really sure it worked," he added. 

Former cabinet minister Robert Buckland, who is supporting Sunak's bid for leadership, defended the former chancellor and said it was understandable the debate got "feisty".

"I think it got lively. What I am looking for in both leadership candidates is that sense of energy and urgency and purpose, and it is good to see that energy from Rishi Sunak, he clearly wants to hit the ground running from day one and get on with a number of priorities," he told Sky News.

"I think in a debate like that when you have got differences on how to manage the immediate economy, I want to hear that lively exchange, and at times, yes, it can get a bit feisty."

He added: "I myself can get feisty in debates as well, but I think at the end of it all there was that mutual respect between the two of them that shone through.

"These people have known each other well, they have sat round the Cabinet table, they are capable of having a mature debate, and the content of the debate I thought, was pretty good."

Conservative MP David Davis, who ran for the party's leadership against David Cameron, denied the accusation of "mansplaining" aimed at Sunak.

"I think it has been fiercer than previous debates," he said. 

"I was initially supporting Penny Mordaunt and she came under the most ferocious attack, actually mostly from Liz Truss’s camp.

"So it is fiercer than it has been in the past, partly I think because it is close."

A snap poll conducted by Opinium after the debate left Sunak with a narrow lead over Truss across all voters, with 39 per cent saying he performed best compared to 38 per cent for Truss. But with Conservative voters, Truss took a lead with 47 per cent compared to 38 per cent for Sunak. 

Following the debate, a spokesperson for Truss said: "Rishi Sunak has tonight proven he is not fit for office. His aggressive mansplaining and shout private school behaviour is desperate, unbecoming and is a gift to Labour."

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