After ITV’s brusing televised leadership debate, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have said enough is enough.
The two candidates have pulled out of Tuesday’s Sky debate, saying they want to focus on hustings instead.
But that doesn’t sound like the real story. Tory MPs and head office are said to be worried that the party airing its dirty laundry in public is a gift to Labour. During last night’s debate Sunak went below the belt, called out Truss as a “socialist” for her tax-cutting plans.
Their no-show comes after Kemi Badenoch received a popularity boost, with polls showing the MP for Saffron Walden performed well in the gruelling debates.
According to the latest poll by ConservativeHome, Badenoch has stormed ahead in the eyes of 851 party members, taking 31 per cent of the vote, while Sunak took fourth place with only 17 per cent.
The battle for the party member’s second favourite candidate remains tight: Mordaunt, who had previously topped ConservativeHome’s poll, has since fallen behind Liz Truss into third place, with 18 per cent to Truss’ 20 per cent.
Even so, Rishi Sunak remains top dog. A poll of Tory voters by Bradshaw Advisory indicates that a full third (34 per cent) think that Sunak should be the next PM – despite the fact that many of them also believe he is untrustworthy.
Indeed, there is a disconnect between Tory voters and party members, with only seven per cent of voters thinking that Badenoch should be the next leader.
While the public opinion poll put Tugendhat on top after the leadership debate on Friday, a new poll by Opinium shows that Sunak has again taken the lead, with the public saying that the former chancellor performed the best in Sunday’s debate.
However, Sunak’s score was actually down one point from 25 per cent on Friday, with Tugendhat dropping into second, and Mordaunt and Truss sweeping up Tugendhat’s lost support. Badenoch, meanwhile, came in at fifth, with just 12 per cent of respondents saying that she performed the best. The result of the third ballot will be announced at 8pm tonight and the betting is that Tugendhat will be the one to fall on his sword.