UK PM clashes over tax cuts in TV debate

Former Finance Minister Rishi Sunak has emerged as the favorite among 358 Conservative lawmakers.

London:

The five Tory candidates still in the running to be Britain’s next prime minister clashed over tax cuts in a second televised debate on Sunday, with the two favorites – Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss – stepping up their battle over the economy.

With no clear candidate to succeed Boris Johnson, who is stepping down after a series of scandals, the battle to be the next leader remains unpredictable and increasingly fractious, exposing divisions within the ruling Conservative Party.

Former finance minister Rishi Sunak has emerged as the frontrunner among 358 Tory lawmakers, who will hold further votes this week to narrow the number of candidates to the bottom two.

He said Sunday night that his number one priority would be to tackle inflation and not make it worse before proposing tax cuts.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who has proposed plans to scrap payroll and corporation tax increases at a cost of more than 30 billion pounds ($36 billion) a year, said Sunak had raised taxes to the highest level in 70 years.

“Raising taxes right now will stifle economic growth,” she told the debate hosted by broadcaster ITV.

Sunak countered by saying he “would love to cut taxes”, but that would come at the cost of higher inflation. “This something-for-nothing economy is not conservative, it’s socialism,” he said.

Deputy Minister Penny Mordaunt, who is currently in third place, also took aim at Sunak, saying the public needed “immediate action” to tackle the rising cost of living.

Race still open

A JL Partners poll for the Sunday Telegraph suggested almost half of Tory voters thought Sunak would make a good prime minister, ahead of Truss and Mordaunt.

However, Truss also enjoys wide support, including from those most loyal to Johnson, and Mordaunt topped polls of 200,000 party members who will ultimately choose who will become Tory leader and therefore prime minister.

In a show of the race open, a survey of party members for the conservative website Home on Saturday suggested former equality minister Kemi Badenoch was now ahead of the rest, with Truss in second and Mordaunt, currently the bookmakers’ favourite, slipping to third.

It came after the fifth candidate, Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, topped a poll of viewers after the first televised debate on Friday.

Whoever gets the job will have to contend with soaring inflation and weak economic growth, as well as a lack of public confidence in politics after Johnson’s outrageous swipe to power.

Opinion polls also suggest the Tories are significantly behind the opposition Labour.

When asked by the moderator, all of the candidates said they would not hold an immediate election if they won. No national election is due to take place in Britain until 2024.

One candidate will be eliminated each day for the next three days, leaving the final two to face the verdict of Conservative Party members. They will vote for the winner, which will be announced on September 5.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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