Tory leadership race: Sunak supporter dodges question on his candidate's immigration idea; rivals to clash in TV debate

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The two finalists to be our next prime minister will go head-to-head in a BBC debate tonight (Sky’s debate is next Thursday) and senior Tories have hoped the blue-on-blue warfare would start to ease off. There’s little sign of that so far.

Sunak and Truss have already faced off about tax policy – he accused her of peddling fairy tale economics; she accused him of pushing the UK towards recession – as well as their own backgrounds and education.

Over the weekend, these clashes extended to migration policy, with both trying to compete to sound toughest on asylum seekers. Sunak promised annual targets and housing asylum seekers on cruise ships; Truss proposed extending the Rwanda partnership to other countries.

And China policy: Sunak accusing Truss of allowing Chinese influence to grow in British universities when she was an education minister; her supporters attacking him for seeking a trade deal with Beijing.

Both candidates policies were quickly followed up by vicious quotes from their teams and supporters. 

This morning, Truss supporter Nadine Dorries attacked Sunak’s expensive suits and shoes; while Sunak posed in a pub in front of a beer called Dizzy Blonde. I’m sure it was just a coincidence.

These two putting it all behind them and making friends when it’s all over looks increasingly unlikely. Tonight’s debate in Stoke on Trent, an area newly won by the Conservatives in 2019, should be a chance for ordinary voters, not just Conservative Party members, to see what both candidates off on a wider agenda.

While there are 12 hustings around the country over the summer, many Conservative members will not attend or watch them – and may vote as soon as they get their ballot papers next week. Primetime television debates will play a key role in teasing out the candidates policy positions – and character.

Many issues have been relatively little discussed in this contest which will affect millions of people.

The Health and Social Care Select Committee report today into the NHS workforce crisis – the worst in its history – is sobering reading. The difficulties at ports for holidaymakers and freight are blighting travel for thousands of people as we speak, and play into the Brexit debate. And of course energy bills are projected to reach £3,000 a year by this autumn, with few solution in sight.

Sunak is trailing behind Truss in polls of Conservative members by a significant margin. YouGov has her leading by 62% to his 38%. With voting set to start earlier in this contest than last time around, his team know he needs to make a big impact to convince members he would be a winner for them in a general election.