Rishi Sunak appeared on Thursday to score a surprise victory with a studio audience during a key debate with frontrunner Liz Truss in the race to become Britain’s next prime minister.
As polls get Truss back to win the vote among members of the Conservative party, those in the audience at the Sky News debate overwhelmingly supported Sunak in a show of hands – after an electronic voting system broke down.
Truss had faced sharp questions from presenter Kay Burley, including a walk-through of her U-turn policy and the question, “Will the real Liz Truss please stand up?”
Truss had previously been forced into another U-turn after a damaging statement by her campaign team on Monday that the government could save £8.8 billion ($10.75 billion) a year if it paid lower salaries to public sector workers who lived outside London.
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“You wanted to lower civil servant salaries in the regions and then you said you wouldn’t,” Burley said, listing her U-turn policies.
Truss insisted the proposal was misrepresented by the media.
“Should good leaders acknowledge their mistakes, or should they blame others?” Burley asked her.
“I don’t blame anyone else. I don’t. It’s not me. I’m saying the policy has been misrepresented by several people,” Truss said, appearing nervous.
Burley also challenged Truss to her comments shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine that she would support British fighters on the Ukrainian side.
British fighters have since been captured and sentenced as mercenaries and face a possible death penalty in the separatist region of Donetsk.
Truss stressed that the travel advice has always been that Britons should not go to Ukraine.
Sunak also had to deal with tough questions and a joke about his taste in designer loafers.
“People feel like you can’t walk a mile in their shoes because you’re walking in your Prada shoes,” Burley told Sunak, whose father-in-law is a billionaire.
She mocked Sunak’s insistence on his humble origins when he said his father was a doctor with the National Health Service (NHS).
“I grew up in an NHS household, you may have heard about this campaign,” he said.
“He never mentions it!” Burley intervened.
The final vote showed a greater number of hands for Sunak than for Truss, as Burley admitted, “I didn’t expect that.”
The outcome of the vote between Truss and Sunak to decide who will replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected on September 5.