Video Report by Political Correspondent Tom Sheldrick
The two contenders to become the next Prime Minister faced questions from local Conservatives in Darlington on Tuesday night.Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss were looking to win over Tory party members, whose votes will decide the contest, at the only hustings event being held in the North East.
Both of them pledged to improve transport links in the region.In her opening speech, Liz Truss said: "I want to make sure that we level up in a Conservative way. Of course we need to get the A1 dualled, we need to get it dualled from top to bottom. And we need to sort out the broadband and we need to sort out the mobile phone signal and we need to make sure that funding is fair. But we also need to have more investment, and what I would put in place are low-tax enterprise zones, I’d deepen our freeports."Rishi Sunak was asked about the A1 by a party member named Michelle.He said: "I would like to see the A1 dualled. I travel on it a lot, I travel on the A19, not only do we need to do that, we need to figure out the Tees Crossing as well. Those are the types of investments that will make a real difference to connectivity in the north, and you have my absolute assurance, as a matter of urgency, I will go and figure out why that thing has been slowed down and get it back on track."
He was asked by an audience member named Kevin what the government slogan ‘levelling up’ really means, and replied: “I want everyone, no matter where they live in the UK, to feel that they have fantastic opportunities - and that they have pride in the place they call home.”Mr Sunak, the MP for neighbouring constituency of Richmond in North Yorkshire, said he had helped create jobs in the region by creating a freeport on Teesside, and a government campus in Darlington, alongside investments to improve a number of town centres, when he was Chancellor.
Several hundred local Tory party members were in the audience at the Darlington Hippodrome theatre. A small number of anti-Conservative protesters gathered outside the venue. The 12 hustings events around the country do not see the two candidates going head-to-head in a debate, but taking questions separately.
What was the verdict from those in attendance?
Asked by the host, journalist Tom Newton Dunn, whether his wealth means he is out of touch with many people’s financial concerns, Rishi Sunak replied: “in our country we judge people, not by their bank account, we judge them by their character and their actions.”He said he would provide more help for "the most vulnerable households" including pensioners, with energy bills expected to soar further this winter, though he has not set out how much.
Liz Truss said: "What I want to do is make sure, first of all, we’re reducing taxes, because that is needed to drive economic growth."She has pledged to reverse the rise in National Insurance contributions, saying: "What I don’t support is taking money off people in tax and then giving it back to them in handouts."The Foreign Secretary said she would target Conservative victories in Labour seats like Wansbeck in Northumberland at the next general election.Mr Sunak referred to his local connections and joked about a famous Teesside delicacy: "If this works out for me, we won't just do parmos in parliament, we'll be serving them off the cabinet table in Downing Street."An audience member named Alan suggested to Mr Sunak that "he who wields the dagger will never inherit the crown", in relation to his resignation as Chancellor last month, shortly before Boris Johnson announced he would step down as Prime Minister.Mr Sunak responded: 'I was sad I resigned, but actually, respectfully, you are simply wrong to say that I wielded the dagger, because it wasn’t just me who felt that enough was enough, the government was on the wrong side of yet another ethical decision."The host asked both candidates whether the Prime Minister’s downfall was his own fault or someone else’s.Mr Sunak responded: "his own."Before Ms Truss answered, several audience members shouted out: "the media."She then said: "who am I to disagree with this excellent audience?"Conservative members around the UK will vote on who becomes their next party leader, and therefore Prime Minister.The result will be announced on 5 September.
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