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US NewsWho won and who lost the Tory leadership debate?

04:26  17 june  2019
04:26  17 june  2019 Source:   news.sky.com

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Who won and who lost the Tory leadership debate? © Getty Leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson was a no-show at Sunday's debate

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

When the five Tory leadership candidates arrived for the first TV debate of the campaign at studios in east London, they were greeted by a woman in a chicken costume.

The aim, of course, was to portray Boris Johnson as "chicken" for not turning up, a decision he will either now feel vindicated about or regret handing a propaganda coup to his opponents.

Inside the hall, one of the six lecterns for the candidates to stand behind was vacant. At least they didn't have the candidates' names on them to remind viewers who was missing.

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Mr Hancock, who had been the youngest contender, said he was "focused on the future" but the party needed a leader to succeed in "the here and now". Boris Johnson won the first Tory MPs' ballot by a big margin, with 114 votes. His nearest rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, got 43 votes.

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But at the start of the debate, the Channel 4 presenter acting as debate chairman rather mischievously announced that Mr Johnson was welcome to turn up at any time during the 90-minute programme.

The first half of the programme was dominated by Brexit and Mr Johnson, no doubt watching on TV at home, will perhaps have felt glad he wasn't there as Rory Stewart led a charge against a no-deal Brexit.

Dominic Raab probably suffered from Mr Johnson's absence, because he took the brunt of the attacks on no-deal and at times it was four against one.

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Who won and who lost the Tory leadership debate? © Other An empty podium stood where Boris Johnson would have been

Mr Johnson had complained on Friday that a debate between six candidates would be "cacophonous" with "blue-on-blue" attacks. And at times that argument appeared justified as the remaining five slugged it out in some feisty exchanges on Brexit.

Jeremy Hunt led the "Where's Boris?" attack. For him, in second place behind Mr Johnson in the first ballot of MPs last Tuesday, this debate was potentially dangerous because he doesn't want his rivals with fewer votes than him in the first round of voting gaining ground and catching him up.

Mr Johnson has gained the backing of Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who pulled out of the contest last week, former candidate and fellow Brexiteer Esther McVey, fairly predictably - although she could have opted to support Mr Raab, and Scots-born Michael Gove won the support of the Scottish Secretary David Mundell.

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Who won and who lost the Tory leadership debate? © Other Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt are looking to pick up more Tory supporters

During the debate, no doubt deliberately timed, the highly respected digital minister Margot James - admittedly strongly pro-Remain - announced she was supporting Rory Stewart.

Most of the candidates had good moments during the debate. But on a clapometer, based on the volume of applause for the candidates, it was a good night for Rory Stewart.

But some had awkward moments too. While Mr Gove did well when he boasted about his ministerial record and Commons debating skills and claimed Jeremy Corbyn would be "terrified" of facing him in the Commons, he was challenged once again about his cocaine confession.

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And Dominic Raab looked uncomfortable again when he was reminded of his "I'm not a feminist" gaffe.

The quality of questions from the audience was good, particularly one about each candidate's top priority apart from Brexit. Mr Gove, the environment secretary, was asked why he didn't say climate change. His rather feeble reply was that he'd said "young people".

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Ms McVey, who finished bottom of the first ballot of Tory MPs, said the former foreign secretary had agreed to back her agenda for “blue collar Conservatism”. Esther McVey is to back Boris Johnson in the Conservative leadership contest after being losing out in the first-round ballot ( EPA ).

There was probably no clear winner. Mr Johnson's supporters will no doubt claim it was him since he didn't get dragged into an unseemly row about Brexit or his character.

Who won and who lost the Tory leadership debate? © PA Wire/PA Images Michael Gove leaves Here East studios in Stratford, east London, following the live television debate for the candidates for leadership of the Conservative party, hosted by Channel 4. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)

The exposure was probably good for Mr Stewart, the least well known candidate before this contest. But before the next TV debate, on Tuesday, comes another round of MPs voting.

Mr Stewart, Mr Raab and Mr Javid are all competing for enough votes to stay in the contest, so the next debate could be fought out by between three and five candidates.

Mr Johnson is turning up on Tuesday, which will mean a very different - and potentially more highly-charged - debate.

And this time the leadership frontrunner can't, for a second time, be a chicken.

Who won and who lost the Tory leadership debate? © PA Wire/PA Images Conservative party leadership contender Dominic Raab leaves Here East studios in Stratford, east London, following the live television debate for the candidates for leadership of the Conservative party, hosted by Channel 4. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)

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What the papers say – June 20.
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