Tonight’s BBC debate was a chaotic affair, with the candidates regularly talking over each other. There was no defining moment. Boris Johnson avoided slipping on any banana skins while the other candidates made a concerted – and fairly effective – effort to check Rory Stewart’s progress.
Before the debate, there had been much talk about Rory Stewart taking on Boris Johnson. But in the end, Stewart ended up taking on all the other candidates. He accused them of promising things that can’t be delivered. While this made him distinctive, I suspect it is an approach that won’t have gone down well with the Tory MPs he needs to persuade to switch to him in the coming rounds.
The other candidates pushed back on Stewart too. Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt repeatedly pointed out that Stewart was just proposing trying to get Theresa May’s deal through, which parliament has already rejected three times. Sajid Javid then took Rory Stewart to task for his reluctance to criticise Donald Trump’s retweet of Katie Hopkins. Stewart also had an awkward moment when one of the questioners accused him of being ‘completely out of touch’.
One of the other striking things about this debate was how much Sajid Javid and Boris Johnson agreed with each other. In the Brexit section of the debate, Javid bolstered Johnson’s position by saying that there had to be hard deadline of October 31st to make progress. On tax, it was Javid who — again — helped the frontrunner out by arguing that cutting tax rates can lead to more revenue. If this was Javid auditioning to be Johnson’s Chancellor, it was effective.