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While Tories bicker, the country faces a heatwave emergency

As “red heat warnings” are issued for much of the UK, climate change is barely on the leadership candidates’ agenda.

By Zoë Grünewald

Feeling the heat? You’re not alone. Last night the Conservative leadership hopefuls took part in a second televised debate and it got rather fiery. Harry Lambert wrote an excellent analysis of the winners and losers of Friday’s debate – a tepid performance from the Tory right’s favourite, Liz Truss, while Tom Tugendhat’s strong showing was unlikely to win him enough support to avoid elimination.

The contenders had little chance to enjoy the weekend sun, as they appeared on our screens again yesterday evening. This time, viewers might have been left wondering how these leadership debates have affected public trust in the governing party, for whom the last two years have been tainted by allegations of lies, corruption, sexual misconduct and infighting. The candidates turned on each other, making pointed accusations and directing “gotcha” questions at their opponents. When ITV’s host, Julie Etchingham, asked if any of them would have Boris Johnson in their cabinet, none said they would.

It’s a safe bet that Rishi Sunak will be one of the final two. He has polled highly for his performance in the debates (see Ben’s chart, below), and has so far received the highest proportion of votes from Tory MPs. As for the others, that’s a different matter. Penny Mordaunt is up there, but her performance last night felt meeker than on Friday. Kemi Badenoch – the surprise candidate – increasingly seems like a major challenger and would retain the crucial support of the right of the party if Truss were eliminated this week.

Typically, however, Conservative leadership elections are full of surprises. I suggest you read the excellent snap analysis by our deputy political editor, Rachel Wearmouth, for a fuller flavour of last night’s theatrics.

What next? Today the Conservative Party will eject another candidate from the race. We can expect Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, to announce the result around 8pm. There are further votes to come, whittling down the candidates to two by the end of the week. Then, we can look forward to a summer of debate until a leader is selected in the autumn.

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This bickering and Tory navel-gazing feels a little senseless when one considers the other crisis that’s expected to hit this week. A national emergency has been declared by No 10 as the first “red heat warning” has been issued for parts of the UK. In many areas, temperatures in Celsius are likely to reach the low 40s, resulting in thousands of excess deaths and considerable disruption to normal life.  

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On Wednesday, the country should cool down and we should know who the final two Tory candidates are. Today, a poll for the Times revealed that climate change intervention is at the very bottom of the Conservative Party membership’s list of priorities – a group, incidentally, that will be instrumental in selecting the next leader of our country. The nation’s fate rests with those who have no incentive to prioritise the environment. It’s a fascinating time politically, but, arriving in a week when the Conservative Party is distracted by internal wrangling, doesn’t this two-day heatwave all feel a little prophetic?

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

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