Britain's Next Prime Minister - the NS Liveblog

Follow ITV's head-to-head debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt - live with the New Statesman team. 


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Welcome to the New Statesman’s liveblog of Britain's Next Prime Minister, the United Kingdom’s least competitive sporting event. Press refresh for updates.

20:58: Well, that was interesting. It didn't really come to life but were I working for the Liberal Democrats or Jeremy Corbyn I would feel pretty optimistic that I could get a lot of joy out of Boris Johnson in the televised debates at the next election, whenever that might be. Thanks for your emails and for reading! 

20:55: Candidates asked to do their final words. Hunt, who went second at the start, goes first. He does this setpiece performance bit very well: he seems warm, reassuring, strong. Unfortunately for him it doesn't matter. Johnson's speaking style has the same problems in this format I wrote about at 20:03: the off-the-cuff style just doesn't sound natural in this bit. 

20:54: The candidates are asked what their opponent's biggest strength is. Neither of them can manage to do it sincerely - Johnson has a dig about how he admires Hunt's ability to change his mind, Hunt has a go about Johnson's ability to avoid answering questions. 

20:52: Johnson can't answer if asked if he is still against Heathrow's third runway. Figures that the one thing I agree with him on would be the one thing he would immediately abandon. 

20:50: Hunt giving his stump speech about social care and the need to fix it (methods unknown). Johnson says we need a cross-party approach, which is what governments say when they think that the answer is unpopular 

20:45: Questions about helping our the poorest. Johnson gets very shouty and angry in defence of his tax cuts. Hunt heckles him saying the proposal was a mistake. 

20:42: We have the "let's talk about the skeletons in your closet" round. Hunt does his "I care, but I"m tough" stump speech on doctors. Johnson blusters a bit on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Again, it would really worry me how this is going to play on telly against an opponent who is either a woman or over sixty. 

20:40: Questions about the Kim Darroch incident and Donald Trump's remarks about him. Hunt gets an applause line for saying that Darroch will stay until the end of his term. Johnson blusters a bit. Crowd claps at both because they will clap at anything. 

20:31: The big dividing line is between whether the candidates are willing to suspend Parliament for a bit in case our elected house does something the executive doesn't like. Hunt is against suspending Parliament, Johnson for. 

20:29: Thank god! An advert break. 

20:28: The question of whether to do a pact with Nigel Farage in an inevitable election. Johnson is against it, and Hunt says he has a plan to deliver Brexit without an election. 

20:25: On the Davey point. Johnson didn't really manage to disrupt Hunt when he just kept on giving his answer and then seemed a bit lost. It works because a) I just think Hunt is sufficiently posh that a lot of the audience won't side with him and b) Hunt is just quite, well, subdued. Ed Davey is not subdued. And Ed Davey is his best option! What is Johnson gonna do if Jo   goes detailed heavy and skewers him in the debates? (The answer of course is he'll do everything he can to avoid debates with Swinson/Davey and Corbyn.) 

20:22: Another person has emailed in! (Seriously, I'm not opposed to it but I am surprised.) What about if the Liberal Democrats pick Ed Davey not Jo Swinson? I think there's an interesting question about how Johnson would respond against someone who can be quite aggressive, as Davey can be, and Hunt, who is after all in the same party, cannot be. 

20:18: Johnson doing a good job of heckling Hunt while he grills him on detail. It's a bit bullying but I think it works well against a very posh white bloke who could be anything from late forties to early fifties. I would be really quite worried if I were working him about how it is going to look against Jo Swinson or Jeremy Corbyn. Might just look like a jerk. 

20:16: Jeremy Hunt talks about how concerning no deal is, in what might be his fifth Brexit position. 

20:15: Second question is from someone who runs his own waste management company and is worried about what no deal means for his business. Johnson says he thinks there is no real chance of a no deal or disorderly Brexit, but says that if we are "very convincing" about no deal then it won't happen. 

20:11: Johnson does good heckling, though. Criticising Hunt and asking if not by 31 October, how long Hunt would be willing to delay Brexit. "Is it Christmas?" he mugs at the camera. 

20:09: Oooh, and it's actually getting interesting! Johnson and Hunt having a row after Hunt asked Johnson if he'd resign if he failed to take the UK out of the EU by 31 October, and pressed him on it fairly firmly. Per my comment at 20:03 that Johnson's off-the-cuff delivery really doesn't work in this format, I think, were I in Team Johnson and/or CCHQ, I'd be working out how to avoid a televised debate in the election. Doesn't do at all well, sounds like a hostage. 

20:07: The question is 'how are you gonna get us out of the EU?' Jeremy Hunt does his whole we need a serious adult (a coded swipe at Boris Johnson) who can negotiate with other EU leaders (a coded swipe against Boris Johnson) shtick. Johnson does his "prepare for no deal, get a deal, plucky little Britain" routine. No sign of an advert break yet. 

20:05: Jeremy Hunt is speaking. God I long for an advert break, or, at a push, the sweet release of death. 

20:03: We're off! Opening statements from both. Johnson's "we're all good chaps aren't we" rhetorical style, which obviously works for him when he's speaking off the cuff (or pretending to speak off the cuff) really doesn't work very well in these pre-learnt stump speeches. Sounds like Jack Whitehall doing a hostage video. 

20:02: Someone has emailed (I know, I'm as surprised as you) to complain about my writing off of Jeremy Hunt. Look, most of the people who can vote have already voted. I'm just saying, the only thing either man in this debate is gonna get from this is an hour of standing up and shouting a bit. 

20:00: I am watching thanks to the ITV hub, so there is a non-trivial possibility that I am going to end up watching 15 minutes of Emmerdale before the show actually starts. 

19:58: The big question is which Jeremy Hunt turns up. Is he going for the 'please, give me a job afterwards Mr Johnson' approach? Or is he, somehow, of the opinion that he can still win this and planning to give Boris Johnson both  B? The choice he makes will determine whether this debate is very boring, or simply quite boring. 

19:55: Hullo! We're liveblogging tonight's televised debate of the Conservative leadership candidates. We'll be discussing what the two candidates are doing and why, why it is or isn't working for them, and what they're aiming to achieve with it. Basically we're like the colour commentary section of of a football match but instead of a grizzled ex-pro who played for Liverpool in the 1980s you have me. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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