Many were undecided and some are switching sides as the contest progresses. Though ballot papers will land on their doorsteps this week, some said they would wait for the hustings and TV debates to play out before ticking a box. Sunak’s faith and Indian heritage were considered irrelevant.
Several young conservatives were rooting for Sunak. “People think Truss is the winner, but we think it is undecided,” said 19-year-old voter Cameron Kinch. “The negatives of Sunak are that he was not loyal to Boris and I value loyalty. But the positives are that he is a safe pair of hands.”
Another voter, Peter Barrowcliff, said he had decided to vote for Sunak, but Liz seems to be getting an awful lot of positive coverage, which concerns him. “I have not heard enough about their overseas policies. Rishi is competent financially, but I am not sure he has got the political nous to face up to world leaders.”
But some had their doubts. According to Benedict Robertson, 17, Rishi is not aggressive enough. Fellow voter John O’Leary said: “I prefer Truss as she is more experienced and Rishi is still new to the game.”
Sunak did not seem to have the same connection at the outset with the audience, as Truss cracked jokes and rattled through a string of populist policies such as cutting taxes, preventing the European Court of Human Rights from overruling UK plans to tackle illegal immigration, slimming down the public sector and legislating against railway strikes.
Truss said she would have Sunak as part of her cabinet team if she becomes PM. “He is a fantastic guy and I have huge respect for him,” she said.
This followed the surprise announcement by Penny Mordaunt, who came third in the contest, that she was backing Truss.
Sunak was greeted with huge applause by a rural audience that had almost no one from the ethnic minority. After joking about taking selfies with children because they matched his “size”, Sunak said he had been brought up with family values. He repeated many of Truss’s pledges. But he had new ideas about how to clear the NHS backlog and got massive cheers when he said he was not going to put the country’s debts on a credit card.
“I am a practising Hindu and raised my children as Hindu. It is a special part of how I live my life today,” he said and revealed that his favourite non-political book was ‘Going Solo’ by Roald Dahl and had he had not been a politician he would have run Southampton football club.
He grew more animated as the night wore on and when he left there was a huge applause, maybe a notch behind the one Truss got. After the hustings some voters liked the “sound policies of Sunak”.
“The competition between the candidates is extremely close,” said councillor Andrew Parry. “Sunak seemed to be the more natural performer before,” he said, but now “Truss had demonstrated she has a sense of humour and has spoken more seriously about her policies”.
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