As the Conservative leadership race gets closer to its conclusion, five rival candidates appeared in two televised debates before a series of voting rounds to whittle them down to the final two.
The second of these leadership debates was hosted by ITV News on Sunday 17 June, when candidates answered questions on the economy and taxes, among other issues, and explained why they should be the next leader of the country.
Ferret Fact Service fact-checked some of the claims made on the night.
Former chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak defended the Bank of England’s record as he was grilled over inflation by the other candidates.
The Bank of England, the UK’s central bank, aims to deliver stable inflation in line with government aims. It has been partially independent since 1997.
Sunak’s claim that the BoE had kept average annual inflation to two per cent across the past 25 years is broadly accurate. The average from 1997 to 2022 is just under two per cent inflation. However the rate of inflation has increased significantly in 2022, with the most recent figures showing inflation of 7.9 per cent in May.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: True
Penny Mordaunt portrayed herself as the only one capable of winning an election for the Conservatives. Many of those in the race have positioned themselves as the candidate most feared by Labour.
During the debate, Mordaunt said that opinion polls had shown she was “the only one” who could defeat Labour leader Keir Starmer in a future election.
Rishi Sunak had also previously pointed to polling in the campaign and suggested he had the best chance to beat Starmer.
A poll by J.L Partners before the field narrowed did show Sunak with a small lead over Keir Starmer in a potential run-off, but it was well within the margin of error.
Polling by Redfield and Wilton Strategy found Mordaunt to be the most popular among the then-six remaining candidates among the general public.
There are, however, issues with polling on hypothetical situations. Numerous surveys have shown rather poor name recognition among the public for some of the candidates, aside from former chancellor, Rishi Sunak.
This means many of those polled on which Tory candidate would be best placed to defeat Keir Starmer are expressing an opinion on someone they know little to nothing about. It can be safely assumed that the eventual winner of the leadership vote would not face this issue in a general election.
This means it is very difficult for polling of this type to give an accurate picture of how well candidates would do in a general election.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: Unsupported
The most fiery clashes in the leadership debate were between former ministers Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. She repeatedly criticised Sunak’s record as chancellor, with a particular focus on his tax increases.
One particular claim was that Sunak had raised taxes to “the highest level in 70 years”. This was a claim also made in Friday’s Channel 4 debate.
Similar claims have been repeatedly reported by the media over the last year in response to the proposed increase in national insurance. The Taxpayers’ Alliance also released a report making the same claim in February 2021. The Institute for Fiscal Studies stated that “taxes will reach their highest sustained level in the UK”.
These estimates are all based on slightly different methodology, and are primarily projections based on the future tax burden. It should be noted that since these claims were first published, the government announced cost of living tax decreases which could offset some of the tax burden.
Primarily, a new policy increasing the threshold before someone has to pay national insurance, which will offset the impact of the 1.25 per cent NI increase for many workers.
The latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, which provides analysis of the UK Government’s finances, has estimated that next year, taxes will account for 36 per cent of the UK’s GDP. This is the highest proportion for more than 70 years.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: Mostly True
In a portion of the debate where the leadership candidates were allowed to ask a question of each other, former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch took aim at Rishi Sunak for allegedly ignoring her warnings on Covid-19 loan fraud.
At the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, when safety measures meant many businesses were forced to close, loan schemes were put in place to mitigate the losses many companies were facing due to disruptions to their trade.
The department for business, energy and industrial strategy estimated that £17bn was not paid back after the scheme was wound down as the pandemic eased.
The UK Government estimated that only £4.9bn of this loss was due to fraud, so it is inaccurate for Badenoch to say that Sunak’s inaction on loan fraud cost the taxpayer £17bn. Much of that figure, described by the government as “somewhat speculative”, was not returned because businesses could not afford to pay back their loans after the pandemic.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: False
Tugendhat, who did not make the final four candidates after being voted out on Monday, attempted to put some clear air between himself and his rivals. He made a pitch as a low-tax candidate by claiming he had voted against the 1.25 per cent rise in National Insurance (NI) that was backed by the other four MPs in the race.
This was a repeat of a claim he made during the previous Channel 4 Tory leadership debate which took place on Friday 15 July.
The rise in NI, called the health and social care levy, was voted through parliament 318 to 248, and was backed by Tugendhat’s fellow candidates. However, while he did not vote for the bill, he did not vote against it. He abstained from the vote.
Ferret Fact service verdict: Mostly True
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