Tory leadership race: what happened at Birmingham hustings?
Rishi Sunak said he would not make promises he could not keep when it came to the cost-of-living crisis as he stepped up his attack on Liz Truss’ plans for tax cuts, warning they would increase borrowing and fuel inflation.
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“Let’s keep the West Midlands blue,” declared Liz Truss at last night’s (23 August) hustings in Birmingham, as the grind of the Conservative leadership race carries on. Without this reminder it would have been difficult to distinguish this event from previous iterations.
Critics have argued the leadership race has gone on for far too long, but few here in Birmingham are likely to begrudge the fifteen minutes of fame for the West Midlands Conservatives.
But Ms Truss and Rishi Sunak’s appearance here may not be quite a safe bet, party observers and insiders agree, with parliamentary seats such as West Bromwich East and Northfield hotly contested. The former has only a majority of 1,593 votes. If the Boundary Commission for England adds the Labour-supporting council ward of St Paul’s – an electorate of 10,534 – into the constituency next year, the Conservatives will have a big problem on their hands with the Black Country seat going into the next General Election.
One Conservative member told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) he thought Truss’ brand of Conservatism is different to Andy Street, the Conservative mayor for the West Midlands.“He draws people together across all different types of Conservatism: electorate, members, and MPs. Does Liz have that draw factor? I don’t think so, so how will she reconcile that?”
And what did the candidates think of Birmingham, and the wider West Midlands? Aside from a few soundbites towards the Commonwealth Games; the ceramics industry; and bringing the gigabyte battery factories to the region, nothing else new was on offer.
The hustings themselves had a lack of advertising throughout the labyrinth of the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), save the few ‘Liz 4 Leader’ and ‘Ready 4 Rishi’ banners outside for Conservative members. Placards from protestors with slogans such as ‘Nurses Not Nukes’ and ‘Kick The Tories Out’, faced incredulous looks from party members.
Henry Phillips, 29, travelled from Stourbridge to attend the demonstrations. He told the LDRS both candidates did not have any coherent plan to tackle the climate crisis.He said: “We need leadership and it’s clear both candidates do not have the solutions. Their climate crisis plans are not centred around people’s needs. Sunak does not support onshore wind turbines. Truss wants to remove green levies.“There are quite a few Conservatives who do support the use of green energy. What is more Conservative than having your own national energy supply, rather than being propped up by foreign companies?”
Sylvia Zamperini, originally from Italy, has lived in Britain for 28 years. All but two of those have been in Birmingham. Wearing an EU beret, she said whoever wins the leadership contest “would not give a damn” about crime in the region. “I’m angry this country is going towards limiting protests rather than tackling real crime,” she said. “The police don’t attend burglaries or car thefts. The Tories are poisoning the country.”On crime, Mr Sunak described the Labour-run Sandwell council as “a shambles” while in the same sentence accused Labour’s West Midlands Police and crime commissioner, Simon Foster, for being “soft on drugs”. He said he would increase stop and searches if Prime Minister, and vowed he will “never let political correctness stand in the way of keeping the country safe”.
But Megan Jones, director at Cranstoun, an alcohol and drug reduction charity, said she was “really disappointed” at Mr Sunak’s comments. Sandwell has one of the lowest rates of drug-related deaths in the country.
She added: “If soft on drugs means reducing harm to individuals and society, saving money, reducing demand to policing and the wider criminal justice system & reducing serious acquisitive crime – then sign me up to ‘soft on drugs’ approach.”
The loudest applause for the night went to Mr Sunak, but several councillors across the West Midlands were still divided.
Councillor Rick Payne, who represents Kingstanding, said: “Whilst Rishi has given a very good account of himself tonight, I was already thinking to vote for Liz. She’s given some clear examples of how she is going to do things. The way Rishi put it over is not necessarily as clear.”
Councillor Les Trumpeter, who represents Charlemont with Grove Vale, said: “I was initially apathetic to the whole leadership campaign and didn’t fancy either candidate. But as time has gone by I have found myself agreeing more with Truss than I have Sunak. I like the corporation tax and national insurance policies.“Truss was a councillor in London and I feel she is more in tune with grassroots members and other ward councillors across the country as she has sat on the same committees and faced the same hurdles as we do.”
But Councillor Richard Parkin, who represents Sutton Reddicap, said he would be voting for Sunak, adding: “I think he’s the only one with the most sensible plan. We’re about to go into a difficult winter, the cost of living will bite deeper, and I see from my time volunteering at food banks, we need a leader who will have the sense to help those struggling.”
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