Truss courts Johnson loyalists as Sunak faces jibes

It wasn't quite as big a crowd as you get on a Saturday afternoon, but it was a big one nonetheless.

The first Conservative leadership hustings for party members took place at Elland Road in Leeds last night.

About 1,500 party members turned up to hear from Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss and put their questions.

We got a smorgasbord of policy questions. Not just the economy and integrity.

Rishi Sunak was asked if he was in favour of more grammar schools in England. He said yes, although his team said afterwards he meant the expansion of existing ones.

Liz Truss was asked about single-sex toilets in schools, amid the rows about transgender rights. She strongly defended what she saw as the need for women and girls to be protected.

The welfare of greyhounds, the future of inheritance tax, the welfare state, the future of the UK union, the questions flowed.

A couple of observations: Liz Truss seemed to energise more of the audience more of the time than Rishi Sunak. Her pitch was more targeted at the West Yorkshire crowd than Rishi Sunak's.

And there was definitely a respect for Boris Johnson in the room - with outbreaks of applause for him whenever his time as prime minister was mentioned.

This matters, because it wounds Rishi Sunak - and Team Truss is trying to harvest that Johnson loyalism and translate it into support for her. One audience member accused Mr Sunak of "stabbing" the prime minister "in the back" and questioning which "planet he was on".

And Liz Truss went out of her way to emphasise her loyalty to Mr Johnson and her respect for him. And she's landed a big new endorsement - the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

Speaking to Conservative activists, they are well aware of the awesome responsibility on their shoulders, selecting a prime minister on behalf of us all.

As things stand, Liz Truss is the firm favourite - and both she and her team seem to be growing into the role of being frontrunners and appear to be growing in confidence with every passing day.

But, but, but remember not a single vote has yet been cast. Ballot papers go out in the post in the next week. And there are 11 more hustings to go.
Tags: UK