When Liz Truss was asked at a Conservative hustings event in the so-called “Red Wall” of northern England who she thought was to blame for Boris Johnson’s downfall, the crowd answered for her.
“The media,” several audience members in 2019 Tory swing seat Darlington shouted, echoing an accusation popular with supporters of the outgoing prime minister that news coverage of his law-breaking behaviour during the pandemic unfairly led to his resignation.
Smiling at the crowd’s response, Ms Truss turned to the host of the event, Talk TV’s Tom Newton Dunn, and said: “Who am I to disagree with this excellent audience?”
The crowd applauded and the fifth meeting with voters in the ongoing Tory leadership contest went on.
As she left the stage at the end of the hustings, Ms Truss, the frontrunner to be Britain’s next prime minister, leaned in to Mr Newton Dunn and said: “I’m sorry I was mean about the media.”
He replied: “It’s cheap and you know it.”
Earlier in the hustings, Ms Truss accused Mr Newton Dunn, a former political editor of The Sun, of asking questions in “a left-wing way”.
The host began asking a question by comparing the hundreds of pounds that Ms Truss’s tax-cutting pledges would save workers to the thousands extra they could have to pay on energy bills from next year.
“You’re framing it in a left-wing way Tom. The whole media does it all the time, drives me mad,” she interjected, apparently irritated by Mr Newton Dunn’s description of tax savings as “giveaways”.
It came after an attack on the media from Ms Truss last week, when she said her plan to cut public sector wages outside of London had been “misrepresented” by journalists.
The foreign secretary U-turned on the proposed policy to save money by reducing the wages of civil servants after analysis found the amount of saving she projected could only be achieved by cutting wages for nurses and teachers too.
At the hustings on Tuesday, Ms Truss also said she did not believe Mr Johnson misled parliament over his knowledge of parties in Downing Street.
Former Downing Street staff are said to be preparing evidence to the contrary to present to the parliamentary committee investigating the prime minister.
Ms Truss followed her leadership rival Rishi Sunak at the hustings. The former chancellor came under pressure when he was asked about the saying “he who wields the dagger will never inherit the crown” – in reference to the impact his resignation had on Mr Johnson’s premiership.
Supporters of Mr Sunak booed the question while the former chancellor denied he “wielded the dagger”.
Polls by show of hands at the start and end of the hustings suggested around one-third of the audience had made up their minds on who to vote for in the leadership race based on the night’s discussion, with 40 per cent undecided at the start and only around 10 to 15 per cent undecided at the end.