Liz Truss's planned tax cuts alone are "not much good", Rishi Sunak has warned as he said the party risked electoral oblivion in 2024 without providing direct support.
At tonight's fifth Conservative leadership hustings in Darlington, Mr Sunak has suggested he would commit tens of billions to tackling the cost-of-living crisis, while Ms Truss is yet to be drawn on whether she would provide any direct payments to Britons.
"The only way to help [people] is with direct support," the former chancellor insisted. "Because tax cuts alone are not much good if you're a pensioner if you're not earning any extra money, they're not much good if you're working hard on the national living wage because Liz's tax cut is worth around a quid a week for that person. It's worth zero for a pensioner. That's not right.
Without further support, he warned, "not only will millions of people suffer we will get absolutely hammered when it comes to an election. The British people will not forgive us for not doing that."
In her own interview with TalkTV's Tom Newton Dunn, Ms Truss hit back: "I believe in Conservative economics, I believe in a growing economy and a growing economy actually brings in more growth in the future.
"Now we are facing great difficulties with energy and I understand people are struggling with their bills on fuel and food. But the first thing we should do as Conservatives is help people have more of their own money. What I don't support is taking money off people in tax and then giving it back to them in handouts. That to me is Gordon Brown economics."
Follow the latest developments below.
Caught on 'hot mic' at the end...
Tom Newton Dunn caught on mic telling Liz attacking the media "is cheap and you know it" after she jokingly apologises for doing so pic.twitter.com/N0ekSmui7p
— Calgie (@christiancalgie) August 9, 2022
Snap analysis: A tale of two ideologies as Truss goes on the defensive
With the cost-of-living response now firmly at the centre of the battle for No 10, Liz Truss was very much on the defensive over her preference for immediate tax cuts tonight.
Appearing to accuse Rishi Sunak of "Gordon Brown economics", Ms Truss said the "first thing we should do as Conservatives" would be to cut National Insurance and have a moratorium on the green levy.
The Foreign Secretary has built her entire campaign around governing as a Conservative - both large and small-c - and it was clear that while she did not rule out direct support for households, her preference was to relieve some of the highest tax burden for seven decades.
This could not be further from the approach taken by Rishi Sunak, who insisted direct help was "the only way" to ease the growing impact of the cost-of-living crisis on the most vulnerable in society, going as far as to say her proposals were "not much good" in isolation.
Ms Truss struck a far more spiky and defensive tone tonight, while Mr Sunak appeared at his most buoyant to date. While the Foreign Secretary remains the frontrunner, this is now an even more ideological contest and there could not be a clearer choice in approach.
You've watched tonight's hustings... Who came out on top?
Who is still undecided in the audience?
Far fewer hands go up - it looks more like 10 to 15 per cent of the Darlington audience, per Tom Newton Dunn.
And that brings Ms Truss's section, and tonight's hustings, to a close.
Will Truss's Government reverse the decision to cut 10,000 Army personnel?
The Foreign Secretary says Britain needs "to rethink our security at this very difficult moment".
She stops short of committing to reversing the decision, but says she will increase defence spending more broadly and her review of the Integrated Review.
Truss asked by farmer about Australia and New Zealand deals
The farmer says more and more meat will come into this country from Australia and New Zealand. Will this meat be to the same standards as Red Tractor meat?
"I think that the beef and lamb we produce in Britain is absolutely world-beating, and I'm proud of the fact it used to be banned of the United States market but I got access for our beef and lamb to the United States.
"I think our quality, as a premium product, is absolutely unbeatable. In terms of the trade deals I struck... I'm proud of those deals. Before we joined the European Union we used to trade a lot with Australia and New Zealand. We closed the door to them when we joined the European Union. There are protections, there are safeguards for our farmers."
Truss asked about civil service 'homeworkers' and 'Remainers'
Ms Truss says it takes "leadership from the prime minister" and secretaries of state to ensure things get done.
"In every single job I've had in Government, the Trade Department, the Foreign Office, I have made sure things get done.
"Civil servants - there are some civil servants who do spend a lot of time working from home for example, that is certainly true. But what I will say about the Foreign Office is people work round the clock."
She points to the staff who were working every weekend after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Are there no circumstances in which Truss would regard a man as a woman or vice versa?
"I believe everybody should be treated with respect in our society including transgender people," Ms Truss says. "But what I do believe is biological sex is important.
"It is important for making sure we protect domestic violence shelters, we protect single-sex spaces. Women's rights have been hard fought-for for generations and I am concerned about sport, unequal treatment in sport.
"I believe biological sex is important and that's what should guide very sensitive issues of policies."
A man can be a woman legally at the moment - would she want to change that? "You can be a different gender, and that is fine, you can live in the other gender if you so wish and I completely respect that. That is not the same as biological sex."
Onto Truss's Q&A with the audience
Ms Truss is asked if she can muster a compliment about Sunak's campaign, and says: "He's got a very nice T-shirt, which I can see that you're wearing."
Not all benefits are means-tested and some people on benefits are entitled to more than those in work, she is told.
"I do think our tax system in particular is too complicated... I will look at [it] in the round to make the system more pro-family, but also more efficient too."
Ms Truss vows to appoint "a really good health secretary who will get on with the job, who can be trusted to deliver and deliver the changes we need to see on the frontline" of the NHS.
Liz Truss's quickfire round
Will the NHS budget increase in real-terms?
I do think the NHS budget will have to go up in real terms but I'm not going to prejudge the spending review.
Should the privileges committee investigation into Boris Johnson continue?
That's a matter for Parliament, but I personally don't think he misled Parliament.
Would you vote to stop it?
Yes... but there isn't a vote and it is going ahead.
Is Boris Johnson's downfall his own fault?
(Someone shouts "the media") Sounds like you're being blamed, Tom, and who am I to disagree with this excellent audience.
Biggest regret in Government?
I do hugely regret that the Government went ahead with the National Insurance rise and I spoke out against it at the time.
Would you serve in Rishi Sunak's Cabinet?
What I care about is our country and I am prepared to do any job to serve our country.
Liz Truss: More we can do on fracking
Liz Truss vows to increase the supply of energy as "there is more we can do" on fracking, North Sea reserves and oil and gas.
"I am not going to say what is going to be in a Budget later this year. Philosophically, what I favour is letting people keep more of their money."
Ms Truss says she is focussing her energy on her role as Foreign Secretary and says it wound be "unconstitutional" to override Boris Johnson and Nadhim Zahawi.
"They are capable people, capable of making these decisions" on the economy, she adds.
'My first priority is reducing taxes'
Liz Truss asks: "Do you just think about there's a fixed pie, we have to share out the pie and we have to give out money in handouts? My view is we can grow the pie."
Ms Truss rejects the idea of raising taxes and also increasing benefits. Asked about her tax "giveaways", she accuses Tom Newton-Dunn - formerly of the Telegraph, the Sun and Times Radio - of "framing the question in a Left-wing way, I'm afraid the whole media does this all the time. It drives me mad."
Mr Newton-Dunn asks Ms Truss if grants, supports or handouts would be given out at any stage in her premiership.
"This leadership election is about who is going to be the prime minister in September. And what's important is the prime minister at the time and the Chancellor looks at the question and the situation at the time. And my first priority is reducing taxes."
Liz Truss's Q&A begins now
Will Ms Truss oversee the Government paying directly into people's bank accounts to help them pay bills?
"What I want to do is make sure first of all we're reducing taxes," she says. "Because that is needed to drive economy growth. Currently the country is predicted to go into recession, that would be a huge problem, we know what recessions are like."
She runs through her pledges to cut National Insurance and place a moratorium on the green energy levy.
"I believe in Conservative economics, I believe in a growing economy and a growing economy actually brings in more growth in the future. Now we are facing great difficulties with energy and I understand people are struggling with their bills on fuel and food.
"But the first thing we should do as Conservatives is help people have more of their own money. What I don't support is taking money off people in tax and then giving it back to them in handouts. That to me is Gordon Brown economics. Frankly we had years of that under Labour and what we got was a slow-growth economy."
What would Rishi Sunak do on business rates?
He replies: "Particularly those businesses in the hospitality and retail sector... [business rates] are the number one tax that they talked about to me when I was chancellor."
Mr Sunak recalls cutting business rates for those businesses by 50 per cent earlier this year, "because I know it's the number one thing that makes the difference. This autumn in the Budget we will do the same."
That ends Mr Sunak's appearance tonight. It is clear he has gone down well with the audience in Darlington tonight - but is this reflective of where members are nationally?
Fuel duty cut may not be making 'enormous difference', says Sunak
One audience member asks why the Government has not considered reducing the double taxation on fuel at the pumps, especially in rural communities.
The best way to provide help "to the people we need to is getting direct support to those who are most vulnerable, and that can then help them with all the bills," Mr Sunak responds.
"If cutting fuel duty makes sense in the future, of course I'd look at it. I just did it, a few months ago... but it's not obvious it is making an enormous difference."
What is levelling up?
"For me it's very simple. The one-sentence answer for me when I'm asked is that I want everyone no matter where they live in the UK to feel that they have fantastic opportunities and that they have pride in the place they call home.
"So it's about opportunity and pride in your home. What does it mean here? Well, we're delivering those things with things like the freeports. But we're also wanting to make sure people have pride in the places they call home."
However, the audience member - from Stockton - who asked says in response: "No, I don't understand it. We didn't have a lot of money like yourselves, but what we had was clean. Now it's no longer clean. It won't give work to the people who need it in Stockton."
Mr Sunak insists he wants his two children to be able to feel safe when they walk around Stockton when they are a bit older, and he would tackle county lines and put more police on the streets in places like Stockton.
Sunak promises to look into Waspi situation
Mr Sunak provides reassurance he would look at why it has taken so long to dual the A1.
Asked by a 72-year-old pensioner who receives less money than someone born from 1953 onwards, he says it has "been really difficult through millions of women" and vows to take a look at the situation.
And on climate change, he vows to meet net zero goals via "innovation" - particularly through carbon capture technology.
I alone can beat Starmer, insists Sunak
Rishi Sunak is asked if he stands by his claim he is the "only candidate who can beat Keir Starmer".
Tom, the same audience member, is booed when he asks if Mr Sunak agrees with the quotation "he who wields the dagger will never inherit the crown".
The former chancellor says he is "simply wrong to say I wielded the dagger because it wasn't just me who feels enough was enough. The Government was on the wrong side of yet another ethical decision. And 60 members of parliament also felt enough was enough.
"And yes, the simple answer to that question is yes, I am the only person who can beat Keir Starmer, that's why I'm standing here today."
Rishi Sunak's quickfire round
Should the privileges committee investigation into Boris Johnson continue?
The privileges committee should make those decisions. It's not a Government decision. I think trust and integrity and decency in politics is really important and that's what I want to bring back.
Is Boris Johnson's downfall his own fault?
Will he serve in Liz Truss's Cabinet?
In any job?
NHS needs urgent reform, says Sunak
Rishi Sunak insists on the need to reform the NHS and recalls introducing the health and social care levy.
"It's not just about putting the money in. I did do that, it was the right thing to do, but now we've got to move on to reforming... I've got a bold plan to do that, it means being tough on the things were too scared to confront like missed appointments."
Judge me on my character - not bank account, says Sunak
Asked about him and his wife having combined wealth greater than that of the Queen, Rishi Sunak says everyone should be judged on character and actions.
"I wasn't born like that. My parents worked really hard to provide me with these opportunities. And I want to provide those opportunities for everyone else. That's what Conservative governments do."
I'm not Gordon Brown 2.0, insists Rishi Sunak
Pressed on where his "efficiency savings" will come from, Rishi Sunak points to the money he could find for Ukraine to provide support as proof he can "literally find a billion".
On charges he is 'Gordon Brown 2.0', he says: "Conservatism is about being pragmatic and that has long been a tenet of our party. How else do you propose that a Conservative Party that wants to support those vulnerable pensioners does it?
"I think it's an entirely Conservative thing to give people dignity in retirement and I think it's an entirely Conservative thing to support the most vulnerable pensioners and that's what I'm going to do."
When asked about sitting down with Liz Truss and Boris Johnson straight away to hammer out an agreement, Mr Sunak says "an important debate" on the winter crisis is unfolding during the leadership contest and it is "not going to work" to find agreement before the next prime minister is unveiled.
Rishi Sunak: Liz Truss's tax cuts alone 'not much good'
Mr Sunak says it is right to target support "on the people who most need our help".
"The only way to help them is with direct support. Because tax cuts alone are not much good if you're a pensioner if you're not earning any extra money, they're not much good if you're working hard on the national living wage because Liz's tax cut is worth around a quid a week for that person. It's worth zero for a pensioner. That's not right.
"That's not a policy that's going to help people through the winter and I think it's wrong that she's ruled out direct support for families because we as a Conservative government have an obligation to help those who are most vulnerable. That's the only way to do it."
He insists support must be targeted at "particularly the most vulnerable households... Our support should be targeted not on massive tax cuts for very wealthy people, but should be targeted on people who most need it.
"And if we don't do that, I can tell you not only will millions of people suffer we will get absolutely hammered when it comes to an election. The British people will not forgive us for not doing that."
Onto Rishi Sunak's Q&A with Tom Newton Dunn
Asked why he is "so far behind", Rishi Sunak says: "The only poll that counts is the one at the end. I'm out and about every day and I'm fighting for the things that I passionately believe in, that are right for this country, and I'm just going to keep doing that until the last day of this campaign."
On the cost-of-living crisis and today's projections around energy bills rising to more than £4,000, Mr Sunak is asked if he is prepared to spend the same amount - £15.3billion - again.
"I don't think it will be necessary because what we're talking about now is the extra increase on top of what we thought, and we already thought bills would go up to £3,000 when we announced that support. It's really, really serious and I think everyone should be under absolutely no illusion about how difficult it's going to be for millions of families this winter.
"And our responsibility as a compassionate Conservative government is to make sure that we support those who most need our help. That's what I did as chancellor... and I want to go further than I did previously, because the situation's worse."
Liz Truss: I will not take no for an answer as PM
Liz Truss says she will "not take no for an answer", calling Sir Keir Starmer "another North London Labour leader who doesn't understand the people of this country".
"We will deliver jobs, we'll deliver growth and we'll deliver opportunities. And we will help people with the cost-of-living crisis, and we will help people earn more and succeed.
"We will give people more of their own money so they can invest in their own future and we will most of all be proud to be conservatives. Because that's why they voted for us - not because they wanted the Labour Party, but because they wanted a strong Conservative government that delivers for everybody and particularly here in the North East of England."
North will benefit from more defence spending, says Truss
Liz Truss repeats her promise to raise defence spending to three per cent of GDP by the end of the decade.
"Earlier today I visited a defence manufacturer in Huddersfield and it's businesses across the North of England that will benefit from increased spending on defence," she replies.
Ms Truss says while the Rwanda scheme is "the right scheme", it must be extended to more countries and new legislation is needed to ensure a British Bill of Rights cannot be overruled by the ECHR.
She also pledges to make sure "our single-sex spaces are protected" and the Government stands up for women's rights.
Liz Truss: We must get the economy growing
"I think that we know we face difficult economic times," Ms Truss tells the hustings. "We've got the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, we've got the appalling war being perpetrated by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, and I'm afraid to say that in the last two decades the UK has experienced relatively little growth."
Ms Truss enthuses about the need to get swathes of European Union regulation off the rulebook and "unlock investment" at manufacturing facilities across the North East.
She stresses she did not agree with raising National Insurance "and we need to help those people who are struggling with the cost-of-living", which is also her rationale for an immediate moratorium on the green energy levy.
"I can promise you I would do that as prime minister from day one. I would also keep corporation tax low, because if we raise corporation tax to the same level it is France... our country is more likely to go into a recession. We need to get the economy growing."
'I want us to be an aspiration nation'
Liz Truss recalls Ben Houchen and Simon Clarke's election in 2017 "and I could see that we made a crack in the Red Wall - but 2019 was a massive demolition job".
On the Tories taking Sedgefield, Tony Blair's old constituency, in 2019, Ms Truss quips "things can only get better" and vows to "take new seats in the North East - I will work to take Wansbeck, I will work to take Sunderland and I will work to win big and I know we can do it".
Ms Truss laments a "lack of opportunity" at her school in Leeds, which she blames the city council for, and says she wants everybody in Britain to be able to succeed regardless of their background or where they're from.
"I want us to be an aspiration nation."
Liz Truss is 'a Tory to her boots'
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary, opens by paying tribute to Angela Sterling and praising the Conservatives taking control of Durham Council as part of a coalition after the local elections last year.
Ms Trevelyan runs through Liz Truss's "ABC": "She is incredibly ambitious for this country, she is bold in the way she takes decisions and she is confident in her energies to give the country what it needs. I have watched her drive forwards policies - let's take the Northern Ireland Protocol challenge, incredibly difficult.
"The UK's most important job is to hold the union together and Liz has taken on that challenge to make sure our union will be secure. She's also incredibly bold. Who wants to go and face defence minister Lavrov and return in one piece? That is no mean feat.
"She wants to give back the power in every Conservative way, she is an absolutely a Tory to her boots. I would be so proud to serve with Liz in a government led by her. I think we have a really exciting time ahead."
A show of hands
Tom Newton Dunn asks all those who don't know who they want to vote for to raise their hands.
He estimates it is around 40 per cent of those present - meaning more than a third of the members present are still making their minds up.
I won't pursue 'inflationary' policies, vows Sunak
Mr Sunak takes aim at "lefty woke culture" which wants to "cancel our history, our values and our women", before moving on to the topic of the Treasury.
"I'm always as I have done as Chancellor going to help those who need our help with the cost of living. And this autumn we can cut VAT on energy bills.
"But what I won't do is pursue policies that making inflation worse and last far longer - especially if those policies simply amount to tens and tens of billions of pounds, putting them on the country's credit card and asking our kids and grandkids to pick up the tab."
On claims he was not a proper Brexiteer, he hits back: "I was proud to actually vote for Brexit in the first place. And as a backbencher I came up with a radical new policy... and then I went one further. I worked with Jacob Young, I worked with Ben Houchen, and we put the biggest freeport in the country right here in Teesside."
Rishi Sunak: I'm not making life easy for myself
After a cheery off-script start, Rishi Sunak launches into his more established campaign speech about his core personal values and the importance of education.
He praises the new technical institute in the North East, and talks up "patriotism, family, service, hard work [and] aspiration - and I know they are all of your values too, and that's because they're Conservative values".
During the campaign he acknowledges he has "not made my life easy with some of the things I've been saying", but pledges to be "straight" with the public about the challenges that lie ahead.
He says he put the Treasury in Darlington "because I wanted to send the message to them that there's more to the North of Manchester".
Parmos in Parliament, urges Sunak
Very generous applause for Rishi Sunak, who bounces onto the stage with an enthusiastic "good evening!"
"Gosh, it is fantastic to be here with you here tonight, not least because for the first time in a long time I've actually had a couple of nights' sleep in my own bed in Northallerton! It is so great to be home!" he says.
"My parents are staying with us at the moment and I realised I've been campaigning a lot when last night I was talking to them and I started telling them that my dad was a GP and my mum ran the local chemist when I grew up."
Mr Sunak pays tribute to Matt Vickers and his campaign to serve the Teesside delicacy of parmos in Parliament.
Rishi Sunak saved my business, says councillor
Angela Sterling, a Durham Conservative county councillor, recalls reaching out to her local Tory MP Richard Holden while she was a small business owner for support during Covid.
"From the back of these conversations the Government Bounce Back Loan was created," she says. "Now because of one single loan my franchise business was safeguarded, as were the 60 businesses of my franchisees and 130 jobs. And all of that was thanks to Rishi Sunak.
"As someone born and bred in the North East, we're just absolutely used to being ignored. We're sidelined again and again. And even when we had a Labour prime minister down the road in Sedgefield, what happened? Nothing.
"So which prime minister has done more for the north east than any other? Rishi Sunak. Rishi even dared to bring a whole Government department from London and bring it right here [to] Darlington. We need a safe pair of hands and I know as our prime minister Rishi will continue to listen to and act in the best interests of everyone - not just in the North East but all over the country."
Things get underway
Tom Newton Dunn briefly introduces himself to the audience in Darlington, and jokes Conservative leadership elections take place "every three years so I'll be back here in 2025".
"You do not need me to tell you this is not this leafy prosperous south," he says, and sets out research that in Red Wall areas 46 per cent say they are struggling or not coping at all.
Utility bills alone absorb as much as 25 per cent of households' pre-tax income in Red Wall areas.
"So I hope tonight we'll all ask some very direct questions of the candidates about how they're going to help those people in real trouble."
Andrew Stephenson praises diversity of candidates
Andrew Stephenson says Labour "would love to have a female leader, but we could be about to have our third female prime minister before they've had one".
"Or our first prime minister of Asian heritage, the second Conservative prime minister from an ethnic minority background since Benjamin Disraeli."
Mr Stephenson adds he is staying neutral in the contest, as are all party staff, "but I do believe we have two fantastic candidates - either can tackle the big issues our country is facing, taking us forward together".
Northern seats 'key to victory' at next election
Andrew Stephenson, the chairman of the Conservatives, is now on stage.
"I'm delighted to be joined by so many members of our party at another sold out event where we're giving you, our members, the chance to put questions to our candidates.
"Over the last couple of days I've been getting out and about in the North-East, campaigning with Conservatives... and with our excellent new deputy chairman, Matt Vickers.
"These seats alongside several others in the region are key to our victory in the next general election, so it's been great to campaign alongside so many of our dedicated party members."
'A great exercise of democracy'
Peter Booth, chairman of the Conservative Party's National Convention, says it is "good to be home in the North-East where I was born and brought up in Sunderland".
Mr Booth says the hustings are for the membership to take part in a "great exercise of democracy where we get to choose our leader... No TV debates, just here tonight for you to ask questions.
"I am sure that tonight you want to test the candidates, test their strength and decide who you think is best and most capable to lead our great country."
We can make all the difference, urges Tory chairman
Tonight's audience is shown a video showing exit poll footage from David Cameron and Theresa May's general elections, plus the moment Boris Johnson found out about his landslide victory in 2019 - which is greeted with applause from the room. One audience member shouts: "Bring him back!"
Andrew Stephenson, the Tory Party chairman, is seen in a video saying the party's record will once again be under the microscope at an election in two years' time.
He talks about the Government's 80/20 target seat campaign, based on 80 seats the party wants to hold and 20 it aspires to win, as he calls for a "huge effort from every single party here".
"This campaign will take place over two years, just like the 2015 campaign," Mr Stephenson says. "Nobody's saying it's going to be easy, but I know from personal experience, if we pull together, the difference we can make."
Here we go
Just moments until the fifth in this series of a dozen Tory leadership hustings gets underway.
Tom Newton Dunn, the political editor for the TalkTV channel, is to interview both candidates before they take questions from across the audience.
Liz Truss arrives in Darlington
A warm reception for Sunak from supporters
This via TalkTV's political editor Tom Newton Dunn, who will be moderating proceedings tonight:
Rishi has arrived for the Darlington hustings… pic.twitter.com/kVoGqDgchO
— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) August 9, 2022
Boris Johnson: My successor will continue to look after people
Boris Johnson insisted his successor would "continue to look after people" as he intervened in the debate on how to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
Pointing to the £37billion worth of measures already announced, the outgoing prime minister told a Points of Light Award reception at Downing Street:
Of course as some of you may have picked up, this is going to be one of my last events in the garden in Downing Street and there will be a new Prime Minister very shortly, I can tell you for certain will be either a man or a woman.
Whoever he or she may be, I’m absolutely certain they will be wanting to make some more announcements in September / October about what we're going to do further to help people in the next period in December/ January.
And I just want you to know that I'm absolutely confident that we will have the fiscal firepower and the headroom to continue to look after people as we've done throughout.
Starmer would beat Sunak by 15 points in Red Wall, polling suggests
Sir Keir Starmer would beat both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss in the Red Wall but the Labour leader enjoys a significantly larger lead over the former chancellor, new polling suggests.
When voters in former Labour heartlands that went Tory in 2019 were given a series of head-to-head scenarios, they preferred Sir Keir to Mr Sunak by 44 per cent to 29 per cent.
Sir Keir beat Ms Truss by 40 per cent to 35 per cent, while the Foreign Secretary enjoyed a five-point lead (38 per cent to 33 per cent) over Mr Sunak.
James Cleverly, the Education Secretary, said the polling showed "the Conservatives will have to fight hard at the next General Election and our best chance of winning is with Liz Truss at the helm".
Sunak all smiles as he descends on Darlington
Analysis: Truss and Sunak have it all to prove in Darlington
The 2019 general election would prove something of a royal flush for the Tory Party as dozens of "Red Wall" seats, such as Darlington, turned blue for the first time in a generation.
Former Labour heartlands resoundingly rejected Jeremy Corbyn, backed the crystal-clear message of "get Brexit done" and placed their faith in Boris Johnson after a campaign fuelled by promises to level up the country and focus on the priorities of the British public.
Mr Johnson's administration ultimately became tainted by a collapse in trust that followed a string of scandals, while Ben Houchen - the Tory mayor of the nearby Tees Valley - effectively admitted last week his party had to do more to be seen to be levelling up.
What will tonight's audience of Tory members have to say on Rishi Sunak's comments about "deprived urban areas" (see 5.47pm), and Liz Truss's tax-cutting approach to the cost-of-living crisis (see 5.40pm)? It is clear that if either candidate wishes to replicate the success of 2019, Darlington is archetypal of the seats they must retain.
Your questions for Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, please
On Thursday, the Telegraph is hosting its own hustings event in Cheltenham.
Please leave your questions for Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak in the comments section of this live blog - and we will pick out the best to ask the prime ministerial hopefuls.
Rishi Sunak doubles down on levelling up
Rishi Sunak has doubled down on leaked comments he made about regional funding in an interview with ITV News this afternoon.
The former chancellor was filmed boasting to Conservative members that he had diverted government money from "deprived urban areas" to wealthier countryside towns.
Speaking on a visit to Newcastle, and told there are more children growing up in poverty in the North-East than anywhere else in the country, Mr Sunak described poverty as "awful, particularly poverty that affects children... That's an awful thing to have to see."
Asked if the Treasury was putting too much money into "deprived urban areas", he said: "There are pockets of poverty that exist everywhere, they're not just in big urban cities. They are rural areas. There is poverty everywhere we need to tackle and make sure they get the investment they need."
Liz Truss: I won't announce any direct help in advance
Liz Truss retained a focus on immediate tax cuts today as she refused to be drawn on whether she would provide any direct financial support to Britons in her emergency Budget if elected.
The Foreign Secretary said she wanted "people to keep more of their money in their own pockets" and took aim at the current tax burden, which stands at a 70-year high.
"We are Conservatives, we believe in low taxes and what I'm not going to do is announce the next Budget in advance," she told reporters.
"Of course, we'll need to deal with the circumstances as they arise. My fundamental principle is that people should keep more of their own money... At present, there's a recession predicted, and I don't need to tell people what a recession is like."
Dominic Penna here, the Telegraph's Political Reporter, taking you through the fifth of 12 Conservative leadership hustings.
Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak tonight face Conservative members in Darlington, one of the many northern towns that propelled the party to an 80-seat landslide back in 2019.
New polling from Redfield & Wilton today suggests Labour now leads by 15 points in those same 'Red Wall' constituencies - a sign of the uphill task facing Ms Truss or Mr Sunak.
On Thursday, the Telegraph is hosting its own hustings event in Cheltenham. Please leave your questions for Ms Truss and Mr Sunak in the comments section of this live blog.