Extraordinary naivety Robert Peston warns race to succeed Boris Johnson a gift to Labour

Tory leadership debates ammunition for Labour says Peston

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Mr Peston told his ITV colleague: “I mean, if you are a Labour MP or Labour official, you’re literally writing down these extraordinary insults they’re throwing at each other and the criticism they are levelling at their party’s policy.

“And you’re just thinking, wow, this is amazing, we can just repeat this to undermine the Tory party every day between now and the next General Election.

“So I am slightly surprised they haven’t been a bit more cautious in their attacks.”

He added: “One of the sort of slightly more amusing moments of ITV’s, I thought, rather amazing debate on Sunday night was when Kemi Badenoch, first of all, says we must have unity the thing I really want after it is all over is we’re all going to be such great friends again, and then she just launched a whole series of personal attacks again on the various people standing around her.”

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Ms Truss received a surge in support as she battles it out against Penny Mordaunt to face Rishi Sunak in the Tory leadership election run-off after Ms Badenoch was eliminated.

The Foreign Secretary picked up 15 votes to command the support of 86 Tory MPs in the penultimate ballot, as the right of the party appears to be coalescing around her in the race for No 10.

Ms Mordaunt increased her share by 10 to sit on 92, while Mr Sunak gained an extra three votes to put him in 118, just shy of the number effectively guaranteeing him entry to the final phase.

Ms Badenoch came last in the ballot on 59 votes, with Ms Truss believed to be more likely to pick up a significant number of those votes than Ms Mordaunt during the next ballot to be held on Wednesday.

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Ms Truss was the big winner on Tuesday, after 31 votes were freed up by the elimination of Tom Tugendhat a day earlier.

The momentum of her latest result now puts her favourite to face Mr Sunak in the head-to-head competition to win a ballot of Conservative members, with that result being announced on September 5.

Mr Sunak, the former chancellor, received a blow in the latest limited polling of the party membership, which forecast he would lose against both of his remaining rivals in the run-off.

Ms Mordaunt, the trade minister, said: “We are so nearly across the finish line. I am raring to go and excited to put my case to members across the country and win.”

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She thanked Ms Badenoch, the former equalities minister, and praised her “fresh thinking and bold policies” in a possible pitch to begin winning over her now-floating voters.

Mr Sunak’s campaign focused on polls showing that he could beat Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and “is the candidate the public think would make the best PM”.

Who the Tory membership favours is hard to judge because of the low levels of participation in existing polling.

But a YouGov survey of 725 party members over Monday and Tuesday saw Mr Sunak losing against all of his remaining rivals by large margins.

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