A number of things happened in and around the Conservative leadership hustings in Perth.
On the night, it felt like Liz Truss had a better response from the 600 or so Conservative members in Perth Concert Hall than Rishi Sunak. She had more rapport with them and got more applause. Polls and bookies suggest she is way ahead and most likely to win.
More than half the party members started off the evening not having made up their minds. I only met a few afterwards who were still undecided. So that hustings counted, and helped some Tories work out who they want to be their next leader and the country’s next Prime Minister.
On policy, the two main takeaways were that neither candidate is willing to freeze the energy price cap this winter, nor are they willing to give ground on another independence referendum.
Outside the Concert Hall, protesters made it clear that they really didn’t like the Tories at all or anything they stood for and that some of them didn’t like the media much either. Inside, Conservative Party members made it clear they really didn’t like the idea of another independence referendum or want to talk about it very much.
The most serious point for me was on the overall cost-of-living crisis, I asked both candidates if they would consider freezing the energy price cap. That is what has been proposed by Labour, the SNP and Lib-Dems.
Scottish Power chief executive Keith Anderson and other power company bosses met the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, last week and discussed it. The company bosses went away to work on just such a proposal – to freeze the energy cap at £1971 for the next two years and pay that back over the next ten years.
At the hustings, Sunak categorically ruled it out and Truss dismissed it as a “sticking plaster”. They scoffed when I suggested that you either freeze the energy price cap or you risk freezing the poor. Both Prime Ministerial candidates also ruled out help for businesses with spiralling energy bills, and that is just as big a risk, freezing companies out of business.
I went to Thredgard in Alloa last week, where they make plastic caps and things for the oil and gas industries and other sectors too. It’s a good going business, employing 11 people, actually making things, and they’ve already invested in more energy efficient machines. But the boss David Haswell told me they were facing an increase in their energy bills of more than £100,000 next year.
This morning I heard Steven Leckie on the radio. He is president of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and owns Crieff Hydro and other hospitality businesses. He said their energy bills were set to rise from £600,000 this year to £1.6m next year.
On STV News, we heard from Martin Teng in Aberdeen who has closed his Chinese takeaway because of soaring energy bills.
Yet neither candidate to be Prime Minister had anything to offer them.
The biggest challenge facing the winner of this contest is not reuniting the Conservative party or rebuilding trust in politics or fighting off another independence referendum. The biggest challenge facing the next Prime Minister on September 5 is the cost-of-living crisis, primarily spiralling energy bills because that affects every household and every business.
At these hustings, Truss and Sunak are talking to Conservative party members because they will decide who wins, but in less than three weeks one of them is going to have to start talking to the rest of us and they will finally have to answer the question of what they are going to do.