Tory leadership: Will TV debate change course of race?

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt speak to Julie Etchingham Image copyright Reuters

There was a lot of finger pointing, a lot of flailing, and a lot of squabbling between the two powerful politicians locked in the race to become our next prime minister.

Boris Johnson, who has been dreaming of this moment for years through a career of highs, and profound lows, with No 10 nearly in his grasp.

And Jeremy Hunt, a politician who has held high office for nearly a decade, but who started this race believing that his bid for the biggest job was a long shot.

There was, inevitably, the usual sprinkling of attempted jokes from Boris Johnson. After weeks of holding it together he could not quite tame the instinct to jibe.

Jeremy Hunt was punctilious and precise in his usual manner.

But in a curious way they swapped sides too tonight. Hunt trying to provoke, to land spiky points and Mr Johnson trying hard not to offend, whether it was his ally in the White House, or the Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland.

Both teams will leave Salford content with their candidates' performance.

The gaffe prone former foreign secretary avoided slipping on any banana skins, and managing not to commit on some of the more controversial issues before him. And the current foreign secretary managed to land his blows on his opponent.

There was perhaps though no jaw dropper, no moment that turned this race upside down.

Mr Johnson arrived the favourite and leaves in the same position. Mr Hunt turned up keen to show that he is ready to use sharp elbows to scrap and to make himself heard with attacks on his rival that are a contrast to his normal careful style.

Their respective status as the front runner and challenger may not have changed.

Yet while Jeremy Hunt may not, from this performance alone, manage to stop Boris Johnson's journey to No 10, he has at least shown that if he gets there, he is likely to face a very tricky time.

Conservative party members have their ballots now, and many will already have voted.

But there is technically still nearly two weeks for those forms to be filled in and put into the post. While the shouting is over for now, the decision is not yet done.

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