LIZ Truss backers have accused Rishi Sunak of "mansplaining" during Monday night's fiery TV leadership debate.
Supporters of the Foreign Secretary said the ex-Chancellor was "extremely aggressive" and interruptive when he spoke during the prime time BBC showdown.
But Mr Sunak's allies hit back describing the criticism as "bizarre".
The fresh blue-on-blue war come hours before the wannabe PMs meet again tonight for their second live TV clash, The Sun's Showdown: The Fight for No.10.
From the minute last night's BBC debate kicked off Ms Truss and Mr Sunak clashed on issues ranging from taxes to cracking down on China.
But Ms Truss's supporters claim the ex-Chancellor moved a step beyond healthy debate when he continually interrupted her to put his points across.
A source close to Liz Truss told The Sun: "From our count, Rishi interrupted her 31 times.
"We don't need to shout to get our messages across, instead Liz proved that she was the grown up in the room and has a bold plan to deliver for hardworking people."
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This morning Truss ally Simon Clarke accused Mr Sunak of being "extremely aggressive".
The Treasury Minister told LBC: "He was certainly extremely aggressive in the early moments of the debate.
"It was a pretty intense approach and I'm not really sure that it worked."
Other supporters of Ms Truss attributed the way she was treated by Mr Sunak to her gender and hit out at the ex-Chancellor for "mansplaining".
The ex-Chancellor's allies rubbished the accusation.
A campaign spokesperson for Mr Sunak told The Sun: "It’s bizarre to criticise the tone of last night’s debate. Of course it was lively – it was an audition for the highest office in the land so it’s only fair to expect a bit of scrutiny.
"Whoever wins this contest will have to stand up to the toughest leaders in the world so they'd better be able to withstand a few difficult questions about why their policies don’t add up."
Top Tories this week called for a ceasefire in the brutal blue-on-blue attacks that are driving a stake through the party in this contest.
But it fell on deaf ears as the pair shouted over each other and launched stinging broadsides trashing their rival's plan.
In their opening ding-dong Ms Truss machine-gunned the National Insurance rise implemented by Mr Sunak while he was Chancellor.
Driving a dump truck over his record she said: "We promised not to raise it in our manifesto in 2019. The people here who voted Conservative for the first time, expect us to fulfil our promises."
But a fired-up Mr Sunak interrupted the Foreign Secretary and warned her tax-cutting spree would "tip millions into misery".
He said it was "not moral" to raise taxes now and saddle the next generation with debt, likening her plans to a "sugar rush".
In key developments:
- The pair jockeyed to be tough on China, with both insisting they would crack down on Beijing
- Mr Sunak defended his wealth and said: "I wasn't born this way"
- The ex-Chancellor said his decision to knife Boris Johnson was "principled"
- Both candidates were put on the spot by the brutal briefing campaign being waged by allies
- Ms Truss invited Mr Sunak to be part of her team if she wins
- The latest snap poll from Opinium had both candidates neck and neck among regular voters
Tonight's debate in Stoke kicks off a week of slanging with two more match-ups scheduled, including The Sun's showstopper tomorrow night.
As they tussled on the economy, Mr Sunak recited her own favourite economist's words back at her that tax cuts would lead to higher interest rates.
Ms Truss shot back that he was "scaremongering" and promoting "Project Fear".
It prompted the ex-Chancellor to go for the jugular and dredge up Ms Truss' Remainer past.
He savaged: "I remember the referendum campaign and there were only one of us who was on the side of Remainer Project Fear and it was you not me.
Tax has been a central battleground in the contest, with Ms Truss hell bent on tax cuts while Mr Sunak has opted for caution.
Ms Truss is promising to reverse of the National Insurance and planned Corporation tax hikes, as well as a one-year moratorium on green levies.
Mr Sunak confronted her: "You talk about growth, I have spent my career before politics in business, not just here, but around the world.
"And if you want to drive growth in the 21st century economy, it's about so much more than tax.
"It's about bringing the change we need to make sure that our children are equipped in the digital industries."
COST OF LIVING
Mr Sunak failed to promise immediate help for people's bills if he becomes PM, leaning on the package of support he announced last May.
He said: "You may remember one of the last things I did as chancellor was announce a significant amount of support to help people get through autumn and the winter with those bills.
"And of course, as prime minister, I'd like to make sure that we always have the policies in place to support people like you, who are working incredibly hard to provide for you and your families."
Ms Truss said her immediate tax cuts would help cushion the blow.
Ms Truss is ducking a Friday night grilling with top interrogator Andrew Neil, while Mr Sunak is taking up the offer.
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The race so far has seen brutal mud-slinging despite their pleas for harmony.
Cabinet Minister Johnny Mercer earlier slammed the "puerile nature of this leadership contest" and called it "embarrassing".
The warring camps traded fresh blows this morning as Truss ally Nadine Dorries publicly tore into millionaire Mr Sunak for wearing a pricey suit.
She tweeted: "Liz Truss will be travelling the country wearing her earrings which cost circa £4.50 from Claire Accessories.
"Meanwhile… Rishi visits Teeside [sic] in Prada shoes worth £450 and sported £3,500 bespoke suit as he prepared for crunch leadership vote."
It prompted a furious response from Sunak-supporting MP Angela Richardson, who shot back: "FFS Nadine! Muted."
Grilled about Ms Dorries' remarks, Ms Truss said: "I am not going to give Rishi fashion advice. I mean, I have said he is a very well-dressed man. I'm not going to give him fashion advice.
"And I don't think this is really the key issue in the campaign, frankly, you know, we have had a really serious discussion about the importance of growing the economy, and what will help achieve that.
"That's what people in Stoke-on-Trent want to hear about. They don't want to hear about Rishi and my fashion choices."
The Foreign Secretary is the bookies' favourite to bag the top job when the results are announced on September 5.
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