Conservatives backing Boris Johnson have said his rival Jeremy Hunt would be a good prime minister in the future but that the current Brexit turmoil calls for an “extraordinary character”.
Two very different prospective leaders delivered their takes on what they would do if they were handed the keys to Downing Street in the latest hustings in the South West.
Ashley Carr, a finance student from Exeter, sported a Back Boris badge as he watched the event, which went on for more than two hours, along with hundreds of party members.
The 23-year-old said: “I’m still backing Boris, although I was very impressed by Jeremy and what he said, particularly on young people.
“But I think just because of the times we’re in, we need an extraordinary character and I think that is Boris Johnson.
“I think in ordinary times though Jeremy’s a good prime minister for the future.”
Aric Gilinsky, from Exeter, also sported a Back Boris badge.
He said of the MP’s performance: “I think he has been effervescent as always, although I think both Boris and Jeremy have done very well.”
Asked if he was concerned Mr Johnson may make gaffes as PM, after reports that he called the French “turds”, the 28-year-old said: “I have never concerned myself with unsourced newspaper articles in my life.”
Throughout the hustings, candidates kept the tone friendly, neither criticising the other, with laughter peppering the hustings on each side.
But not all those present thought it was a suitable time for joviality.
Audience member Ruth Smith, who said she is over 70, said: “I think there was far more substance in Jeremy Hunt’s presentation. I think we’ve got to seriously look at the situation, and it is a serious situation.
“Boris certainly shows signs of leadership but I found he lacked a lot of substance in questions and Jeremy Hunt gave good answers and he didn’t make too many jokes about it, because we are not in a joking situation.”
She said she voted to remain in the 2016 EU referendum but that now she would leave “as soon as possible”.
Asked what changed her mind, she said: “The attitude of the EU, and we are too far forward now that we cannot go backwards.
“It’s a democratic decision to leave and I wish a lot of people would actually accept a democratic decision.”
She said she came to the hustings “biased” towards Mr Hunt, adding: “He’s just endorsed it this morning that that’s the way forward.”
Dozens of party members rose to their feet to give standing ovations to both candidates as they finished their parts of the hustings.
Both men remained to shake hands with supporters, while Mr Johnson posed for a selfie and gave a thumbs up.
Mr Johnson’s father Stanley and Mr Hunt’s wife, sister, two nephews and two nieces were watching in support.
Speaking afterwards as she dashed away, Mr Hunt’s sister said: “We are just absolutely proud of him, could not be more proud of him as his family. He has been completely true to himself.”