RISHI SUNAK didn’t come out badly from the GB News question and answer session that was broadcast from Darlington on Monday evening.

He seemed pleasant and decent. He avoided any gaffes, like his ill-judged bet with Piers Morgan on Talk TV, and an exit poll reckoned he’d won over exactly half of the audience.

He was desperately hoping someone would ask about tax, so he could tell them he was cutting it, but no one did – in fact, most GB News viewers seemed to want more spending on things like the NHS, social care, housing and even the arts in Bridlington.

Linda from Middleton-in-Teesdale asked him why he was pushing on with Rwanda when no one, from Reform to some Conservative MPs to Labour and the LibDems think it’s going to work. Is he really going to spend time, energy, vast amounts of public money and political capital slamming it through when this audience clearly wants all of those resources devoted to pulling up the NHS?

His biggest attack line was on Reform, the Nigel Farage-influenced right-wing party, saying a vote for them is really a vote for Labour – and in Darlington, where Ukip once polled 13 per cent, he may be right.

But essentially his message was confused: stick to my plan because it is working, he said, when the questioners were saying the plan isn’t working. Dave from Darlington even asked what the Tories had delivered, and Mr Sunak gave a long response about the Treasury move, which is great for Darlington but may not mean much in Darrington or Dartington.

The best news for Mr Sunak came from outside the studio. The story of this month’s three by-elections was going to be yet more defeats for the Tories, but the questions now are about Labour’s judgement in selecting and then supporting a candidate with such bizarre and offensive views.