For the first and probably last time, the last two Tory leadership candidates went head-to-head live on TV ahead of one of them being chosen as the next Prime Minister.
The clash between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt on ITV was not expected to cause fireworks, and the opening shots even suggested a nation had accidentally tuned into an infomercial for ambulance-chasing high street solicitors.
But differences emerged quickly
Frontrunner Johnson won cheers during the opening exchanges by saying he would give the UK its “mojo” back and take on the “semi-Marxist, wealth and job-destroying lunacy of Jeremy Corbyn”.
“This country faces a momentous choice - we can either continue with the same old, failed, can-kicking approach, destroying trust in politics, sapping business confidence,” he said.
“Or else we can change, get back our mojo, restore this country’s reputation around the world and put ourselves on the path to long-term success.”
Hunt’s pitch was that he was big on detailed plans, would “deliver Brexit but so much more” and have broad appeal beyond the Tory party base.
Both positions would be repeated throughout the hour.
Soon the gloves came off
As the focus switched to Brexit, first blood was drawn. Johnson vowed to take the UK out of the bloc by October 31, and asked Hunt “how many more days my opponent would be willing to delay”.
Hunt fought fire with fire and asked if the ex-mayor of London would resign if he had failed to meet his deadline.
“Will you resign if you don’t deliver it, yes or no?,” he said, a question his rival ducked.
Johnson then took a swipe at his rival’s “papier-mache” Brexit deadline.
“It’s not do or die, is it? It’s Boris in Number 10 that matters,” Hunt countered, to which the frontrunner replied it was “totally defeatist not to set a hard deadline”.
Detail v optimism
Perhaps the key clash was over their tone and personality.
Hunt accused Johnson of simply “peddling optimism” - something which backfired as the hardline Brexiteer was only too happy to play along.
Hunt then tried to cast himself as being more serious, adding: “We need leadership that is going to guide us through a big constitutional crisis and make a great success of Brexit, that means being honest with people about the challenges.”
Johnson, who mocked Hunt for being a “stickler for detail”, embraced the idea he was an optimist.
In his closing statement, he said: “There is only one way to get this country off the hamster wheel of doom and that is to get Brexit done by October 31st.”
In a statement that will thrill Brenda from Bristol, and probably much of the country, Johnson predicted that a fresh election is “forthcoming”.
Insisting the Tories must get on with delivering Brexit by October 31, he said people can see that “we are fatally losing trust of the electorate” and that parliament has “failed” to secure an exit from the EU.
“If we now fail again, am afraid we will not win back the hundreds of thousands of voters who are currently deserting us for other parties, and that is how to lose the forthcoming election.”
Let’s hope it was a slip of the tongue.
The Trump question
In another point of difference, the two candidates mapped out how they would handle the unpredictable US President Donald Trump.
Johnson refused to rule out sacking the UK’s ambassador to the US, Sir Kim Darroch, after he sent wires back to the UK describing Trump’s administration as “inept” and “dysfunctional”.
Trump reacted with fury on Twitter and said he would no longer work with the “wacky diplomat”.
Johnson condemned the leak of Darroch’s memos to the media but declined to back him, in what was described as a “big moment” during the head-to-head.
“It is vital that our civil service is not politicised by ministers leaking what they say. Whoever leaked that deserves to be eviscerated,” he said when asked to confirm Darroch would stay. He did not.
By contrast, Hunt took a stronger line and said Darroch would stay in post were he crowned PM.
“If I am our next prime minister the ambassador in Washington stays because it is our decision,” he said.
The two would-be PMs were taken to task over their plans for the economy - which led to another fierce argument.
Hunt was forced to defend his plan to cut costs for businesses while Johnson was savaged for his unpopular pledge to cut taxes for the wealthy.
Johnson said the tax cuts for people earning more than £50,000 would be “part of a package”.
It was then that Johnson turned to Hunt to say if he had “no interest in alleviating the burden on the pressed middle”.
Hunt fired back that “Boris never answers the question” and “we have got absolutely no idea what a Boris premiership would be about.”
He went on to fume: “I have spent my life trying to persuade people that we are not the party of the rich.
“If your very first tax cuts are for higher rate earners that’s the wrong message.”
The real winner
Who won? Well, Twitter thought it knew: moderator Julie Etchingham, who was highly-praised for her no-nonsense approach and laser-focussed questions.