Rishi Sunak told an audience of voters he was “not born this way” when asked about Nadine Dorries mocking him for his expensive taste in clothing.
Tory leadership hopefuls Mr Sunak and Liz Truss appeared in front of a 100-person audience in Stoke-On-Trent for their first one-to-one showdown on BBC One, answering questions on topics ranging from inflation, to the economy, and tax.
The debate also briefly and surprisingly turned to their fashion choices, with the former chancellor making the point he did not grow up in money.
It comes after the Culture Secretary tweeted newspaper reports that Mr Sunak wore a bespoke suit worth £3,500 when he attended a recent leadership vote, and had visited Teesside in Prada loafers worth £450.
She wrote that by contrast, Ms Truss, who Nadine Dorries supports, would be “travelling the country wearing her earrings which cost circa £4.50 from Claire’s Accessories”.
Ms Truss said she does not know how her supporter and Cabinet colleague “knows where I got my earrings from”.
In the Conservative Party, we judge people by their character and their actions.Rishi Sunak
Mr Sunak, who has often been accused of being “out of touch” with the British people due to his enormous wealth, insisted that “in the Conservative Party, we judge people by their character and their actions”.
He went on: “I am proud of my record as chancellor in helping some of the most vulnerable people over the last couple of years.
“And I wasn’t born this way.
“My family emigrated here 60 years ago, I talked about my mom. She ran the local chemist in Southampton. That’s why I grew up working in the shop, delivering medicines. I worked as a waiter at the Indian restaurant, down the road.
“And I am standing here because of the hard work, the sacrifice, and love of my parents and the opportunities they provided to me.
“And that’s why I want to be prime minister because I want to ensure that everyone, your children, and grandchildren have the very same opportunities that I had.”
When pressed by BBC political editor Chris Mason on whether she would disown Ms Dorries’ remarks, Ms Truss said: “I have to confess, Chris, that since this campaign started I have deleted Twitter from my phone.”
She added: “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.”