In terms of adrenaline, the Tory lead race was never a summer blockbuster to rival Top Gun: Maverick, but today it feels even less exciting. Both Kemi Badenoch – eliminated yesterday – and Tom Tugendhat, eliminated on Monday, were in different ways the only candidates to offer a real break with the past. The public reaction to the televised debates suggested that they had managed to engage and engage with voters more than any of their rivals.
ow the competition looks dreary. Imagine a box of celebrations on St. Stephen’s Day or the state of the supermarket sandwich aisle just before closing time. The succulent salmon and cream cheese bagels are long gone, and so are the solid, dependable BLTs. Instead, expect a boring selection — all mourning lettuce and curdled crusts. Craving coagulated tuna candy corn or a battered egg and watercress? A gray chicken salad? Didn’t think so.
Much has been said about the Tories’ brute lust for power – what Boris Johnson called “our brilliant and Darwinian system” in his resignation speech. But the current form of the race raises the question of whether the Conservative Party is serious about winning.
By rejecting the fresh faces that Labor would have found hard to pin down, MPs have opted for candidates closely linked to the record and ideology of the Johnson, May and even Cameron governments. Now the choice of the “clean” prime minister will likely fall on the two longest-serving members of the incumbent cabinet. It’s a startling result which suggests that after 12 years in office the Tories are really tired and have very little to show for themselves.
Perhaps in the midst of numerous economic crises it makes sense for the Tory establishment to bet on experience. But sticking with the status quo comes with its own risks. Kemi Badenoch in particular was not only the members’ favourite, she had enlivened the debate at a time when many voters were desperate for a fresh start. Their insurgent campaign offered glimpses of a new breed of conservatism—open, unabashed, and articulated in plain English.
It posed an existential threat to many of the Left’s most popular assumptions and talking points, such as the notion that the Conservative Party (and British society in general) is inherently racist or that the Brexit vote is just a matter of nativism and imperial nostalgia. It was not for nothing that her campaign triggered “Badenoch Disorder Syndrome” in nominally sane people and previously sent hysterics into strokes.
Her exit narrows the race in another crucial way; scope of the topics discussed. She was more willing than anyone to challenge Tory orthodoxies, from the Online Safety Bill and its alarming impact on free speech to the sanctity of Net Zero. Although Badenoch supported the latter in principle, she took a pragmatic approach – arguing she was willing to push the deadline to 2050 while not impoverishing the poorest or bankrupting the economy.
Rejecting the “pieism” and easy fixes of some of her peers, she insisted that tax cuts come with system reforms and an understanding that the state can’t do everything. Tory and Labor can sometimes seem interchangeable – they vehemently disagree but offer many of the same policy solutions and speak a common language. In Badenoch, however, there seemed to be a real choice.
Some commentators have criticized Badenoch’s obsession with “culture war issues” for making the public more concerned with the cost of living – an argument that leads to the somewhat patronizing conclusion that the average voter is only able to calculate one issue at a time. But while economic policy shouldn’t be ruled out, issues like gender rights and free speech are important battles that conservatives and all sane people have to fight, not least because we often haven’t started them.
Usually, when commentators urge the right not to wage culture wars, they mean we should turn around and concede defeat to the left. People like Badenoch who have grappled extensively with these issues, who can argue eloquently and have some personal experience will be essential for defending positions in the years to come.
Kemi Badenoch will no doubt deserve an important role in the next cabinet. As she shows what she is capable of, I suspect many Tories will regret not voting for her this time. But if we look for a silver lining, we might see a future race today – Tugendhat and Badenoch could well be the two names sent out for members to vote in in 2024 or 2028. Based on their performance in this competition, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
There are promising signs in this principled and formidable pair of politicians that the traditions of left and right still have much to offer the party. Either way, let’s hope we aren’t left with rolled-up sandwiches for too long. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd. 2022)
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/britain/lets-forget-the-future-and-focus-on-the-past-why-the-tories-will-regret-playing-it-safe-41853887.html Let’s forget the future and focus on the past – why the Tories will regret playing it safe