Will this leadership contest provide a debate? The Tories got into this mess because have spent years asking who can bring them power, rather than what they stand for or who has the best ideas for the country. The leadership contest should come in two stages: first discussing what has gone wrong and then next who best to remedy. So far, this is my test for the candidates. Have they said anything that moves beyond platitude and cliche? Do they show any signs of being thoughtful? Do they recognise that there is a fight ahead, and that they are prepared for that fight?
Sunak has done so, attacking ‘fairy tales’ offered by others – but hasn’t really elaborated on what difficult decisions he would take. Kemi Badenoch’s wildcard candidacy is on the basis that the party needs discussion – my guess is that she hasn’t really game planned this many moved ahead but I think she is right in that certain things need to be said. And this leadership debate is the time to say them.
Just 15 per cent of Tories have declared for a candidate so far and I can see why: this should not be a traditional stitch up with jobs promised to early backers. This is time to listen, to debate, to think, to hear what candidates have to say – then ask very difficult questions. And judge by the answers. That’s why I don’t right now have a preferred candidate: every candidate has serious flaws in my view. Tugendhat and Badenoch both lack Cabinet experience. Braverman needs to say more on how she’d cut tax. Rishi was brave on lockdown (the only cabinet member to challenge it when he had the power to do so) but he then pushed to break the manifesto pledge on raising tax (and introduced the windfall tax).
My ideal candidate is not running in this race. But what I fervently hope is that the Tory party abstain from the stitch-ups and have a broad and productive debate about who they are and what they stand for. If they squander this opportunity for self-reflection then renewal in office will prove impossible. Unless they can collectively and credibly answer that question – why the Tories? – without using platitudes, then deposing Boris will look more like suicide then regicide.
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