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The case against all the Tory leadership candidates

14 July 2022

12:20 AM

14 July 2022

12:20 AM

The Tory leadership contenders have set out their pitches. Rishi Sunak is the sensible but boring choice. Liz Truss is the candidate who will cut taxes and get stuff done. Kemi Badenoch is the wildcard. Penny Mordaunt has vowed to restore the Tory ‘sense of self’. And Tom Tugendhat will up defence spending. But what about another option: none of the above. In this dismal election, there are plenty of reasons to think that might be the best choice of all.

Let’s start at the top. The word that best defines Rishi Sunak is ‘chutzpah’. The former chancellor packed his launch speech with fulsome praise for Boris Johnson, describing him as ‘one of the most remarkable people I have ever met’. Rishi insisted he would ‘have no part in a rewriting of history that seeks to demonise Boris, exaggerate his faults, or deny his efforts’. This is a bit like Brutus deciding that he should be the one to give Mark Antony’s ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech, and then delivering it while still holding the knife. (‘The noble Sajid hath told you Boris was ambitious-‘ ‘You told us that!’ ‘Well, yes, I told you that too-‘).

Worse than this, Rishi is a graduate of the Treasury School of Economic Thought. The core tenet of this approach is that the existence of money outside of the government’s coffers represents a grave injustice, and one that must be corrected with some urgency. Cutting taxes? Building bridges? Restocking the armed forces? Not on Rishi’s watch. The only infrastructure investment he’s likely to approve of is the construction of a vast silo to store the country’s lucre, in which he will swim Scrooge McDuck style. No thank you.

Nadhim Zahawi is a man who knows what he wants. Probably. I think. Maybe. It’s been an interesting few days for Zahawi. First he accepted the offer to serve as Boris Johnson’s chancellor. Then he issued a stern letter warning that his principles meant he couldn’t possibly serve under such a prime minister. Then he declared that if elected leader, he would ‘certainly offer’ Boris a cabinet job. This is a level of consistency worthy of the great thatched one himself, and also exactly the sort of thing we’re supposed to be moving on from.

Kemi Badenoch is good on the culture war and good on fighting the blob. She understands that boosting growth requires free markets and lower taxes. The only possible reason for caution is that she’s an untested quantity who could make Boris’s leadership look like a period of calm.


Jeremy Hunt is out because at some point a foreign leader would follow in the footsteps of multiple broadcasters, stumble over his surname, and cause a major diplomatic incident. While this would be very funny, it would also be deeply embarrassing to have to teach generations of schoolchildren about ‘The War of Jeremy’s c-‘. Aha, no.

Tom Tugendhat is a sensible, serious, thoughtful moderate. This is journo-speak for ‘would possibly try to start world war three within days of taking office’. His hawkishness on foreign policy matters is such that his response to the war in Ukraine was to note that we could ‘expel Russian citizens. All of them’. While I’m not opposed to nuclear annihilation per se, I do strongly suspect that it would be bad for the party’s prospects in 2024.

Liz Truss believes in low tax and low regulation. She has the backing of Jacob Rees-Mogg. She also has the backing of Nadine Dorries, but it seems a little unfair to hold that against her. She has also delivered one of the finest political speeches in recent memory.

Who could forget her enthusiasm for ‘opening up new pork markets’? The grin? The long, long, long pause for applause? Or the sudden transition into the sort of tone usually deployed by Presbyterian preachers warning that to even look upon the face of the Pope is to risk eternal damnation, used to deliver the immortal words: ‘We import two thirds of our cheese. That. Is. A. Dis. Grace’.

The only problem with Truss is the existence of this photo with Michael Gove. They knew perfectly well what they were doing. Because I can’t travel back in time to stop it being taken, I will have to settle for crossing her off my list of candidates.

Suella Braverman is running on the interesting platform that what people really want is Brexit. We need to bring Brexit back. We need to make it great again, and it needs to be at the centre of every conversation. Don’t you miss Brexit? Don’t you wish every political conversation revolved around it? Don’t you just want it to return to sitting in the centre of our politics like a black hole, sucking in everything around it? Suella does. Perhaps you do too. I don’t, so she’s off my list.

Ending our list of vetoes is ConservativeHome’s frontrunner in member polling, Penny Mordaunt. To be entirely honest, I can’t remember much about Penny other than that she delivered an admirable speech on ‘cock welfare’ as the result of a naval dare. Her campaign video, which consisted of a series of stock footage shots overlaid with increasingly soupy narration unencumbered by things like ‘policies’ or ‘ideas’, is equally forgettable. This approach is all well and good when your instincts are in line with the members, but when you’ve backed legislation referring to ‘pregnant people’ rather than ‘expectant mothers’, you’ll have to forgive them if they retain some doubts.

There. That’s it. They’re all awful. You can now safely ignore their increasingly desperate appeals for your time, energy, and vote, secure in the knowledge that whoever wins will be a disappointment no matter what.

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