Tom Tugendhat has become the first of the Tory MPs depicted on our cover this week to confirm that he is running for Prime Minister. His strength: his military record and his consistency in opposing Boris Johnson which saw him left out in the cold for the last two years. His weakness: that he has never served in government in any role and critics say that he is therefore unfamiliar with the tough choices of government and that prime minister is not an entry-level job. But at this stage the candidates ought to be judged more in what they have to say in whether they’d be better than Johnson in running a government. His manifesto has some interesting claims but they need further elaboration before they can be seen as an agenda.
‘This nation needs a clean start’ he says – and we can expect more such ‘clean start’ language from candidates making a virtue of inexperience. But at this stage they ought to be judged by the quality and coherence of their ideas. Three points of Tugendhat manifesto jump out as candidates for elaboration.
1. ‘The full advantages of Brexit are yet to be unleashed’. Tugendhat was a committed Remainer and we could hear more from him about what changed his mind, what the benefits of Brexit are that he didn’t recognise back then and just why he’d be less nervous about ‘unleashing’ them than Johnson has been.
2. ‘Un-conservative tariffs, that push up prices for consumers, should be dropped’ he says. Does this include steel tariffs? If so he should say so – and explain his thinking to Red Wall MPs with steel plants in their constituencies.
3. ‘Taxes, bluntly, are too high and there is an emerging consensus across the party that they must come down. We should immediately reverse the recent National Insurance hike and let hard-working people, and employers, keep more of their money. Fuel tax must come down.’ But how would this tax cutting bonanza be financed? If it’s via running up the national debt then how to reconcile this with his claim last month that ‘When a deficit is triggering more inflation, the only answer is to get the public finances under control’?
The gap between words and action was Boris Johnson’s weakness – he talked a great game on tax cuts and free trade but shied away from the tough decisions needed to promote either. And that’s the weakness in Tugendhat’s manifesto: if you want a buccaneering Brexit then which tariffs do you cut? What’s your answer to steel plant workers? How can you want lower tax and sound finance if you are not prepared to cut spending? And we all assume Tugendhat wants defence spending to increase, which he doesn’t mention in his piece.
The campaign is in its early days but as stated, Tugendhat’s ‘clean start’ takes us to the same problems that Johnson was ultimately unable to solve.
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