The triumph of Tory mediocrity

14 July 2022

7:40 PM

14 July 2022

7:40 PM

Every loser wins, once the dream begins. So sang the EastEnders actor Nick Berry in a godawful mid-1980s pop song that attempted to cash in on his brief spell as a national heartthrob. In the first round of the Conservative leadership election, it would be more accurate to say that every winner loses, especially in respect of ante-post favourite Rishi Sunak.

Sunak topped the poll with 88 votes from fellow MPs – less than 25 per cent of the Tory party. For a man who was chancellor until a week ago and whose best chance of succeeding Boris Johnson lies in assembling an overwhelming endorsement from the Conservative parliamentary party, it was not good enough.

Not when every poll of party members indicates that the Conservative grassroots don’t want him to become party leader following his central role in the defenestration of Boris Johnson. That may change with Lord Frost’s intervention, rubbishing Penny Mordaunt’s record, but as things stand Sunak’s chances aren’t looking good.

Mordaunt’s second placing last night, with 67 MPs, suddenly puts her in the driving seat, despite amounting to just 19 per cent of Tory MPs. What she does have is the membership on her side, with 27 per cent last night saying they backed her versus Sunak on just 13 per cent.

Meanwhile, the 50 votes accumulated by Liz Truss – just 14 per cent of the parliamentary party – ranks as a truly pathetic score for a foreign secretary who has been running a leadership campaign for at least a year. Seldom can so many £20 gin and tonics have been poured down so many throats in chichi Mayfair members’ clubs to so little effect.

So after the slaying of Gulliver, it is impossible to dispute that the leading contenders running to replace him turn out to be drawn from the ranks of the Lilliputian community. None of these big three contenders has remotely justified the pre-contest buzz about their calibre. Mordaunt only looks good by comparison with the extreme under-performance of the other two.

And that is all very good news for the candidate in fourth place, the former mid-ranking minister Kemi Badenoch. With 40 votes to her name, Mrs Badenoch overshot expectations among her followers. She beat the lionised media darling Tom Tugendhat, whose 37 votes amount to a creditable performance but counts him out as a potential winner given his own dismal polling among the grassroots membership.

And Mrs Badenoch has also established clear superiority over Suella Braverman, who scraped in to the next round on 32 votes, just above the threshold for having a trap-door open beneath her campaign. So let’s cut to the chase. We should no longer bother assessing this Tory leadership contest according to who might beat Mr Sunak. As things stand, he’s dead in the water and the further he proceeds in the race the more painful will be his eventual defeat.

The new question Conservative MPs should be asking themselves is who can stop Ms Mordaunt, if indeed they wish to stop her at all. Maybe they are happy with a new leader who bats for the other side in the culture war and has drawn support from the pro-gender self-ID ranks of the parliamentary party. She certainly presents well and is seen by some activists as Britannia in human form.

But if Tory MPs are not content with such an outcome, if they worry that Ms Mordaunt lacks the star quality to win a fifth consecutive term in office for the Tories against all odds, then it is clear that only one candidate can stop her. The hitherto largely unknown Badenoch, who only launched her campaign on Saturday, is the only candidate to sprinkle this election with stardust. Her potential to sell the Tory message to parts of the electorate it has been unable to reach is obvious.

Getting within ten votes of the Foreign Secretary after just four days of campaigning tells its own story. Were Tugendhat or Braverman, or better still both, to now show the imagination to fold in behind her she could romp home in this contest. The careerist tendency in the parliamentary party is surely astute enough to recognise it has backed the wrong horse in Sunak. Not entirely fairly, the black spot has been put on him and there is little he can do to change this.

Unless things change, Sunak will be soundly defeated when the grassroots vote on the final two. Any Tory MP who doesn’t want Mordaunt to be leader should vote for Badenoch today. She is the only contender who can stop what will otherwise turn into a triumph of mediocrity that will further boost Keir Starmer’s hopes of winning the next election.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments