Battle to be Prime Minister offering little for ordinary voters

What to expect as Tory leadership race whittled down to the final two.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak’s battle to be Prime Minister offering little for ordinary voters UK GovernmentHM Treasury

And so, it’s Sunak versus Truss to become the next leader of the Conservative Party and, with it, Prime Minister.

The metal workers at Westminster will now be working overtime. Their labours having already been exhausted with all the knives that were plunged into the reputations of hopefuls already eliminated.

It appears that Penny Mordaunt bares the most scars from politics’ unforgiving black arts of character assassination and smears. The chief beneficiaries of Mordaunt’s demise will be the Labour Party.

For different reasons, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are less formidable opponents for Labour.

In a leadership contest of manic introspection, the final two are playing to galleries who in no sense could be regarded as mainstream middle-of-the-road voters.

Can we trust Truss?

Indeed, the hard right of the Tory firmament are now behind Truss.

For these bullish and more ideologically minded members, they pine for lower taxes now, deplore the Johnson-Sunak era of massive state intervention, want an assault on all things liberal and ‘wokeish’ and want to put an end to this climate change nonsense.

They are now pathological in their determination to stop Sunak. Even if Truss wins, she will not deliver what they want in the manner they want.

Putting aside they are all hard-line Brexiteers and she was a Remainer, the reality of governing punctures an agenda born of attitudes that do not make a policy, and positions pitched to a party electorate could prove unrealistic when it comes to the hard business of governing.

I would be suspicious of a one-time Lib Dem republican and pro-EU advocate who is now a darling of the New Right? What has she done to deserve such preferment?

Labour strategists must be hoping she wins. She is perhaps the one senior minister who is capable of making Sir Keir Starmer look dynamic.

Indeed, in some interviews I have seen, she has taken woodenness to new levels. So wooden, birds could nest in her.

She knows she has to give the Tory membership what they want: a pledge of tax cuts that would restore the party’s reputation whilst at the same time pointing the finger of blame at the man who has presided over breaches of the Conservative manifesto: Rishi Sunak.

Sunak a saviour?

He will portray himself and his rival as Conservative tax cutters, arguing the only difference is in the timing. She says now, he says when it is economically prudent to do so.

In one sense, this is not a normal leadership contest at all. It is a referendum of the attitude of Conservative Party members to tax cuts.

If Sunak is permanently on the back foot on tax and cannot get on to a broader agenda, he will lose since the contest will become a binary choice on tax.

In the psyche of the average Conservative member, cutting tax is an article of faith trumped only by the Lord himself.

For that reason, I expect debates about who has the best leadership qualities, who will best appeal to voters and who has the skills of a diplomat and a statesman. (For the record, neither of them).

Each candidate has their troops, that forward march of nodding donkeys sent out to do their masters’ bidding. They will wilfully ignore shortcomings, oversell attributes and privately bad mouth their opponent.

Labour are always honest about their disagreements. They knife one another in the front. That is simply not the Conservative way when there are more duplicitous methods at the ready.

This entire contest has been monumentally irrelevant to the concerns of most voters. The cost-of living crisis, do either of them have a plan?

Restoring trust in politics, brought so low by Boris Johnson, have they uttered a peep on that?

Of course not.

Worse still, they stood and applauded a man who has so tarnished the office they now covet.

There is no notion of the national interest in this squabble, just the interest of Conservative factions and the ambition of two people for whom a self-awareness of their limitations doesn’t even wave at their peripheral vision.

Hard truths

Here’s some hard truths rooted in the real world that crush the nonsense of sound-bite politics at Tory hustings meetings.

One, inflation is being driven by price increases that are largely beyond the control of the UK Government and will continue to be beyond their control.

Even if the Bank of England belatedly does its job on interest rates, it will not fully squeeze inflation out of the system until geo-economic factors stabilise.

Second, neither will cutting the size of the state unless they are prepared to break the orthodoxy on the NHS since it accounts for over 40% of all public spending.

Neither of them will argue for privatised healthcare or a privatised social care system, so good luck to them on dismantling socialism and delivering the ultimate dream of a free marketer.

Third, international cooperation on a whole host of areas mean they will not bin climate targets or risk cooperation on trade for the benefit of being pure about some mythical unfettered sovereignty in a largely interdependent world.

And what about the woke agenda and the agents of the authoritarian left?

Well, Conservatives have for decades threatened an end to the BBC licence fee and have mooted selling it off. I’ll believe it when I see it, but I’ll wager I won’t see it.

As for ‘equality’ laws, which ones need to be repealed? Will either bin the ECHR? I await their proposals with interest, but again I’ll wager I won’t see much if anything at all.

The hard truth is that this contest has nothing to do with government or most voters or reversing an alarming set of economic indicators pointing to a sustained cut in living standards.

What it is, though, is a debating society for people far removed from the ordinary voter.

All political activists by definition are unrepresentative of the electorate who get on with their lives far removed from the back-biting and tendency to conspiracy and self-promotion so beloved of all in the political class.

If you have been following the Tory bun fight of recent weeks, a view that politicians don’t really get how most live their lives will have been reinforced, for it has been alien to the concerns of the many.

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