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Tories have been left with no philosophy — or successor

Where do the Tories go from here? Credit: Getty

July 9, 2024 - 7:00am

In the run-up to the general election there was a lot of speculation about how defeat on different scales would shape the parliamentary Conservative Party.

While under the party’s constitution the membership makes the final choice in a leadership contest — a choice which matters a lot, given the day-to-day omnipotence of the leader in the party’s affairs — it is the MPs who decide which two candidates are placed before them. Would a heavy defeat tilt the playing field towards one faction or another?

Academic analysis before the election by Tim Bale and David Jeffery suggested not, and the results seem to have borne that out. It was certainly a brutal night for the One Nation caucus, but Thursday also saw the Red Wall wiped out, and the loss of high-profile Right-wingers such as Miriam Cates. In announcing his interim shadow cabinet last night, Rishi Sunak had his hand guided by a record 12 Cabinet members losing their seats. Though there is no clear bent to the new Tory top team, there are — aside from Kemi Badenoch at Levelling Up — few prominent representatives from the party’s Right.

Survey the list of the 121 MPs who make up the rump Conservative caucus, and there are still plenty of identifiable characters from both wings. On the Right we have the likes of Danny Kruger, Christopher Chope, Mark Francois, Edward Leigh, and Desmond Swayne; on the Tory Left remain such figures as Caroline Nokes and Karen Bradley.

By the same token, the pool of potential leadership challengers hasn’t been winnowed as much as it might have been. Of the names being bandied about before polling day only two, Penny Mordaunt and Grant Shapps, lost their seats on the night.

This might well prove significant, especially Mordaunt’s defeat in Portsmouth North. While she was never a favourite for the leadership — one suspects she would have been devilled, as last time, by her infamous book — the former defence secretary was one of the strongest candidates the Tory Left was likely to field. Even so, they are not without options: Victoria Atkins, James Cleverly, and Tom Tugendhat could all make plausible leadership pitches to — and from — that wing of the party.

The Right, meanwhile, is relatively spoilt for choice, with Badenoch, Suella Braverman, Robert Jenrick, and Priti Patel all sniffing around the top job, though enthusiasm for Braverman in particular is waning. Indeed, the challenge for Right-wing MPs could be coordination, to make sure they don’t accidentally put a weak candidate in the final two on a split vote.

Focusing on big names and known factionalists, however, risks overlooking the mass of MPs in the middle who haven’t developed a strong ideological profile — a tendency compounded by the Tory Party’s tendency over the past few elections to select, and elect, local candidates, particularly councillors. In government, this can be a boon for the leadership when it comes to party management. But the ease with which the Conservatives lapsed into managerialism in office, and their chronic failure on big issues such as housing, highlights why it could be a problem.

With their benches packed with “local champions”, it will be tempting for the next leader to take the easy option of attacking Labour’s plans to, for example, build on the green belt, without developing an alternative pitch to voters. We saw last week where that road ends.


Henry Hill is Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome.

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Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
16 days ago

All the Tories really need to do is follow Starmer’s example and wait.

Labour won’t fix housing because that requires limits on immigration – which will increase beyond even the current disastrous levels as a consequence of their inevitable capitulation to Brussels . They won’t achieve any growth because that requires cheap energy and de-regulation of small business, a sector about which they know little and care less. The opposite will happen and the propertied class will get richer just as they did under Blair. Meanwhile blasphemy laws and Starmer’s pandering to Stonewall and the invasion of women’s sports by men will alienate even their most ardent home counties supporters.

Labour will lose the next election in a bigger landslide than that with which they won last week. The only question is: who will control the coalition that follows, the Conservatives or Reform.

j watson
j watson
16 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

They still have to pick a leader HB. They went through 3 before they won again last time, so the decision matters.
On the capitulation to Brussels – you seem to have missed that Brexit reduced migration from EU nations and massively increased it from Africa/Asia. The sort of the cultural switch you hoped for no doubt?
House building is a motor that can drive growth, but the Planning issue also affects businesses. For example a massive Datacentre, and our economy needs these, repeatedly blocked by NIMBYs. Ditto a massive Film Production development. Just two in areas in the SE. The failure drives businesses elsewhere and abroad.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
16 days ago
Reply to  j watson

You can’t defeat my argument but hey, no problemo: just call me a racist, eh? You guys are all the same.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
15 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Eh? He didn’t accuse you of anything of the sort! Talk about straw man arguments!. Do you agree, or don’t you, that large scale immigration by much poorer and very culturally different people is problematic, or not?

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
16 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

You make too many assumptions as to what Labour will do or not do, let’s wait and see what comes out in the Autumn.
Meanwhile let’s support our Govt who have just been elected by the people.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
16 days ago

I bet you didn’t say that after the last election.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
16 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

I certainly did, I voted tory at the last election, but not this one where I voted ‘Reform’

David L
David L
16 days ago

Just 20% of the electorate voted for this government

Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
16 days ago

No need to wait, they have already announced that 90,000 illegal immigrants will now be allowed to claim asylum rather than being shipped back to sunnier climes. Ca’ Ching!

Better up those house building numbers . . .

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
16 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

1979-97, 1997-2010, 2010-24: look how long a shift in power takes under the British electoral system.
2024-2040? I’d say the single European currency is a sure thing after a new customs union and some kind of Swiss/Norwegian model for the UK in the single market.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
16 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

I don’t share your pessimism. Starmer’s platform is so riddled with internal contradictions. Fix housing without limiting immigration? Create growth and de-carbonise the grid (at a cost, according to the Grid themselves, of £3 trillion)? Re-negotiate the EU treaty without accepting free movement.
It will become clear quite quickly that none of this is feasible. Plus the middle class home counties voters that wrecked the Tories in this election will defect quite quickly when they find out what’s in store for Council Tax.

Matt M
Matt M
16 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

The middle-classes will switch pretty quickly once it becomes apparent that a new giant estate (required for all the new immigrants) is going to being built on the lovely rolling fields opposite their home that used to be designated as Green Belt until Starmer got in.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
16 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Hugh, they were forewarned about Council Tax before the Election. Obviously most must have cognitive disfunction because that was what Blair did back in ’97. 10-15% rises rises annually. Only this time they’ll bring in revaluation too.
Wait too for ISA’s to be dismantled. It will happen. The Labour Party are akin to Children in a sweet shop.

Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
16 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Martin

Because the only way the left knows to get money is to take it from people they deem have too much. As Starmer himself said recently, he only classifies working people as those without savings. A stark warning if ever there was one.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
15 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Martin

they were forewarned about Council Tax before the Election. 
Even though what you say about Blair and Council Tax is true, I think most in the home counties middle class remember his regime fondly because of the massive house price rises that drove the Labour Party’s traditional supporters out of the market altogether.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
16 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Not a chance, what you are not taking into account is the likelihood of a euro financial crisis, the EU peaked long ago, it’s downhill from here.
And as for your comment on electoral cycles, that is nothing compared to the endless coalitions they experience under PR.

Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
16 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Hilarious! If the euro is still around by 2040 I’d be surprised. You cannot have an effective currency union without fiscal and political union – that was and still is in the Achilles heel of the euro and no amount of fudging and finessing will get round it.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
15 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

I think there is almost no chance the UK will join the Euro. Apart from anything else several EU countries don’t use it, including all the rich Scandinavian ones. It’s largely thanks to Gordon Brown we aren’t in it already, but some decisions are not practically reversible.

j watson
j watson
16 days ago

Cleverly vs Jenrick and Cleverly wins – if Tories got any sense. Jenrick got some skeletons that would be used against him repeatedly – this was the guy who oversaw the jump in legal migration, never grasped Grenfell consequences, and broader housing policy failure. He’s also got some dodgy business and expenses dealings.
Quite a bit I like about Kemi, but suspect Right will remember she had too much good sense to do the bonfire of EU regs they wanted and hold it against her. She never resigned either. Jenrick played that card with this tussle in mind.
Starmer would welcome a Braverman or Patel. Even Jenrick. Tories been pretty stupid in the past, but probably had the wake-up call necessary now.
Cleverly would savage Farage and his pitiful Putin supporting rubbish.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
16 days ago
Reply to  j watson

The Tories aren’t going to find the right leader … they will go through 2 or 3 before they find the right one … and that is dependent on whether they survive as a political entity.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
16 days ago

Here’s my bet: they will survive as a rump. By the next election Reform will have understood that, though they can defeat Labour in the Red Wall and win in the provinces, they will never appeal to metropolitan conservatives. The loathing of Farage over Brexit is too strong. There will therefore be an electoral pact followed by a Conservative/Reform coalition. Labour, having utterly failed to fix immigration or create any growth, will be reduced to a smaller rump than the Conservatives last week.

j watson
j watson
16 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Metro Conservatives? There are some, esp v Rich sorts, but not many as virtually all metro areas support Labour. So I think you meant more the southern rural type, or commuter belt form?
It’s poss Reform could retain an attraction in Red wall areas, but as soon as their neo-liberal economics and antipathy to NHS etc become more apparent it’ll erode. It’s the fundamental problem for them – they need a migration crisis or they have nothing much to offer.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
16 days ago
Reply to  j watson

It isn’t a problem for them at all because the ‘migration crisis’ will only get worse. Labour has no incentive to fix it because it makes middle class boomers richer by making working people poorer and, if you look at the map published by the Sunday Times, you can clearly see that Labour’s core vote is now home counties boomers.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
16 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

I doubt the Conservatives, as theparty we know today, will survive until 2029.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
16 days ago

There are large numbers of conservatives who will never vote for a party led by NF.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
16 days ago

It would be interesting to know the precise breakdown of 1 Nation Tories vs the ‘Right’.
If the ‘Right’ are outnumbered, then its game over, and they might as well defect to their own new party or ‘ReformParty’

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
16 days ago

Yes it could be the Conform Party

AC Harper
AC Harper
16 days ago

I wonder if a ‘dark horse’ might emerge to provide ‘stability’ and a ‘safe pair of hands’?
I give you the newly revivified Lord David Cameron… according to Wikipedia he ” identifies as a one-nation conservative and has been associated with both economically liberal and socially liberal policies.”  plus he also cut and run rather than implement Brexit.
His leadership would be very attractive to a certain sort of Conservative… but the Membership would have to be won over or neutered.

michael harris
michael harris
16 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

The membership would have to be dragged behind the stables and put down.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
15 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Just as well I didn’t have my mouth full when I read your (presumably tongue-in-cheek) comment.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
16 days ago

The role of this party is now to resist sneaky moves by Labour and their informal liberal coalition to achieve EU single market ‘associate’ membership without a formal referendum. For Labour has but one project, which is to join the single European currency. They’re granting independence to the Bank of England was the first major step in the old New Labour days.

Matt M
Matt M
16 days ago

It is quite obvious that the new leader should be Kemi. She is the only Tory MP – and one of very few MPs full stop – with star power. On top of that she is right wing on immigration, wokery and net zero having presciently run on these issues in her first attempt.
The next Tory leader has to do four things – 1. hammer Starmer, 2.overshadow Farage, 3. restore trust in the Conservatives and 4. keep discipline in the party.
This is a tall order. Whether Kemi can do it, I don’t know but I cannot imagine any of the other names on the list doing that.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
16 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

She will also need a Nigel Lawson type Chancellor, get debt under control before tax cuts. Personally I would forego tax cuts in this day and age as our Debt is currently near unsustainable.

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
16 days ago

Caroline Noakes

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
16 days ago

To me the question is whether Kemi should step forward now or later after the next leader gets burnt out.
Is the next election winnable? This is the big question.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
16 days ago

Jenrick is on the Right?

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
16 days ago

The article dealt with the second issue in the headline, but not the first, which is what enticed me to read it.
Unherd’s headlines (and i appreciate they may not originate with the author of the article) might as well just be composed of half a dozen emojis.

Bernard Brothman
Bernard Brothman
16 days ago

From across the pond I watched the (so-called) Conservative party fail to govern properly and other than Brexit, get stuff done. The punish for that will be five years of leftist Labour rule; more trans, more climate, more regulation, more Palestine,
Who should lead the Tories? I leave to you. Who should lead the right? Nigel.

Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
16 days ago

Maybe, rather, the philosophy and prospective leaders have left the Tories.

Tim Clarke
Tim Clarke
16 days ago

Whilst this is an interesting enough article, it has mis-identified the party with left with no philosophy, for this is The Liberal-Democrats….
They abandoned liberalism so long ago that they can no longer remember what it was, maybe something connected with free trade, or mercantilism, or Mill, or small town business. Anyway, whatever it was it’s gone the same way as belief in referenda, PR and jobs in libraries. And soon to be joined by economic growth when this clashes with nimbyism, and love of France and the EU as this swings hard right.
Oh well, la de da…. lots of MPs or are they zombies?

Arthur G
Arthur G
16 days ago

What is the point of existing as a “Left wing Tory”? Isn’t the left amply represented by Labour, Lib-Dems, and Greens?

Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
16 days ago

It doesn’t matter who they elect, the problem the tories have is that they don’t believe in anything any more – certainly not in being conservative. By all means have a new leader, have several it will make zero difference because they stand for nothing. What does the current manifestation of the tories actually stand for:

low taxes – no
controlled immigration – no
economic growth – no
smaller state – no
less red tape – no
affordable housing – no
defending the union – no
affordable education – no
functional heath service – no
coherent energy policy – no

And labour tick all of the above boxes in the negative as well, so there is literally no point to the tories because labour will now get to the disastrous endgame even faster than they could.

Michael North
Michael North
10 days ago

Of course you are right, which means that the way forward has got to be a withdrawal of the left to be a pressure group within the party and a distinctive (from Labour) programme put in place that will appeal to right inclined voters.

Chipoko
Chipoko
15 days ago

Thank heavens Penny Mordaunt has gone!