by Aaron Bastani
Tuesday, 7
June 2022
Analysis
17:15

Which Tory does the Left fear most?

There are one or two dark horses
by Aaron Bastani
Who will be this man’s successor? Credit: Getty

After last night’s no confidence vote, from which Boris Johnson emerged victorious but battered, it seems a question of when, not if, a leadership challenge arrives.

148 of Johnson’s parliamentary colleagues no longer trust the Prime Minister. In an era of renewed seriousness, from Covid to rising inflation, it’s difficult to see how a political brand built on bluster can come back.

From a Labour perspective, there are some candidates who are more threatening than others. The media favourite may be Jeremy Hunt, but it’s difficult to envisage him as leader when even Nadine Dorries can generate a powerful line of attack — namely that he was the Health Secretary who failed to prepare for the pandemic. As much as the former Health Secretary is loved by TV studios and London pundits, he is associated with neither ‘levelling up’ nor Brexit — and it was on these two pillars that the Tories thrashed Labour. From the Left’s perspective a centrist Tory faced with 10% inflation should be an easier fight — especially when he has his own party to face down.

For all the hype, Sajid Javid has the repartee and charisma of a somnambulant bank clerk, while Tom Tugenhadt is prone to flights of irrational anger (he touted the expulsion of all Russian nationals earlier this year, presumably including those critical of the Kremlin). More than ever the Conservative party needs a steady hand on the tiller, especially if you are removing a leader like Johnson — who despite everything has repeatedly won. On the economy Tugenhat has little to offer, while Javid’s brand of libertarianism is incongruent with the challenges of inflation and de-globalisation.

That leaves three individuals that Labour might be more fearful of. The first, and arguably weakest, is Liz Truss. A Margaret Thatcher tribute act in a world of high inflation and low growth might appeal to some Tories, but could possibly lead to greater calamity. The removal of Johnson is risky enough — no need for a substitute whose most memorable media moment was describing the vagaries of English cheese.

A more serious prospect is Penny Mordaunt. Not only is she a Royal Navy reservist but also a strong orator, as evidenced by her dismantling of Labour’s Angela Rayner earlier this year. She would also be the third woman to lead the Tory party — all the more conspicuous given Labour is yet to have its first.

But I think the candidate most likely to concern Labour is the Defence Secretary. Ben Wallace has seen his profile rise immeasurably during the Ukraine crisis and, importantly, the former Scots Guard has few strong associations with the Johnson premiership in the way Truss or Sunak do. Like Mordaunt, he has deftly avoided the swivel-eyed tendencies of Dorries and Rees-Mogg — particularly on Brexit. What’s more, in a field of disliked individuals, the fact that he is relatively unknown among the public is likely to be an advantage. While Johnson is disliked, so is Starmer — the best response is probably a (relatively) fresh face.

Labour is keen to present Starmer as an understated man of action — the remedy to Johnson’s bombast and ineptitude. But Wallace would be best placed to neutralise that supposed threat, particularly if the Ukraine crisis intensifies and the government situates the cost of living crisis within a context of national emergency. A former Director of Public Prosecutions is a strong fit for an era of seriousness, but a Sandhurst graduate is even better.

The question, then, is: do the Tories want a dull, effective leader when they are obsessed — even now — with more tax cuts and shrinking the state? Wallace can probably hit the right notes, but he will also need clearer policies on levelling up and the economy. Free market homilies will not be enough.

And Johnson? For all the attention on his personality, a focus on substantive problem-solving — from Brexit to high streets and regional inequality — are what earned him his mandate and stole Labour’s thunder. His legacy will likely be that the man wasn’t as serious as his agenda or times. After the Covid deaths, price rises — and soon spiralling interest rates — his frivolity will only further grate.

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polidori redux
polidori redux
3 months ago

The problem is the Parliamentary Tory Party itself. It doesn’t matter who leads it. Most of its members would be a better fit for the Lib/Dems. They only stood as Tory Party candidates because it gave them a better chance of winning a seat in Parliament. I accept that there are a few exceptions, but not enough to make a difference.
Edit: Heidi Allen was my MP: I rest my case.

Last edited 3 months ago by polidori redux
Peter Joy
Peter Joy
3 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

South Cambs. Mine two…the lying, two-faced, double-reverse-ferreting little Remainite shyster.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter Joy

How beautifully put Sir!

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Rather, stupidly put! The Conservatives used to be pro-EU as did Margaret Thatcher herself. I don’t agree with that position, but people can campaign for what they believe. The party have become more pro-Brexit, maybe, and it will be a result of the balance of political forces, they will shift positions again.

Last edited 3 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Chris Ward
Chris Ward
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter Joy

Mine too and a good description!

Tim Pot
Tim Pot
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter Joy

You look like a second Brexiteer voter who opts for Tories.
What follows is something I initially picked up in 2019 on the Conservative Women web site. The poster claimed to have sent this to Mr Farage when discovering he was preparing to give some Tories a clear run. Clearly he didn’t want to risk anything, but now?
If Brexiteers ALL voted for a single party – say The Reform Party. It would, based on the 2016 referendum data, mapping Brexit voters to their constituencies, giving 410 Brexit Constituencies. Mean that party could return 410 MPs. No tactical voting by LibDem/Labour even plus Tory Remainers, could prevent the largest majority since John Major’s wipe out in 1997 IIRC. Though the fact it would be for a completely new party would be the real historic fact.
That would do for UK Politics what the French have done for theirs – totally destroy the old parties. Mind you in the case of the French they’ve swung to extremes. I can’t see The Reform Party that extreme. It would eviscerate the current 3 main parties and would remove so many of the non-democrats from the HoC it would be truly revolutionary, but without the bloodshed. At least until the beaten anti-democrats poured onto the streets to try and reverse the result.
Here is the link to the free spreadsheet that was the basis for the claims above.
(You have to complete the request with customer details, but not payment details, and you could fib if you weren’t keen on giving away real personal data.)
https://www.map-logic.co.uk/products/eu-referendum-results-by-constituency

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Couldn’t you say exactly the same about UKIP and the Brexit Party? The Conservatives used to be pro-EU as did Margaret Thatcher herself. I don’t agree with that position, but people can campaign for what they believe.

Tim Pot
Tim Pot
3 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

So why did you vote for her?

JJ Barnett
JJ Barnett
3 months ago

They should have run Lord Frost in the most recent by-election, he is by far the best option for leader, and is an actual conservative (which among the current parliamentary party is like finding a needle in a haystack.
If they choose the smug plank of wood that calls itself Jeremy Hunt then they are doomed, and deserve oblivion.

Wallace is a decent candidate but I struggle to see him getting cut through with the wider public outside of the Tory base, which would be needed.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 months ago
Reply to  JJ Barnett

Frost – hmm. I like him, except he seems to have zero charisma, has a weedy voice etc. Sounds trivial, but people vote on unconscious cues as well as conscious political preferences.

Chris Bredge
Chris Bredge
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Agreed. Also, despite lots of talking tough and excuses, he delivered the disastrous NI Protocol and never amended it whilst it was his responsibility.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
3 months ago
Reply to  JJ Barnett

“They should have run Lord Frost in the most recent by-election, he is by far the best option for leader, and is an actual conservative”
Which is, of course, exactly why Frost will never be selected as an MP while Johnson is in place. He doesn’t allow promising successors to take root. This is why the cabinet is so weak. It’s full of deadbeats who no-one can see as future PM’s.
Coincidence? I think not.

Last edited 3 months ago by Albireo Double
JILL HUDSON
JILL HUDSON
3 months ago
Reply to  JJ Barnett

Wallace seems the best bet to me, though I have very little knowledge about his political history.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
3 months ago

Ben Wallace would be good choice but if, and only if, he manages to stop the vexatious prosecutions of former British soldiers*who served in Northern Ireland.
However this a Herculean task, opposed as it is by Nancy Pelosi and her coven, NORAID, and just about every Fenian fantasist on the Planet. Good luck!

(* Most of whom are in their late 70’s or early 80’s.)

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
3 months ago

prefer Wallace where he is – doing a great job and an important one. agreed on Liz comment…old clips of her speeches concern me. Lord Frost is my choice if that was positioned somehow, allowed somehow… but you know I think Penny Mordaunt is the one for the reasons given… she has her own mind and that’s more Thatcherite than wannabe Truss…

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
3 months ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

It appears Truss wants more Civil servants and not less. She is pretty useless but less so with more Civil Servants.

Lucas 0
Lucas 0
3 months ago

Tend to agree on Wallace. Though, crucially, was he a remainder?

R Wright
R Wright
3 months ago

Ben Wallace backed Remain prior to the 2016 vote, i believe

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
3 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

How very sad!

Last edited 3 months ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
William Perry
William Perry
3 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Though a Leaver myself, I don’t think we should hold it against politicians who were Remainers at the time. It was a perfectly respectable position to hold, though not one that I shared. What was not respectable was the subsequent attempt by hook or by crook to nullify or undermine the result. Is there any evidence that Wallace was party to those efforts?

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
3 months ago
Reply to  William Perry

The ‘mark of Cain’ I’m sorry to say.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
3 months ago

The Conservative party needs more than just a new leader. It needs a whole slew of new MPs. Almost all of the remainers need to go, along with almost all of the social liberals, and these must be replaced by believers in social conservativism and free market thinking.
Conservative voters (and many Labour voters as well) are crying out for socially conservative policies and free market ideals. They do not want big government. The idea of a government “with its arm around us all” is absolute anathema to most UK voters. They just aren’t that sort of people. They want a government that will have the courage to shrink itself and the civil service and most of the public sector, probably to about half of its current size.
Above all they want a government that will not try to do too much, or to “be” anything in particular, but which will do its job – which is to secure our borders, our fuel supplies and our culture. And then get out of the way while the people of the country get back to work.

Last edited 3 months ago by Albireo Double
Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
3 months ago

Mark Drakeford in the Welsh Assembly on Tuesday: “My starting point is the same as Penny Mordaunt’s—the UK Minister responsible at the time—who said that the UK Government’s starting point was that transgender women are women”. Liz Truss for me so.

Andrea 0
Andrea 0
3 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

I was thinking the same…

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
3 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

so she did – wow! that rules her out – https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-03-01/debates/AC381A72-B091-41E4-9388-96CB284F83A5/MinisterialAndOtherMaternityAllowancesBill
“The amendments we are accepting today are legitimate and understandable, and critically they are also legally sound, but let me say in supporting them from this Dispatch Box that trans men are men and trans women are women, and great care has been taken in the drafting and accepting of these amendments to ensure that that message has got across”.

Dominic S
Dominic S
3 months ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

Pretty awful to realise that.

A Anon
A Anon
2 months ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

I agree with her 100%. In fact, her support for trans people is one of the primary reasons I support her as the next leader.

Tim Pot
Tim Pot
3 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Perhaps she only self-identifies as a Tory?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
3 months ago

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed will, perforce, lead. That means Sunak, notwithstanding his damaged brand. Personally, I’m not a fan, but he is very likely to win in my opinion.

Iris C
Iris C
3 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Sunak was pursued by the (opposition) press because he was seen to be a good candidate for Prime Minister. The fact that he and his wife are wealthy is no reason to exclude him. He is a good speaker who argues points rationally without bombast and to my mind he – or Stephen Barclay, a candidate from the north – are the only possible candidates to take over when Boris decides to resign.
Sunak reminds me of Disraeli – an outsider who was an excellent Prime Minister in the mid 19th Century.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
3 months ago
Reply to  Iris C

For myself, I would prefer Barclay, although the fight might come too soon for him – depends on how long Johnson manages to hang on.

JJ Barnett
JJ Barnett
3 months ago
Reply to  Iris C

I think the reason to exclude Sunak is that he’s not a conservative, and has been a terrible Chancellor?

Tim Pot
Tim Pot
3 months ago
Reply to  JJ Barnett

Are there any conservatives in the Tory Party?

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
3 months ago
Reply to  Iris C

You mean the lying cheating tax dodging cronyist with the morals of a chameleon? O, ok then. That’ll do.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
3 months ago

I cannot believe that I am agreeing with Aaron Bastani AGAIN.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian McKinney

I keep having the same sort of moments with Suzanne Moore. For a long time she was one of the journalists whose work I only read to give my brain a bit of sport of the “no, dear – absolutely not” variety…but recently it’s completely switched! Her tone can still be whiny and defeatist and that grates, but I am agreeing with the substance of her arguments a lot more often.

Last edited 3 months ago by Katharine Eyre
JJ Barnett
JJ Barnett
3 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

She’s been much better since she left the Guardian, right?

Tyler 0
Tyler 0
3 months ago

Why is Sajid Javid widely dismissed? He did fairly well as Covid Minister, getting us out of lockdown quicker than most, he has a commitment to personal liberty, has read a few books, has pushed back against gender nonsense, and isn’t a dimwit like many.
What am I missing?

Dominic S
Dominic S
3 months ago
Reply to  Tyler 0

How about his inability to answer a simple question about why the government is still seeking to appoint people to put covid passes in place?

Tyler 0
Tyler 0
3 months ago
Reply to  Dominic S

That doesn’t earn him a round of applause from me but it’s not why he’s sidelined, it seems to me.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
3 months ago

Rishi Sunak and Rees Mogg.. plus Clarkson in The Lords… and I am serious…..

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
3 months ago

“Stunned silence”!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
3 months ago

no… Rees Mogg… by miles- What the middle classes dont seem to get is that Rees Mogg appeals far more to the working class vote than the likes of Shapps and Raab, who they just see as a jumped up version of their lowest form of line manager.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
3 months ago

Assuming there is some swing to Labour, Mordaunt is likely to lose her seat. Portsmouth N is a ‘bellweather’ going with the incoming party of govt. If she wants to become leader, now is not the time. She’ll need to lose gracefully and nab a safe seat (maybe take Sunak’s when he toddles off back to California!).

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
3 months ago
Reply to  Roger Inkpen

funny you mention California… where MeAgain and HerAgain moved to…

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
3 months ago

The piece was fine until the end: (Johnson’s) “focus on problem-solving”! What? Johnson focussed on Johnson and little else. He talked a lot about solutions but talking is not focusing.