We’re a long way from Enoch Powell. Of the various candidates who have at any point floated entering, briefly entered, been knocked out, or are still ploughing on through this Conservative leadership contest, seven have been from ethnic minorities, with one even having been a former child refugee. Of course, five have also been women – but we Tories have long got used to producing female Prime Ministers.
It is always fun to beat the Left at their favourite sporting event: the diversity Olympics. Whilst Labour labour under their latest middle-aged, middle-class leader from north London, the Conservative Party shows that no all women short-lists or condescending ethnic pandering are needed to allow talented people of all descriptions to reach the top of British politics.
That’s especially due to the bizarre hot-takes that the left’s nuttier out-riders produce out of incredulity that ethnic minorities could do so well under the Tories. Jolyon Maugham asking Sunak if his party was “ready to select a brown man” to lead it was a particular delight, as was Femi Oluwole suggesting Kemi Badenoch becoming Prime Minister would be bad for racial equality.
So the party of Disraeli and Thatcher, that saw off a Corbyn-led Labour Party that had joined the BNP in being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and which gave Britain it’s first openly gay female party leader in Ruth Davidson, now looks set to beat the identity-obsessives across the Commons to putting another ethnic minority or lady (or both) into Downing Street.
Nevertheless, before well-lubricated activists break into ‘Ebony and Ivory’ or ‘Sisters are Doin’ It for Themselves’ at the next conference karaoke, we should take a second or two to reflect on the importance of another form of diversity. Diversity of sex or ethnicity is all well and good. But, for governing a country, it is must come second to diversity of ideas.
Yes, today’s Tories are not all public schoolboys – although I send my thanks to Sunak and Tugendhat for fighting the good fight on our behalf – and the party can only survive by proving it can appeal to a country where, within a hundred years, white Britons will no longer form the majority, and where women play a bigger part in public life than ever before.
But where the grandparents of leadership contenders came from, or the exact nature of their genitalia, matters less in the immediate term than whether they can tackle Britain’s most pressing problems.
ConservativeHome’s original mission was to defend the right of Tory party members to elect their leader. It is a position we maintain. But one consequence of this is that leadership candidates feel a need to say what they feel they must be said to appease to the cliché of Tory members they have in their heads.
Hence why Mordaunt gets herself in a tangle over what she believes on trans, or why Truss finds herself making £20 billion worth of tax cut promises. Almost from the start, this race has been less about an actual dissection of policy offerings, but an attempt to out virtue-signal other contenders in their right-wingery, in the battle for the next morning’s Telegraph front page.
Badenoch, like Sunak, has been unwilling to engage in the tax-cut horse-trading of other candidates, and appears to have more of an idea of her plan for power than Mordaunt.
Yet at least Mordaunt has written a book out-lining what her vision for Britain is. Yes, Greater: Britain After the Storm hasn’t received the finest reviews over the last few days. But what matters more than what it says about Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation or post fry-up bowel movements is that a lot of it seems to be surprisingly conventional. Calling for reform of the House of Lords or praising Black Lives Matter is of a piece with the establishment liberalism that has governed Britain since Blair.
This is a wholly legitimate political point of view, especially for habitual subscribers to The New Statesman like myself. As is, for want of a better set of descriptors, Truss’s Telegraph-friendly, neoJohnsonian agenda of immediate tax cuts financed by greater borrowing. It is an agenda I would have cheered at the height of the May years But let us not pretend it is original – like Ronald Reagan, Truss hopes the deficit is big enough to look after itself – or easy to deliver in a time of rising interest rates, and without a willingness to cut spending.
The other candidate aside from Badenoch to avoid promising to cut taxes left, right, and centre is Sunak. He has made it a centrepiece of his campaign to argue we must avoid “fairy-tales” and stick to fiscal responsibility. Refreshing honesty obscures the fact that, unlike the other candidates, we know a lot of what a Sunak agenda would like, since we have been living through it for the last two years.
But once Sunak has swapped for Number 11 for Number 10, he might have a chance to get a grip on spending or introduce the pro-growth policies he has felt the current Prime Minister has blocked. But one should not expect his government to be overtly radical. Tearing up the Northern Ireland Protocol or leaving the ECHR will not be high on Sunak’s agenda.
Most importantly, no candidate has promised to back the huge program of housebuilding we need to deal with our dysfunctional housing market. No candidate at our hustings on Friday or in either debate has so far had anything to say even half as helpful as Sajid Javid’s campaign did on this notorious and depressing barrier to economic growth, family formation, and the Conservatives winning the votes of my generation.
So whilst it will be a welcome triumph against the identarian left for our party to produce a new Prime Minister who is an ethnic minority, or woman, or both, it will be a hollow victory if it only results in a continuing failure to deal with the various deficiencies of Britain’s sclerotic state.