Peter Franklin is an Associate Editor of UnHerd.
It was recently reported that Liz Truss thinks the British workforce needs “application”. A lot of people were upset by that. Not me, though. In fact, I was inspired to get off my backside… and vote for Rishi Sunak.
Of course, I needn’t have bothered. If the polls are right, it’ll be Truss by a landslide. In theory, the pollsters could have made some common sampling error, but that’s a most unlikely scenario.
So, if there’s no hope, is there any consolation to be had? Well, there are a few crumbs of comfort — which I offer to Team Rishi, and to the One Nation wing of the party for whom he was the least worst option.
1/ The winner might not be a complete disaster
When Liz Truss was asked a silly question about Emmanuel Macron she gave a silly answer. It was unbecoming of a would-be Prime Minister — and yet another red flag in a leadership campaign that’s hung them out like bunting. But let’s look on the bright side. Truss went into this contest with a winning strategy and a clear message and she’s stuck to them both — which is why her various gaffes haven’t knocked her off-course.
An ability to make a plan and see it through should serve her well in Downing Street — and makes a refreshing change from the outgoing Prime Minister. Furthermore, it can’t be denied that her presentational skills have improved dramatically — demonstrating a capacity for personal growth.
At the very least, she deserves a chance to succeed. The last right-winger to win the party leadership was Iain Duncan-Smith back in 2001. He was undermined by colleagues from the outset and throughout his tenure. That must never happen again. If the Truss premiership does prove to be a disaster then it must be her disaster.
2/ This was a good race to lose
Given the scale of the cost-of-living crisis, the strengths and weaknesses of either candidate may prove to be irrelevant.
The decisions to slash spending on home insulation, ban cheap-and-fast onshore wind, and close down Britain’s biggest gas storage facility were made years ago. And the worst mistake of all — entrusting Europe’s energy security to Vladimir Putin — was made in a different country altogether (Germany).
Nevertheless, it is here and now that we must deal with the full cost of our dependency on imported fossil fuels. And if the great energy crunch isn’t enough to cope with — there’s also the imminent recession, the unsolved housing crisis, the barely-begun task of levelling-up, and the underlying productivity problems of the British economy. It’s hard to see how the Truss tax plan survives these hurricane-force headwinds.
Could the same be said of Rishi Sunak’s campaign promises? It’s harder to tell, because instead of his rival’s fantasy economics, Sunak’s stock-in-trade is the science fiction tax cut (because they’re scheduled so far into the future). Still, I doubt that even his plans would have survived the gathering storm. Then again, we’ll never know — a fact for which he may come to be grateful.
3/ There are lessons to be learned for next time
Will there be a second chance for Sunak? At 42, he has time on his side — and given what’s heading Liz Truss’s way, another contest in a year or two can’t be ruled out. However, unless he wants to end up like Jeremy Hunt — i.e. the runner-up in one leadership race but an also-ran in the next — he needs to be armed with something new to say.
Let’s leave aside the multiple ineptitudes of the Ready for Rishi campaign and focus on the fundamentals. The thing that really sunk Sunak this time is that he ran as the establishment candidate — a successor not to Boris Johnson or even to Theresa May, but to David Cameron.
The Conservative Party of 2005 to 2016 is dead-and-buried. In our own way, we’ve gone through a change as profound as that of the Republicans in America. Like it or not, this is an anti-elitist movement now. No candidate of the establishment will ever win the leadership again. That doesn’t mean that the neo-Thatcherites have a permanent lock on the party. The levelling-up agenda that puts investment in national resilience before tax cuts for the rich is still our best hope for winning elections — not to mention the duty placed upon us by Brexit.
However, the only way that a One Nation Tory can win a future contest is by running as a radical or better still as an insurgent. If Rishi Sunak wants to be that candidate then he needs to unravel his neo-liberal, Treasury-brained programming and try to understand what once made him so popular — and how he threw it all away.
4/ The one real achievement of this miserable contest
Let’s not kid ourselves, this leadership election has done us deep and lasting damage. At a time of impending national crisis, the race has gone on-and-on — disrupting a summer that should have been about preparing for the winter. It’s one thing to not to mend the roof while the sun is shining, it’s quite another to tour the country debating how many tax cuts can dance on a pinhead.
And yet there is one good thing to come from this contest. While other parties talk about including more women and ethnic minorities the Tories have just got on and done it — and without a quota in sight. The woke activists who use race to divide our society have been left looking-on in impotent rage.
Rishi Sunak may have missed his chance to become Britain first non-white Prime Minister — but he’s been part of contest that has thoroughly exposed the lie of a racist Conservative Party. Furthermore, we’re about to supply the country with a female Prime Minister for the third time — and all before Labour gets round to choosing a female leader even once.
5/ Kemi is waiting
When Michael Gove endorsed Rishi Sunak and simultaneously announced his own withdrawal from the front ranks, I realised that the jig was up. Like the last Roman legion leaving the shores of ancient Britannia, it is a certain sign that the dark ages are upon us.
No Cabinet minister has had a longer or more distinguished record of service since 2010. Gove has also demonstrated an uncanny sense of where the Conservative Party is heading — and what needs to be done before we get there.
It is significant, then, that before he endorsed Rishi Sunak, he championed Kemi Badenoch. The latter had an extraordinary leadership campaign, coming from nowhere to finish fourth — and, more importantly, as the members’ favourite.
2022 was not quite her time, but 2024 could be a very different matter. The party may be ready — and indeed desperate — for a new beginning.