For those Tories who like their glasses half full, the current (and still expanding) roster of leadership candidates is a sign of strength.
Never liked Boris? Well, there’s Jeremy Hunt, who was kept out of Cabinet by Johnson after contesting the leadership in 2019, or Tom Tugendhat, the China-hawk who chairs the commons foreign affairs select committee. Did you love Boris, only to grow tired of his personal foibles? Enter big beasts Rishi Sunak, Sajid Javid, Priti Patel, Nadhim Zahawi and Liz Truss, who each served in Johnson’s cabinet but appear to be made of morally sterner stuff. Think those former ministers are flawed? Try Penny Mordaunt or Grant Shapps. Think Boris went soft on Europe? Try Suella Braverman. Think Boris wasn’t ‘conservative’ enough? Have a drink of Kemi Badenoch. Think Johnson was too famous? Try Rehman Chishti (go on, have a Google).
The glass half-fullers will admire the diversity of the field. The Tory candidates truly come in all shapes, sizes, colours, and ideologies. Labour and the Lib Dems could only dream of such diversity.
Why, then, are some Tories glum? And no, we don’t mean Nadine Dorries, who is deep into her chardonnay wondering how her colleagues could be so mean toward Boris.
No, the reason why many on Team Blue are viewing the glass as half-empty is because leadership contests are inherently destabilising times for political parties. And if you doubt that, have a read of the weekend papers. Operation Sandbag Rishi is already in full effect. Or just ask Zahawi, who had to release a long statement defending his tax arrangements. Labour are munching their popcorn as the various factions of the Tory party tear each other apart.
The amount of dirt floating in the ether is a point in favour of a so-called ‘clean skin’ to take over. Many a head was turned when Cabinet big beast Michael Gove – one of the few Tories who knows how to grip a government department – endorsed the unknown Badenoch. Could the former junior minister pull off a huge upset? Well, the betting markets are narrowing their odds.
But is an inexperienced ‘clean skin’ really something the country can afford when facing our current parallel crises? Economic growth is stalled amidst the soaring inflation that is fueling a deepening cost-of-living crisis. We are at an impasse on Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations. And then there is Vladimir Putin and his ongoing pillage of Ukraine.
These times call for great statesmanship. Is there one in the current crop of leadership contenders? We have our doubts, so slot us in the glass half-empty category.