You may have noticed that there is (yet again!) an election campaign underway in order to resolve who should be the leader of the Conservative Party, which presently means who should be our prime minister. Since David Cameron resigned as PM in the wake of the Brexit referendum result, this is the third time this has occurred. First Theresa May got the nod in 2016, then it was Boris Johnson in 2019, and by September 5, 2022, we should know if it’s the turn of Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer until he resigned earlier this month, or Liz Truss (they are both shown on the home page), who remains the foreign secretary in these, the dog days of the Johnson government. (As someone who is famously fond of ‘having his cake and eating it’, this is perhaps the most spectacular example of ‘cakeism’ one could find: Johnson has effectively resigned from his post while also staying in it. I’m not getting into the Lord Cruddas-sponsored shenanigans.)
The prime battleground between the two candidates is money. Of course, it is – “it’s the economy, stupid”, as James Carville/Bill Clinton memorably said about the subject that is usually at the heart of any government strategy. Which, of course, is bizarrely interesting in that Sunak now has to present himself as a man offering a new broom whereas in fact until three weeks ago he had been in charge of that particular part of business for the government he used to serve. Truss doesn’t have the same problem but her main plan, which seems to involve making about £40 billion worth of tax cuts, does run into the problem that over the previous three years she had voted for tax rises into the teens of times. I suppose she could have resigned on a point of principle rather than vote for something she didn’t believe in but I accept that is a wholly antiquated view of political reality.
It has been weird to have two Tory politicians accuse the other of promoting “socialist” ideas. Truss claims that Sunak’s is pursuing “policies that will lead to recession” whereas she wants to encourage growth. He says what she intends to do would fuel inflation and that it its “not moral to ask our children to pick up the tab for the bills that we’re not prepared to pay”. And remember – they are supposed to be on the same side!
So how will it end? The overwhelming view seems to be that Truss will win the vote of the Tory membership and be our next PM, in part because the majority of that membership want to make Sunak pay for his perceived role in Johnson’s downfall. Oh, and they also really like the idea of paying less money to HMRC. But what if Sunak is correct and the immediate implementation of widespread tax cuts would prove unavoidably harmful to the economy? I guess in that case Truss might just get to the other side of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, which ends on October 5, and then reverse her position. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time she had changed her mind – she campaigned for Remain in the referendum but has since evolved into an eager Leaver. And, of course, by then she would have got what she wanted – a home in 10 Downing Street.