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Kemi Badenoch has saved the Tories - by Aris Roussinos for UnHerd - 20.07.22

Her campaign provided the party with a route to success.

With Kemi Badenoch’s elimination from the race, the Conservative party lost its chance to win a future. After all, the simplest, if least inspiring case to make for Kemi Badenoch was always that of urging the wavering Tory party to glance at her competition. It is difficult for even the most captive lobby creature to summon up much enthusiasm for any of the remaining candidates. The hustings so far have displayed to the nation a party almost entirely devoid of energy or fresh ideas, indeed of any justification for continued rule: should the party lose the next election, historians will say its doom was foretold this week.

Certainly, we can all exhale with relief that Tugendhat is out — no doubt the nation clawed back a few seconds on the Doomsday Clock with yesterday’s news. Too anodyne and fundamentally pointless for domestic politics, he revealed himself over and over again too as excitable for the foreign affairs whose glamour and excitement he craved just that bit too much. Unfortunately, we already live in exciting times: the nation requires a firmer hand on the rudder than a man of whom the best can be said is that at least he is not Tobias Ellwood.

But what are we left with? Liz Truss’s Thatcher tribute act, stale a generation ago, has now veered discomfitingly into the realms of bodily possession. Her outreach a few years ago to a supposed British millennial cohort of “Uber riding, AirBnB’ing, Deliveroo eating, Freedom Fighters” threatened even then to make late-stage capitalism finally collapse under the weight of its own cringe. But her ruling out, last weekend, of the very idea of the state setting housebuilding targets, let alone meeting them, as a dangerous form of “Stalinism” proves she is a relic of an earlier age.

Equally, a party that devotes as much time as the Conservatives do to complaining about woke excess would deserve every disaster coming to it if it chose Penny Mordaunt, the very archetype of the woke HR administrator, to fill Johnson’s vacant throne. Leaving aside the warnings from party elders such as Lord Frost of her laziness and inattention to detail, the few sincerely-held beliefs that escape the black hole of her personal philosophy for scrutiny are ones alien and unwelcome to British conservatism. Hostile to everything conservatives — if not the Conservative party — hold dear, lambasting even Civilisation’s Sir Kenneth Clark for scoring lowly on the identity politics scoreboard, Mordaunt is the barbarian within the gates of British conservatism. She may, in time, make Labour a perfectly adequate junior minister, but a Tory leader she is not.

This leaves the frontrunner, Sunak, who as chancellor never saw an opportunity for building infrastructure and state resilience he did not wish to quash, and who has managed to achieve the rare feat of combining pledged allegiance to Thatcherite orthodoxy with a tax burden fit for fighting a world war. Is it an argument in favour of his economic prudence that at least he managed to spare his own complex family finances a share in the voters’ misfortune? It is not a case we can imagine doing well on doorsteps a few years into the recession of historic proportions coming our way: a party ready for Rishi, in these circumstances, is simply one desirous of death.

But, then, perhaps the death of the Conservative party would not be the worst outcome, for the nation or British conservatives themselves. As the political philosopher John Gray observed recently, “Brexit was an invitation to fashion a new political economy for this country, which the British political class declined. Red Tories and Blue Labour believed a market state could be replaced by one fostering intermediary institutions and a common life. But they were small minorities in their parties, and there was disagreement among them as to what a post-liberal agenda would entail.

The question of the role the British state would serve in future was left unanswered,” so that now “British politics is stuck in a recurring nightmare”, in which the only desperate hope remaining is that perhaps “a larger crisis – perhaps triggered by the deepening impact of war in Ukraine, or major military conflict elsewhere in the world”, can force us out of our rut.

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Kemi Badenoch has saved the Tories - by Aris Roussinos for UnHerd - 20.07.22
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Aris Roussinos is UnHerd's Foreign Affairs Editor, and a former war reporter.

As Kemi said, in what we must hope will not become one of the great missed turning points in British history, for the Tories as for the country as a whole, “this is no time for steady as it goes, sinking into decline. It’s time for change.”

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