Friday 10 December 2021

Truss Vs Sunak: Who Would Win?

The second anniversary of Boris Johnson's election triumph is around the corner and already the vultures are circling. The scraps of recent days have left him bloodied. Senior Tories aren't backwards in coming forwards with their (anonymous) criticisms of the rolling wreckage of the Johnson premiership, permitting speculation that another Tory leader is possible. Caught bang to rights for lying about the Christmas parties, and now nailed on the investigation into the Downing Street flat refurb, the end could come sooner than any of us think. Especially if the Tories lose next week's North Shropshire by-election.

Imagine it happens and Johnson is off. Who takes over? The settled will of the lobby hacks have decreed the choice is going to be between occasional liberal pin-up Dishy Rishi, and the Foucault-bashing, cheese-dealing foreign secretary, Liz Truss. This leaves out the strong hand Priti Patel holds, with her thank you notes to backbenchers and hard line anti-refugee politics. But let's run with the press pack's wisdom and assume these two will be put to the membership. Looking at Johnson's support, having purged the parliamentary party of overt opposition he was able to forge an alliance of the European Research Group, the self-styled "Spartans" of Brexit, the wider pro-Brexit layer of MPs, the remain "democrats" who accepted the referendum result, and the pragmatically-minded for whom the electoral probity of the Tory party - the one consistently reliable vehicle for bourgeois politics - is the chief concern. Newcomers and old timers went into the election on a tissue thin but unifying manifesto. Therefore, the question is if either Truss or Sunak can forge a similar coalition in the parliamentary party and in the country.

Sunak regularly tops the most popular politicians' poll, and has done well to affect a submariner's countenance since the budget. But what are his qualities? He is the nice suit briefcase centrists and most of the press absolutely adore, and politically speaking he's the heir to Dave - albeit with Brexity characteristics. This good press and a well-telegraphed preference for tax cutting and deregulation should fall on favourable ears, particularly those uneasy with the ballooning of Covid spending and the expansion of state responsibility. He speaks to a solid section of the Tory id. His problem, however, are the same as those encountered by Dave. Marketed as a trendy city-dweller at ease with social liberalism, he could rub the social conservatives on the backbenches up the wrong way. And his policy preference for reheated neoliberalism when, arguably, the health of both capitalist production and capitalist relations of production could do with a more hands-on state. We've already seen how jumpy the northern MPs and the so-called red wall'ers are after Johnson, apparently at the Treasury's behest, nerfed his spending schemes in their patch. None of these are insurmountable for Sunak provided he keeps his sheen with the public polished up, but under his leadership the possibility of another right wing force - Reform UK, or something else - regaining UKIP's legs to become a nuisance can never be ruled out.

And Truss? Apparently the red wall'ers, continuity ERG, and the anti-mask brigades are big fans. Somehow, hailing from the upper tier of the progressive English middle class qualifies Truss to be treated like she's a blue collar Tory. Perhaps it's because of a reputation for batshittery and a willingness to low level peddle war-on-woke concerns that have won her fans. That and, unlike other ministers, she is the face of Brexit "success". As owner of the International Trade brief, Truss fronted the trade deals with Japan and the premature announcements about Australia and New Zealand. She is a latter day Britannia trotting the globe and fulfilling the nation's historic role as a global trading powerhouse. Good grief, what switches some Tories on is so dull. However, the jury is out whether she has that extra-party pull Sunak undoubtedly has. Truss is the most popular cabinet member among Conservative Home readers and light years ahead of Sunak. She appeals to the Tory unconscious in other ways, its basest, most mean-spirited and spiteful aspects of social conservatism, and unlike the chancellor would ensure the likes of Reform UK and friends remain irrelevances on the margins.

Who would win in a showdown between the two? Truss, undoubtedly. Boris Johnson didn't just take the Tory crown because he was more likely to win than the others, but because of Brexit. As noted at the time, it was the membership's overwhelming priority, even if it meant junking the union and destroying the party itself (though, it should be noted, not at the price of a Jeremy Corbyn government). There's little sign the Conservative rank-and-file have mellowed since or are overly concerned with pragmatism. Indeed, if the avalanche of daily comment on ConHome is anything to go by, we're back in the territory where believing a fundamental return to basics - a muscular social conservatism - would clean up at the ballot box. As Sunak is the second coming of Dave, both in style and fissiparous substance, it's unlikely he could defeat someone well-prepared to play to the delusions of the associations and the party's yellowing grass roots.

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1 comment:

Blissex said...

«Sunak regularly tops the most popular politicians' poll, and has done well to affect a submariner's countenance since the budget. But what are his qualities? He is the nice suit briefcase centrists and most of the press absolutely adore, and politically speaking he's the heir to Dave - albeit with Brexity characteristics.»

And that is why I often say that Sunak would be the perfect replacement for Starmer as leader of New Labour. Peter Mandelson should be working hard to headhunt "perfect fit" Sunak.

As to candidates for replacing Johnson, there are also not just Patel but also Gove and Hunt. Gove has the same problem as Osborne had, for which Osborne had to accept Cameron as the PR front: he is not telegenic. But Hunt has good optics, and is fairly dull,

But the big question as always is not personalities (a typical "whig" mindset) but politics:

* Yes, the remainy-corporate-onenationy Conservative factions are working hard to reverse their defeat and rout by Johnson, and they may yet have their revenge against him personally.

* The big question is whether even if they manage to get rid of Johnson they will be able to change the political line of the Conservatives towards a more cameronian/mayst line. I doubt that, most likely Johnson will be replaced by someone with similar politics.