Opponents vying to replace Johnson have different backstories, not plans

LONDON. Four women. Six of them have recent ancestors from distant Europe – India, Iraq, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria and Pakistan. Of the three white men, one is married to a Chinese woman and the other has a French passport.

On paper, the nearly a dozen candidates vying to succeed Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister are a kaleidoscopic tribute to Britain’s rich diversity. However, in terms of political proposals, the mosaic they create is completely monochrome.

Nearly all candidates are promising tax cuts of some kind to soften the blow. growing cost-of-living crisis. Most support legislation that violates the Northern Ireland Trade Agreement with the European Union. Many would continue to imprison illegal migrants on planes to Rwanda.

The degree of continuity and uniformity is particularly striking given that candidates are competing for the prime minister, who has been criticized for bouncing from crisis to crisis and leading a government that is widely perceived to be drifting in the face of severe economic stress. and deepening tensions with Brussels. Some of them have sat in a cabinet that has raised taxes, which they now want to cut.

“They’re all just strangely out of touch with reality,” said Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London. “They’ve just gone to this fantasy land, talking about tax cuts.”

Prof Portes said they should be talking about how Britain is going to prevent a full-blown crisis in its schools and hospitals in a few months, when soaring inflation and budget cuts hit teachers and nurses, prompting some to quit their jobs. jobs and others to strike. According to him, the tax cut will not solve the problem of lowering the cost of living, but will spur inflation and drain the already shaky public finances of the UK.

To some extent, the free nature of the debate is the result of the size of the field, which many people try to break through. That will change quickly under new election rules passed Monday night by the powerful committee of Conservative Party supporters that oversees the leadership battle.

Under the rules, Conservative Party lawmakers will shortlist contenders in successive rounds of voting starting Wednesday with the backing of the 20 lawmakers needed for this first contest, and ending next week with a shortlist of two. By September, one candidate will win the Conservative Party vote. 5 and become Mr. Johnson’s successor as prime minister. Theoretically, a two-man race will sharpen the debate and expose more complex issues.

But the equally right-wing nature of the candidates’ proposals also reflects the Conservative Party’s electorate. The party’s center of gravity has shifted to the right during its bitter Brexit battles. mr. Johnson purged other centrist lawmakers such as former cabinet minister Rory Stewart.

The rank and file of the party, which is mostly made up of activists, also tends to be more right-wing than the average voters (there were 160,000 eligible members during the last leadership election in 2019, according to the party). Perhaps in recent months the members of the party have become even more right, as the party has lost popularity due to the controversial election of Mr. Black. Johnson and the less dedicated members withdrew.

However, according to some analysts, the multi-stage nature of the competition could become a trap for tax cut advocates. While most Conservative MPs are attracted to lower taxes, party members were likely less positive because they tend to be older and have more experience with publicly funded services.

For them, tax cuts financed by cuts in health care spending or other government programs may not be an attractive proposition. Some candidates are focusing on tax cuts in the first round of the competition to stand out among the first leaders. Rishi Sunakwhose resignation as Chancellor of the Exchequer last week helped set off the events leading to Mr Johnson’s ouster.

mr. Sunak, who introduced himself as a fiscal hawk, suggested in his intro promotional video that his rivals tell “comforting tales”.

Robert Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester, agreed that “there is a danger for some of these applicants that they will make promises to pass the first round, which could backfire on them.”

One striking aspect of the debate so far has been the lack of discussion of Brexit, an issue that has divided party and country for nearly six years. Candidates are, by and large, uniting around Mr Johnson’s plan to break the deal he made with the European Union on trading rules for Northern Ireland. The move led Brussels to accuse the UK of violating international law and raised fears of a trade war.

Among the most vocal supporters of the plan Liz Truss, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is one of the main contenders for the post of leader and the author of legislation in Parliament. Analysts say she did so in part to appeal to the party’s right.

There is growing evidence that Brexit has placed an additional burden on the British economy. But Britain’s sharp break with the European Union is now a matter of political orthodoxy. Professor Ford said that expressing doubts about this was “like advocating atheism in St. Peter’s Hospital.”

Despite all the nit-picking of formulaic proposals, there was a refreshing variety in the candidates’ social media appearances.

G. Sunak’s polished video was cited by critics as evidence that he had long been preparing to run for the lead. His enemies circulated a less flattering excerpt from an interview he gave in 2001 in which he claimed to have friends from all walks of life, but then corrected himself by saying it was did not include working class people.

Penny Mordaunt, a former cabinet minister who filed a spirited bid, had to edit his video to cut images of British Paralympic athlete Johnny Peacock, who asked not to be in the film, as well as convicted murderer Oscar Pistorius. The least known challenger, Rehman Chishti, posted a video that appears to have been recorded on a phone from outside, against the backdrop of wind noise.

The lush roster of contenders makes this one of the toughest contests for party leadership that can be predicted in recent years. Some expect the first major draw to produce a single right-wing candidate who will take on a heavily supported favorite like Mr Black in the final round. Sunak.

However, before the list was sifted, some said it was worth enjoying the variety of faces, if not messages, that were on display.

“Perhaps the most remarkable fact about this is that people don’t see it as something outstanding,” said Professor Ford. According to him, this showed “how far the party has come in this in a fairly short period of time.”