A Half Sprint, Not a Race | Sarah Stook
In the old adage, the Hare is so arrogant that the Tortoise decides to challenge him to a race. The Hare is so confident that he decides to take a nap halfway through the race, leading to the slow and steady Tortoise managing to get to the finish line first.
That is the perfect allegory for the Conservative Party leadership race of 2019. The competitors, so confident in their victory, decide to slow down. It doesn’t sound right, but it is- they are not heading to the finish line with intelligent, policy and initiative. They expect to win so they don’t bring anything to the table. There’s no excitement or hard work in the leadership campaign, it’s a big nap until the final two.
In this half sprint, we have seen a damning truth. The Conservative party is terrified of being fresh and exciting. In the Thatcher years, we saw a new wave of conservatism as we did with Goldwater and Reagan in the United States. Thatcher showed conservatism as an ideology that shrunk the state, gave us liberty and advanced the cause of the working person. Since Thatcher’s downfall, the Tory party has done little to change itself. David Cameron managed to pull ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ out of his hat, the modernising of the party managing to grab a very unexpected win in 2015. Unfortunately, his legacy went down in flames when he resigned, leaving a status quo May administration in his place. Now that she’d been booted, that change isn’t coming.
Whilst Rory Stewart struts around like a peacock, apparently starting a dialogue, he’s mainly staying in London. The only other places he’s visited on his homage to I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) are quick ones to places like Dundee and Derby. His jolly jaunts have made him a media darling, a true love of the Guardian elite and some kind of ‘awww he’s sweet’ candidate for the Tories. That’s the only exciting thing about him (apart from the opium at an Iranian wedding). An extension of Theresa May, he wants to increase the foreign aid budget to cover climate change. The only budget that has increased in 2010, he’s hardly showing fiscal conservatism or lending an ear to the sceptical public/party. There’s nothing anti-authoritarian or exciting about him. He’s a grey suit from a good background, which makes up many politicians these days.
It’s the same with all of them really. Since the icon of young Tories, Liz Truss, isn’t running, there doesn’t seem to be anyone who has really broken the mould. The promises aren’t exactly revolutionary- more housing, lower taxes, increased mental health funding, bridging the gap between the north and south (bless them for thinking we’ll see that) and giving more money to schools. Sure, they’re policies we all want, but they’re still just promises. No politician is likely to do these things, whether due to lack of parliamentary support or just plain laziness. These are things we’ve heard for years, slapped on every manifesto and written on every CCHQ post. It’s not slashing taxes for the middle classes, giving the youth a true thrust up the housing ladder or even taking away the nanny state.
Jeremy Hunt was the first to praise Theresa May. At his launch, he lauded her for her hard work and said that we will remember her better than the media and history books well. Flanked by establishment darling Amber Rudd and grassroots boosted Penny Mordaunt, he was synthetic to the core and without much about him. His policies were duller than ditch water and his support of May immediately showed him to be the establishment candidate in the way May was.
Boris Johnson, as eccentric and charismatic as he is, has no defining policies except easing the middle class tax burden. Nobody really knows who Mark Harper is. Andrea Leadsom wants to help new families and fight climate change. Dominic Raab wants low taxes. Matt Hancock is all for health innovation. Sajid Javid is all about social mobility. When not causing controversy on LGBT education, Esther McVey wants to focus on blue collar conservatives. It’s what everyone wants to hear, what everyone is glad to hear and what everyone knows is just empty promises.
It’s wanted, but it’s also boring. They either won’t commit to numbers like Andrea Leadsom- which is probably the smartest way to go- or go over the top like Rory Stewart and his promise to build 2 million new homes. The only one willing to cut international aid is Esther McVey, popular with the grassroots but not without its critics. Rory Stewart has also gone down the simplistic route in that he wants to increase international aid, something that is popular with the liberal portion of the party but not others.
None of them have touched serious issues like FGM, probably because it’s not ‘sexy’ enough. Noted anti-FGM advocate Nimco Ali has endorsed Johnson, but nothing has really come out in the campaign because most politicians probably don’t care. CCHQ is another missed issue, despite its massive unpopularity with the grassroots. Its London centric Twitter bubble merely spouts meaningless statistics and holds snobby champagne events in the capitals. None have advocated for reform, events outside of the M25, remember members exist and that there are young Conservatives. They’re happy to pawn campaigning off to the suits on Matthew Parker Street.
No one has shaken anything up. They speak at press events, but there is no dynamism in it, no passion or excitement. Even the usually charismatic Johnson performed poorly at his opening launch, a speech full of policy but lacking in substance and a compelling nature. When talking press, he went off on a tangent without answering the question. Michael Gove tried to be the comedian, making the assembled media and supports laugh at his quips. Unfortunately, he was also very childish in his jabs at Boris Johnson. Everyone else fell fairly flat, especially Raab’s poor delivery. Interviews have been mildly impressive, but not to the point where everyone talked about any particular one.
Ok, so the party isn’t exactly united in what it wants. Some are in favour of the liberal conservatism that David Cameron brought to the table, whilst others have found themselves part of the High Tory gang. There are the free market purists vs. those who don’t mind tariffs. Some are in the ‘taxation is theft’ camp whilst others don’t mind hiking it up a little. Environmentalist advocates fight against those who don’t give a stuff about climate change. We can’t expect a unity candidate, as nice as that would be. Still, no candidate who takes any side has great solutions for anything.
In the papers, there was criticism of the candidate list being ‘male, pale and stale.’ With ethnic minority candidates and women, it’s hardly a real criticism beyond the liberal elite of The Guardian and The Independent. It is, however, extraordinarily stale. The leadership candidates are up at the starting line, number of supporters pinned to their chest, reading to run the marathon. Instead of 26 miles, they’re running a few metres.
It’s a half sprint, not a race and that is something that we need to realise.