Who will succeed Boris Johnson, Britain’s most entertaining, flamboyant Prime Minister?
By next Sunday, 5 September 22 we will know more . The members of the “Conservative” Party, the “Tories” will elect that successor next weekend. Unusual for American readers is the fact that you can become the leader of a nation just by an internal party vote. That is because Boris Johnson had delivered to the party a record majority in 2019 before his own party toppled him. But, as he had delivered them a record majority in 2019, they still have 2 years on the clock until the next regular election. Understandably, the Tory party is not surrendering these 2 years to the whims of the people by doing something silly, like, say, calling a new general election.
So, in the meantime, who will be Prime Minister for at least 2 years?
I will spare you the tale of the elimination of the initially large field of eligible candidates, of which two were actually conservative. It has now boiled down to two candidates that may well symbolize everything that’s wrong with current party politics, especially on the “Conservative” side:
Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. Who are they and why are both of them a terrible choice?
Let’s start with Rishi Sunak. Rishi Sunak and his wife have become the first British frontline politicians to be ranked amongst the UK wealthiest people, No. 222 to be precise, with a combined wealth of £750m. Nothing is wrong per se with having a wealthy person in the running for the top civil servant of a country. But there are other issues with Mr. Sunak and his wife that highlight the problems with many modern elites. Until recently his wife had not even been domiciled or taxed in the UK. When that became a topic in the press, she begrudgingly changed that and paid a token amount. Still it makes you wonder how committed someone is to ‘his’ country who clearly keeps his options open, leaving a bag and, no doubt, some rainy day fund elsewhere.Then there is the question of his family’s business ties to China. Whilst he has been busying himself with talking tough on China, it appears that his wife’s family owns significant shares in the tech company InfoSys that in turn has significant involvements in the Chinese market. Also, as documents leaked to The Times seemed to suggest that as former Chancellor of the Treasury he actively sought to deepen ties with China .
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Even if the latter does not hold true, there are other, more entertaining questions about his authenticity. As the end of his campaign for PM draws close, he, an avowed teetotaler, was seen visiting pubs, having pictures taken of himself waving to other pub-goers. This made him about as relatable as a green cartoon-like martian trying to fit in by wearing a baseball cap and saying: “Greetings, fellow earthlings, I also like alcohol”.
More serious question marks behind his character are raised by his behavior around the fall of Boris Johnson. It is almost comical and cartoonish how the same day that the “partygate” story of Johnson’s lockdown party shenanigans broke, Mr. Sunak registered a web domain by the cheesy name of readyforrishi.com that was set up 23 December 2021, well before Johnson announced his resignation on 7 July this year. It also makes one wonder what role Sunak had played with that leak in the first place.
To be fair to the Stanford Business School graduate Sunak, according to his own narrative, appears to be the only one in the Johnson administration who pushed back against lock down or looked at this as through the lens of a cost-benefit analysis. Allegedly he even obtained alternate data from JP Morgan on Omicron spread in South Africa which might have prevented a fourth lockdown. According to this week’s Spectator article, this might actually be corroborated by Sunak critics. However, I remain skeptical, given the self-serving nature of this narrative.
Let’s turn to Liz Truss. If Brexit was indeed the core message that brought Johnson into power, and indeed still constitutes the cornerstone of the mandate that the Tory party clearly thinks it has, then Less Truss is not your woman. She was part of David Cameron’s Britain Stronger In Europe pro EU remain campaign.
But now, come 2022 Liss Truss found God, the God of Brexit that is, a true conversion a la St. Paul the Apostle.
She is now totally Brexit, all the way, and professes that she now understands the wrongs of her old ways.
Even if that is so, there are other questions marks behind her sincerity and judgment. When Theresa May (another “remainer”) negotiated the worst deal of all times (right up there with Angela Merkel’s costly deal with Erdogan to keep the migrants on Turkey’s side of the border) with the EU, Liz Truss threw her whole weight behind that deal. And then she threw it again behind Johnson’s probably even worse deal. Add to that the fact that she used to be a Liberal Democrat (for an American audience, that’s kind of Labour-light / Social Democrats, but certainly not libertarian). Furthermore, as a much younger woman she attended a number of these anti-nuclear marches, only for now being one of the biggest advocates of nuclear energy. To her credit, she is the only candidate that has expressly stated that she would be the candidate to oppose the censorship monster called the ‘Online Safety Bill’.
To sum up, the poor “Conservative” party members are not spoiled for choice. Both are candidates that clearly are not Conservatives in the Burkean or even the Thatcherite sense.
Both are well in line with the prevailing (WEF) consensus, regardless which of the mainstream parties you support in the UK. It probably boils down to the question of who of them is more of a globalist and more (potentially) beholden to WEF / Chinese Communist Party agendas. Neither of them is likely to make painful, Thatcherite choices or take on the public sector or quasi-public sector unions. The main differentiator these days between Sunak and Truss appears to be how much they want to cut taxes, without talking about painful cuts to the public sector. One holy cow that no one, not even Thatcher, dared / dares to question is the UK’s disastrous socialized healthcare, the National Health Service (NHS). Even thinking about privatization is a verboten thought. So far Truss and Sunak have either avoided that issue or pledged fealty to “our NHS”.
So, who would I lean towards? Probably Truss. Unlike Sunak, with her I have less of a concern of her not having any skin in the game, having some bags and a “nest egg” (or two) parked somewhere else if her policies do not work out for her country. Also, Sunak’s potential Chinese business involvements and his track record on intensifying ties with China make me more nervous than Truss’ flaws.
Will she be enough to actually win an election? With the absence of an identifiable conservative compass and lack of Boris Johnson’s charisma, that is doubtful. Fortunately for the “Conservatives” Labour these days is not providing much of an opposition as the Johnson government has governed much more like a 1970s style socialist government.
What about a third party? A Nigel-Farage-led third party like the Brexit Party that he so successfully fielded in the European Parliamentary Elections in 2019 could be a template. I would not hold my breath. Similar to the US’s de facto two-party-system, the UK’s electoral system makes the emergence of a 3rd party very difficult. Similar to the US, such a duopoly makes paradigm shifts very difficult – “I understand that you are disappointed, but would you rather vote for Labour? They are even worse than us” is pretty much the response that every “Conservative” politician seems to give to the frustrated electorate. This makes an alternative all the more necessary, but it remains challenging to see how it would come about.
Either way, if you were hoping for a free market, free speech Singapore / Hong Kong on the Thames, freed from the shackles of the EU, you are in for a disappointment. At the current rate of growing statism, inflation and skyrocketing debt we are much more likely to see a Greece or Italy on the Thames. Probably it will be more like the pre-Thatcher Britain that had resigned itself to manage decline and successively scale back its ambition. Maybe this time, with no Thatcherite figure in sight, Johnson’s populist skills being wasted on him, Britain might just go gentle into that good night.