Moving On

19 May 2022

Moving on

After Boris, who?

By Robert Kilconner

Boris just isn’t going to last to the next election. That is not because everything he does is wrong. His commitment to the freedom of Ukraine, on which he plainly feels strongly, has impressed the public and the funding of vaccines to which his government committed was plainly a success. It is rather because the public are tiring of ill thought through populist politics – the Rwanda proposal put forward by Patel and supported by Johnson, for example, and the ludicrous proposals for getting business premises let (so ably demolished by my colleague J R Thomas in the Shaw Sheet last week) aired in the Queen’s Speech, for another. Times are a changing and he is getting past his sell by date. The question is now who should succeeded him and, like American politicians preparing for primaries, the contenders are beginning to dust themselves down or to blow themselves up as the case may be.

Rishi Sunak seems to be in the ‘blowing up’ camp. As with his boss, populism seems to be his undoing, the particular example being the decision to protect the elderly voter by raising national insurance rather than income tax. The move was celebrated no doubt in retirement homes up and down the country but at a time of national crisis should so much priority be given to protecting a particular segment of the Tory vote? It doesn’t look like a statesman structuring the country to meet the future. No Rishi, the public are not as stupid as they look.

Liz Truss too has probably blotted her copybook. Her approach, whether to the Ukraine crisis or to the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol, seems shrill rather than thoughtful and in any case she would do better not to try to model herself on Margaret Thatcher. That isn’t to take away from the undoubted abilities of the Iron Lady herself but aspiring politicians should take their own line rather than tracking the approach of someone else. You cannot imagine Mrs T declaring that she wished to be a second Disraeli, for example.

By the time of the next election Brexit will be old news and the time will have come for us to build a more constructive relationship with our erstwhile partners. An appetite for that is growing on both sides of the Channel, even if the only tangible result to date is the 12 points awarded us by France in the Eurovision Song contest.  No chance then for Dominic Raab, Priti Patel, Rees Mogg or any of the Brexiteers. They are yesterday’s men and women, except perhaps for Gove whose reforming zeal marks him down as being of a higher quality; just a little too odd, though, to be the focus of a national campaign.

That of course does not exhaust the candidates. Sajid Javid is currently out there, as is Ben Wallace. A number of the younger ministers such as Kwasi Kwarteng are beginning to show their pace. Still the most interesting prospect is outside the current administration altogether; Jeremy Hunt, the erstwhile Secretary of State for Health and a previous candidate to lead the party and the country, is clearly strapping on his armour. What is more, he has just published a new book bearing the racy name Zero: Eliminating preventable harm and tragedy in the NHS. I hope it is as exciting as it sounds but clearly it is an opening shot in a leadership bid.

“Fight fire with fire” goes the adage but in this case it would be a question of “fight dull with dull”. A Keir – Jeremy decider would be a different form of contest to what the public is used to, with less bombast, more figures and (hopefully) realistic policy alternatives. It’s about time we had one of those.

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