Kemi Badenoch would be a dangerous choice as Tory leader – which is why she might win

We suspected that the Conservative civil war, once it broke out in earnest, would be vicious. But we didn’t think that the leadership front-runner would launch a bitter and personal attack on day five.

But Kemi Badenoch did. At the first meeting of the new shadow cabinet, chaired by Rishi Sunak, she is said to have laid into his decision to call an early election – and his disastrous conduct of the election campaign.

Sunak’s reward for doing the decent thing and staying on as leader of the opposition – which Badenoch agreed was the right thing to do – was to be told to his face that his failure to consult the cabinet about the election date bordered on “unconstitutional”. She told him his early return from the D-Day commemorations was “disastrous”, and that Penny Mordaunt would still be an MP if he had stayed longer in France. She claimed to be speaking on behalf of MPs, particularly former ministers, who had lost their seats.

She said that many Tories were traumatised, and that the former home secretary appeared to be having a “very public” nervous breakdown.

And Badenoch wrapped up the whole tirade by saying how important it was that shadow cabinet discussions remained confidential – a few hours before a full account of her words appeared in The Times.

This is an unusual way to conduct a leadership campaign. Especially if you are the front-runner, who might be expected to play it safe, and especially if you are someone with a reputation for a sharp tongue, who might be expected to show that you can do dignified collegiality, too.

But no. If the Conservatives choose Badenoch as their leader, they know what they will be getting. She will be vivid and unrestrained in her attacks on the Labour government, and she will “tell it like it is” to her own party, offending many of her own side.

She is the dangerous choice, because she will get into arguments, possibly on her own Twitter account, and she may well end up offending many of the voters that the Conservatives will need at the next election.

A lot of party members like that about her and would happily take the risk, rather than settle for the blander offerings of Tom Tugendhat and James Cleverly, or the more predictable right-wing prospectus of Priti Patel.

A survey of Tory members published on Wednesday confirmed that she is currently the most popular candidate among the people who will make the final decision – assuming that the leadership rules stay as they are. The Party Members Project – run by Professor Tim Bale at Queen Mary, University of London and his colleagues at Sussex University – found that 31 per cent of members wanted Badenoch, twice as many as the 16 per cent backing Braverman.

But party leadership campaigns take on a life of their own; and if this one runs for a long time, which everyone seems to agree is a good idea, strange things can happen.

Already, Braverman’s top supporter, Sir John Hayes, has defected to Robert Jenrick’s campaign. Jenrick, on 7 per cent in the members’ poll, is even ahead of Patel, on 6 per cent, who has been talked up by many Tory MPs, including those on the One Nation wing of the party, as a unity candidate who could bring the party together.

My assumption is that Tory members will react to the election defeat by redoubling the instincts that gave us Liz Truss as prime minister two years ago. Braverman obviously hopes that this would mean her time has come. So far, she is the only leadership candidate to say, for example. that Nigel Farage would be welcome in the Tory party.

Bale’s survey finds party members divided roughly equally on the question of whether the Tories should merge with Reform UK. But it may be that Badenoch, the risk-taking shooter-from-the-hip, could lay claim to be the bloody-minded choice of a party that feels betrayed by Sunak and Tory MPs generally.

Maybe being blunt to Sunak in person, knowing that it would be leaked, was just what Badenoch needed to get her leadership campaign off to a flying start.


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