Expect an early general election

Smear campaigns, dirty dossiers, stitch-ups - yes, it is a Tory leadership contest. Eddie Ford also notes that Penny Mordaunt is way out in front when it comes to the bookies

As everyone knows, after Grant Shapps dropped out, with both Sajid Javid and junior minister Rehman Chishti failing to secure enough nominations - the support of at least 20 Tory MPs - eight candidates made it to the first round of voting in the Tory leadership contest on July 12. A day later and we were down to six, with Nadhim Zahawi and Jeremy Hunt eliminated. Soon it will be just two. The expectation being that it will be Rishi Sunak and another (probably Penny Mordaunt but possibly Liz Truss).

Then it will be head-to-head TV debates and the gruelling round of constituency meetings before a final vote of Conservative Party members (believed to number around 160,000). The winner will formally replace Boris Johnson as prime minister on September 6. Johnson himself has magnanimously said that he will not be openly backing any of the candidates, as he “wouldn’t want to damage anyone’s chances with my support”.

At this stage, there is no obvious winner. Nor is there any obviously Johnsonite candidate, which you can roughly define as getting Brexit done (again), levelling up, big government when needed, etc. Then again, there is no real distinctive Johnson philosophy, or ideology, in the way you might have described Margaret Thatcher. Ultimately, what distinguished Johnson himself was sheer naked ambition and shameless opportunism.

Apart from Rishi Sunak, the other main candidates have pledged to lower taxes - this has been the contest mantra so far. Liz Truss, for example, has promised to cut taxes from “day one” - such as reversing the hike in national insurance. Sunak, by contrast, told The Daily Telegraph that tackling inflation is his “number one economic priority”, claiming that Margaret Thatcher would have backed his approach. In response, one of Truss’s most vociferous backers, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has attacked Sunak on the basis that he made decisions “of the left rather than on the right” - referring to him as “the last Labour chancellor”, “socialist chancellor”, and so on. He has also attempted to disparage Sunak’s Brexit credentials, even though he voted ‘leave’, by calling him an “ostensible Brexiteer” whose department had resisted ending the “supremacy of EU law” during his tenure.

Additionally, there has been a demented ‘war on woke’, Kemi Badenoch being the most prominent. Former equalities minister and famous for hacking into a Labour MP’s website and changing all the material to say complimentary things about the Tories, she has said that schools which teach that “white privilege” is an uncontested fact are breaking the law and that they should not openly support the “anti-capitalist” Black Lives Matter. She also wants to ban gender-neutral toilets. Clearly, Badenoch has her eye on another ministerial appointment … and becoming the darling of the October 2022 Tory Party conference in Birmingham (if it happens - see below).

Of course, no Tory leadership contest would be complete without rampant treachery and Machiavellian plotting (or ‘tactical voting’, to use another term). Nadine Dorries has accused the Sunak team of pulling “dirty tricks” - perish the thought! - after Jeremy Hunt made it into the first ballot of MPs. She was responding to a tweet which claims ex-chief whip Gavin Williamson had been trying to siphon off votes here and there, so Hunt would eventually make it to the final run-off with Sunak before the membership - believing that Hunt would not stand a chance, which is doubtlessly true. For the outraged Dorries, this is an attempted “stitch-up”.

We also read that at least two rival campaign teams have sent the Labour Party ‘dirty dossiers’ packed with allegations against their potential opponents - including about extramarital affairs, the use of tax dodges, illegal drugs and prostitutes, with at least one private investigator reportedly hired to probe some candidates’ financial arrangements. Nadhim Zahawi has complained about being “smeared” after reports appeared saying that a “flag” had allegedly been raised about his personal finances before he became chancellor - another allegation being that Boris Johnson went ahead with the appointment “despite the possible concerns” over Zahawi’s tax affairs. Zahawi promised to publish his tax returns … if he becomes prime minister.

According to a survey of the bookies’ odds, Mordaunt is the clear favourite. They give her a 60% chance of winning in September. Sunak might be well ahead when it comes to MPs, but not when it comes to the bookies. He is rated with just over a 20% chance, while Truss comes in third, a tad behind him.

In some ways, the left and the labour movement can learn from the Tory Party election contest. Four women and four people of colour made it to the first round of voting, with no elaborate quota system or bureaucratic positive discrimination - it can be done. Organisations such as Momentum, Left Unity and the Labour Representation Committee, the Labour Party itself, have endless rules and regulation to ensure gender equality, the representation of ethnic minorities and the like. That inevitably leads to shoo-ins, charges of tokenism and even uncontested elections. And, of course, it does nothing, not a thing, to advance the actual position of women, ethnic minorities, gay people, etc. But it does help not a few second‑rate careerists up the political ladder.

Finally, whoever is elected, it is more likely than not that there will be a honeymoon period - fresh broom, new chapter, born again and all that. Therefore a high chance of an early general election. Expect opinion polls to go from showing a Labour lead - up to 10% in some cases - to favouring a new prime minister. If that happens, and it might well not, then the chances are they would go for a general election. Maybe as early as October 2022 or more likely the spring of 2023. Labour is planning for May 2023.

Not that we dismiss Sir Keir. He has already succeeded in making the Labour Party a safe second eleven for capitalism and is aiming to rewin the so-called Red Wall seats lost to the Tories by triangulating on Brexit. Having urged, pushed and shoved Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet into favouring a second referendum, he has now done a U-turn. His position on the EU is now barely distinguishable from Theresa May’s soft Brexit circa 2019. Either way, Sir Keir has a real chance of getting into No10 and fulfilling his ambition of becoming Britain’s first former Trotskyist prime minister.

The left’s stupid idea that he was fixated on beating the left and does not really want to beat the Tories was always just that - stupid.