Facing crises on multiple fronts, inaction is the course of action for Number 10’s current inhabitant. Inflation tops 10 per cent, energy bills are rising beyond £4,000, and the United Kingdom faces its worst drought in decades, yet the prime minister has said any action is for his successor to decide, so let’s get on with it.
On the cusp of being ousted earlier this year, Boris Johnson and his allies argued that, in light of multiple crises, it would be a mistake to change leader. A prime minister needed to be in post and steering the ship—a leadership contest would be a distraction. Now, deep into these crises, the prime minister has seemingly placed himself on gardening leave. The only real policy development is coming from the opposition benches, where—during the summer recess—they are powerless. Liz Truss is almost the guaranteed successor, so let’s cancel the remaining hustings and bring the deadline forwards.
The reason we haven’t done so already, is because Conservative Campaign Headquarters (or CCHQ) determined – quite reasonably – that it should be the members, not the MPs, who decide the next Prime Minister. All candidates were asked to sign a pledge promising that, should they make the final two, they would not drop out and leave the next prime minister selected by default. The party were determined to avoid a repeat of 2016, where Andrea Leadsom’s collapse left Theresa May crowned without any input from the members.
That now looks to be a catastrophic mistake. We are more than a month into the leadership contest, and hustings still have to be organised in Birmingham, Norwich and London. In the middle of a crisis, we are still three weeks away from discovering who the next prime minister is going to be. Except, we already know: it’s going to be Liz Truss.
It is easy to suspect that had he not signed that pledge, Rishi Sunak might already have dropped out. His campaign has been increasingly scrabbling in the dirt for policies that might resonate with Conservative Party members, yet he’s seen little movement in his polling numbers. As much as a third of the members have already voted.
We already know all that we are going to know about these candidates. Throughout the contest so far, they faced off in eight separate hustings around the country, two head-to-head TV debates, and two TV debates before the parliamentary party whittled it down to the final two. Today, they’re still taking part in dozens of events at local associations, online hustings, and newspaper interviews, and there are still three more hustings. With all that voter interaction, it is little surprise that neither candidate has said anything new for weeks.
The argument for continuing the leadership contest, despite having a rudderless nation, is that the party members deserve a say. The candidates must prove their credentials and be fully road-tested; only then can they take over the Conservative Party’s leadership. But the will of the party has been clear for some time. Liz Truss’ lead has fluctuated between 22 points and 38 points. The most recent poll from ConservativeHome gave her a 32-point lead; with almost five weeks of the contest gone, it seems unlikely that Rishi Sunak can close the gap in the remaining three weeks.
That is not to say that the membership should not get a vote, just that a protracted leadership contest is damaging to the United Kingdom at a time of great strife. The United Kingdom needs action on the biggest issues facing families throughout the country. Boris Johnson has made it clear that it is for his successor, not him, to take such action — so let’s, please, just install the next one now.