The Conservatives have one chance for recovery

The only chance the Conservatives have of early recovery is if they consciously abandon the discredited Johnsonian era, reject anyone associated with him, and opt instead for someone from a new, untainted generation.

The final choice lies in the hands of the small band of “True Blue” party members, so this looks unlikely. – Owl

Opinion by Peter Mandelson inews.co.uk

The Tories have only themselves to blame for the damage they have inflicted both on themselves and the country

Whoever succeeds Boris Johnson as prime minister, it is impossible to imagine that they will be as bad, a narcissist who sees every issue through the lens of his own personality, whose only abiding question is how it makes him look, a politician who lives for the next story to tell rather than detailed policy to formulate. Britain has never been as ill-served by its chief minister as we have been by Johnson.

In 2019, as the race to succeed Theresa May got underway, I was at a function and fell into conversation with the chair of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee who said there were no circumstances in which Tory MPs would have Johnson as their leader because “they all know what he’s like”.

A month later he was duly elected despite his party knowing what he was like. The Conservatives have only themselves to blame for the damage they have inflicted both on themselves and the country.

Brexit was never going to bring the benefits for Britain its advocates claimed, but the narrow, confrontational, ideological, short-termist way in which it has been implemented by Johnson and his cohorts is going to do acute, lasting harm to our economy and future living standards.

I say nobody could be a worse prime minister because our quality of government and the whole of our politics have reached their nadir under Johnson. Ask any civil servant how professionally degraded they feel through proximity to him. The absence of any deep, objective thinking about the challenges facing Britain and of consistent, rational policy making and commitment have meant we have lurched from one makeshift, hand to mouth spasm of prime ministerial interest, to the next.

Although the crisis was not of his making, Johnson was lucky the Ukraine invasion came along: it enabled him to distract attention from all his other failures and to seek phone calls and meetings with President Volodymyr Zelensky every time he felt the need to burnish his leadership credentials.

Yes, it may be difficult to imagine that Suella (“I owe it to the country to run”) Braverman and Steve (“People are imploring me to stand”) Baker would be an improvement on the last three years, but they would not dare show the same wholesale indifference to rules and standards in public life that Johnson has demonstrated.

Surely Liz Truss and her myopic approach to trade and foreign policy, as she takes a wrecking ball to Britain’s economic relations with both of the vast markets of both Europe and China, could not fail to be some improvement, however limited.

But none of these are the answer to the Tories’ needs. The only chance the Conservatives have of early recovery is if they consciously abandon the discredited Johnsonian era, reject anyone associated with him, and opt instead for someone from a new, untainted generation. Tom Tugendhat or Tobias Ellwood come to mind but there are probably other men and women whose faces and names are not familiar to me or the general public who could engineer the necessary separation of the Tory party from its immediate past.

A new, fresh face and mind would then have to construct a programme for government which equips the nation’s priority objectives with practical, lasting plans to achieve them, for example in decarbonisation, economic and productivity growth and transformation of public services. These policies should not pander to ideological extremes but instead aim to generate the widest possible consensus so as to enable policies to survive a change of government.

Good policies depend on durability and lasting impact. A general election will take place in the not too distant future and key elements of policy should be built on rather than scrapped. We cannot afford tabula rasa policymaking, a wiping clean of the policy canvass as one administration takes over from another in Whitehall. The UK’s economy and businesses, as well as public services, need continuity for growth and improvement, not constantly shifting ground and decision-making.

There is little doubt what the public wants to see at the heart of a new programme of government. Manifest integrity and honesty in how Britain’s government and institutions are run. Fairness in the distribution of both tax burdens and spending benefits as well as the prevailing rules of immigration and welfare. Realisation of the economic opportunities offered by Britain’s world class science and technology base in which so many decades of investment has taken place.

Keir Starmer is rightly arguing that it is the Conservative Party not its leader which is incapable of bringing the change Britain needs. Starmer will continue to build the case for change with Labour as he has already started to do. The way Labour is viewed by the public is light years away from how it was judged in 2019. The party is electorally competitive again.

But if the Conservatives want to restore their own electability they will have to start with a very different leader from the one we are saying goodbye to now.