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We started with so many candidates they could scratch an amateur football team together (albeit without a captain, strikers or much of a defence), the Tories have created more confusion than clarity in their quest for leader.
Naturally, given the hard-right populist takeover of the party in recent years, they are all pitching for that end of the political market. But it has also been difficult to see where the dividing lines are on policy.
We need much more definition and a few litmus tests. So here are 10 questions for the two remaining potential leaders.
1. What is your economic policy?
Boris Johnson may soon be gone, but “cakeism” lives on in the Conservative Party. The nearest thing it’s got to a political credo these days is to tell itself, its supporters and the voters that they can have it all.
Indeed, to a greater or lesser extent, and with differences only in emphasis and detail, the candidates all promise tax cuts, they all promise to control borrowing and inflation, and they are all shy about spending cuts.
The cakeian get-out clause is that tax cuts promote enterprise and investment, and thus faster economic growth, less borrowing and more funds for public services. If so, you may wonder why this lot have supported governments doing the opposite for 12 years and more – especially the three chancellors/former chancellors in this contest (Sajid Javid, Rishi Sunak and Nadhim Zahawi).
To be entrusted with the fragile British economy they need to be pressed as follows:
How would you fund tax cuts while you wait for the growth bonus?
Will you defend the current operational independence of the Bank of England, and maintain the current inflation target of 2 per cent? (Kemi Badenoch’s remark about keeping a closer eye on the Bank was ominous)
Will you restore and retain the triple lock on pension increases beyond the next election?
How will you cap energy bills?
How will you cut the yawning trade deficit?
Is the housing crisis soluble?
Can we afford to support people in care?
2. How will you make Brexit work?
We’re all leavers now, even Keir Starmer, so there’s no point in relitigating that, except that the government is still renegotiating the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement and unilateral rejection of the Northern Ireland protocol. This risks retaliation from the EU, up to and including a trade war. There are are also questions about those elusive “Brexit opportunities”. The contenders need therefore to be asked:
Do you support the NI Protocol Bill being enacted and in full, no matter what the EU does in response?
What do you do if Sinn Fein boycotts the NI executive as a result?
How would you win a trade war with the EU, our biggest market and source of supply?
Do you support the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, including clauses on a level playing field on environmental standards, workers’ rights, competition policy, subsidy control, state-owned enterprises and climate change? If so where do the Brexit opportunities arise?
3. How will you achieve net zero?
Despite the pioneering work by Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, lots of Tories still doubt climate change exists, or think net zero is unrealistic. Therefore:
Are you committed to retaining the legal commitment to net zero in the Climate Change Act, or to reviewing it?
Will domestic gas boilers in new homes still be banned from 2025 and replacement gas boilers from 2035?
Will new non-hybrid petrol and diesel cars be banned from 2030?
Are you in favour of fracking?
4. Do you believe in human rights as defined by the European Convention?
Not as silly as it sounds. Suella Braverman was the only candidate honest enough to have taken the implications of the Rwanda refugee deportation plan and other government policies to their logical conclusion, and concluded that they are indeed incompatible with membership of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The question, therefore, is: are you in favour of staying in the ECHR and abiding by the judgments of its courts as binding on the UK?
5. What is your personal moral compass?
It’s not a gotcha. People are interested in this and rightly so, given the power and influence of the position. We’d like to know of our future leader:
Are you a person of faith, or committed to a belief system, and why?
What is your personal view of equal rights for trans people? How would you resolve practical issues in prisons, public loos, refuges and in sport?
Is there structural racism in Britain?
Are British children being “indoctrinated” in schools, and how?
Would you bring back fox hunting?
Do you have a personal view on abortion?
Are you in favour of legalising cannabis and have you ever taken drugs?
Is divorce too easy or too difficult?
6. Does our politics need cleaning up?
Obvious question, obvious answer, but some things follow on:
Will you appoint a new adviser on ministerial conduct with the power to initiate investigations including about you as PM? When?
Will you publish the full tax arrangements concerning you and your family, including offshore and other trusts, private investment vehicles, non-dom status and so on?
Should any minister or ex-minister who knowingly misleads parliament (except on grounds of grave national security) be expelled from parliament?
7. What’s your style of government?
Prime ministers often turn megalomaniac when they’ve been in power a while, and some even before then. People like strong leadership, but despise corruption. Therefore:
Would you strengthen cabinet government? How?
How would you change the culture in Downing Street and Westminster?
Is the civil service a help or hindrance?
Would you serve under any of your fellow leadership candidates?
8. Do you believe in the union?
Again, an obvious question, but the Scottish (as well as the Irish) question is becoming critical. Given that:
How will you reduce the visible support for independence in Scotland? More devolution?
Is it sustainable to just keep saying “no” to a referendum?
What should an England-Scotland border look like?
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9. What is the future of culture in Britain?
A bit amorphous, but two immediate issues loom:
Will you review the privatisation of Channel 4?
Will you review the abolition of the BBC licence fee?
10. How best should Global Britain play its leadership role?
Ripe for waffle, but there are some specifics:
Are we committed to supporting Ukraine unconditionally, no matter what the cost?
Even if you’re obviously against rejoining the EU/customs union/single market are you open to a warmer, closer collaboration via the “European Community” idea suggested by President Macron?
Do you think relations with China could ever be strong enough to support a free trade deal?
Are you committed to increasing defence spending on the current trajectory, or decreasing it?
Are you open to re-establishing a dedicated Overseas Development department and returning to the 0.7 per cent of GDP target for aid, and if so by when?
There’s a lot to get through there, but I’d have thought the next couple of months would be time enough to get a better idea of what our next premier will be like. Providing they’re telling the truth, of course.