There are no prizes for working out why Sajid Javid has just become the latest senior Conservative to endorse Liz Truss in the party leadership contest against Rishi Sunak. Mr Javid is backing Ms Truss because he thinks she is going to win. He wants his slice of the ministerial action if she does. He has therefore put his earlier alliance with Mr Sunak against Boris Johnson’s leadership aside. It is as simple as that.
By doing this, the former health secretary and chancellor has joined the list of prominent Tories who have decided which way the wind is blowing and backed Ms Truss, even though they do not particularly share her politics. Besides Mr Javid, that list now includes the trade minister Penny Mordaunt and the one nation Tory Tom Tugendhat, both of whom are relative moderates who ran for the leadership, as well as Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, whom many wanted to run and who still tops internal polls of ministerial popularity. All of them, it is clear, are hoping for good jobs in a Truss cabinet.
Being ready to work with people with whom one does not always agree is one of the preconditions of political life on all sides. But Mr Javid and the others need to ask themselves what they are getting into. The Conservative party to which Ms Truss appeals, and of which a majority at the moment looks likely to choose her as the country’s next leader, sees the world very differently and has very different priorities from several of those who have now jumped on the Truss bandwagon.
A YouGov poll of Conservative members this week showed 67% who think the government is already spending enough on the National Health Service, 60% who want the next prime minister to delay Britain’s commitment to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and 75% who support deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda. The same poll also found that 53% of Tory members do not think Mr Johnson should have been forced to resign anyway, with a majority still seeing him as a better leader than either Ms Truss or Mr Sunak.
If we also take account of the previously recorded popularity among Tory members for early tax cuts as a faith-based solution to Britain’s economic woes, and the large and enduring majority for Brexit, it all adds up to a very right-of-centre party, with a very right-of-centre agenda that is about to elect a very right-of-centre leader. It is also consistent in its views. The party that elected Mr Johnson by around two-to-one over Jeremy Hunt in 2019 appears on course to back Ms Truss by a similar margin.
One of the crucial tests of Ms Truss, if she becomes leader, will be whether she governs for that grassroots base and that worldview. If she does, the writing is now clearly on the wall for what this will mean. Unlike Mr Johnson, who managed to leverage his popularity in the party to embrace a cakeist policy of, for example, NHS spending and tax cuts financed by further borrowing, Ms Truss has shown little or no sign of unorthodoxy. With a general election looming, moreover, she is likely to play to her strengths with the membership.
There will not be much room for alternative thinking from some of those who have now given her their backing. Good luck to them in their wish for cabinet posts. But their presence around the table is unlikely to change the reality, which was also the reality of the Johnson cabinet over the past three years – of a government chosen more for its ideological loyalty than for its ability. It is a path that Ms Truss will not alter even if she wishes to. Theirs is a party soaked in various forms of denialism about the problems facing Britain, the solutions that are required and the country’s place in the world. This will not be the new start that the Tory party needed.
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