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Badenoch, Braverman, Potayto, Potahto

The "Evil Plot" to replace Sunak with Badenoch won't win Tories the election - but so far, the roster of candidates for next Tory leader does suggest Starmer will face continuous far-right backlash, no matter how carefully he governs. He might as well go the whole nine yards. 

February 02 2024, 14.30pm

The commentators said: surely, the Tories can’t possibly impose yet another unelected leader on the country, just months before voters unleash their pent-up rage in a general election. The Tories said, hold our bubbly. We have the works: a Whatsapp group named the Evil Plotters. Big party beasts, from former cabinet ministers like Michael Gove to nationally renowned secretive operators like Dougie Smith. And a candidate - Kemi Badenoch - who is going around saying she couldn’t possibly associate herself with an plot (despite being in the Whatsapp group), swearing fierce loyalty to the boss and saying she wouldn’t dream of standing; all in the finest traditions of Yes, Minister. 

Saying something is more laughable than evil has been tricky since at least 2016, when Vote Leave proved you could be both. Still, we’ll go out on a limb here and say the plot does not stack up as an election strategy. Badenoch is being offered up as Suella-lite; even Tory backbenchers seem to realise the folly of pitting a cartoonish villain against Keir Starmer, perceived as "neutral good" incarnate. Badenoch, we are told, is cautious and moderate. She is “hated” by ERG, the crack den of xenophobic Euroscepticism, for going “soft” on retained EU law. This, apparently, makes her “inoculated by the Left.” And Matthew D’Ancona took to the Evening Standard this week to praise her “careful ideological positioning as the voice of the so-called ‘soft Right’,” demonstrated by her ability to strike a “careful balance between headline-grabbing performance and tactical caution.” 

But even a cursory review of Badenoch’s track record suggests the “careful positioning” describes less her political standpoint than her distance from a microphone; a few paces away, offering Braverman a chance to crash and burn before swooping in to rally the same anti-woke constituency. In her role as equalities minister back in 2021, she was caught mocking LGBTQ+ rights, questioning same-sex marriage, and calling trans women “men” in a leaked audio recording. Three of her LGBTQ+ advisers quit over her failure to ban conversion therapy, with one accusing her of giving “the most appalling speech” in the House of Commons and last year’s Tory Party Conference, Badenoch claimed that Britain is the “best place to be Black”, 24 hours after an elderly Black man was stabbed in the neck in Bristol in what police called a hate crime. There’s very little evidence her position on any of this has changed. 

As for the notion the Left won’t attack Badenoch because the ERG hates her too, trust us: it’s ok. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can heartily reject both the European Research Group and Kemi Badenoch - and Sunak, Truss, Johnson, May and Cameron, for that matter. We’re this much of a broad church, on our side of the aisle. The Tories have appointed so many prime ministers without consulting the electorate they seem to forget voters also have alternatives outside the Conservative party. But we remember. 

So is all this just a flash in the pan - just another episode of incessant Tory backbiting? Not entirely. It seems unlikely Badenoch, Braverman or Sunak will claw back another term in the upcoming election. But it’s very telling that so far the only alternatives to Sunak - himself a right-wing a prime minister as any we have had - are Ms. Extreme Right and Ms. Extreme Right With Better Impulse Control. This gives us a flavour of the opposition a Labour government will be facing, no matter how cautiously it governs. Let’s hope Starmer realises this and will instead govern with gusto, making full use of his projected majority - without wasting time or diluting policy in pursuit of bipartisanship with the next incarnation of the Tory party. The positioning of Barverman and Badenoch in the wings suggests there won’t be any.