How damaging was the Conservative leadership race to the party? | Conservative management
It’s not uncommon for an election to be described as “the dirtiest ever,” but the current Conservative leadership race has been so turbulent that, for once, the description may be true.
When Tory MP Greg Hands claimed in an interview with Times Radio on Sunday that “a great deal of restraint” had been shown by both campaigns, the presenter, former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, could not conceal her disbelief. . It was more “blood and thunder and gouging out eyes,” she replied.
Davidson’s assessment of the nature of the contest is more widely shared in the party than Hands’, and as he heads towards his end, there are fears that blue-on-blue attacks could cause lasting damage to the Tories’ reputation.
There is certainly an unusual level of animosity between the Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak camps. The two candidates reportedly only spoke to each other twice during the campaign, exchanging brief pleasantries. And instead of just bitterly attacking each other in substantive briefings, both sides have issued official statements implying that their opponent’s policies are so flawed that, in fact, they are unfit to govern.
It culminated last week when Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and Sunak supporter, wrote an article saying Truss’ policies would be “election suicide” because they would not protect people from rising prices.
For Labour, all the bashing has been a godsend, and the party is now spending a “substantial part” of its digital budget on online advertising exploiting what the Tories have said.
A party source said: ‘We now have a fantastic bank of digital clips and quotes which we will be using in our campaigns over the coming months, and what we say can now be based on the words: ‘Don’t believe us on word for it, just listen to what they say about themselves.
David Davis, who was the runner-up in the 2005 Conservative leadership race, said he would like to see the winner try to bridge the gap by appointing his opponents to the cabinet.
“One of the great guides for every new prime minister should be Team of Rivals, on the cabinet of Abraham Lincoln, which included all his rivals and was one of the great cabinets in American history,” Davis said. “We need to do this both to get the top talent, but also to bring the party together.”
Davis accepted a post in the shadow cabinet after David Cameron became Tory leader in 2005. But this time around a ‘Team of Rivals’ approach looks less likely, particularly if Truss wins, as polls suggest .
Some of Truss’ allies report that Raab is now certain to be fired if she wins, with one claiming he acted like “a suicide bomber”. Others in the camp, while reluctant to put it quite like it, ask how it would be possible for Raab to continue to serve under a prime minister whose economic philosophy he had so completely flouted.
Interestingly, Truss’ team believe the same calculations will make it very difficult for Sunak to serve in his administration. Sunak accused Truss of “fairytale” economics. “If you have that opinion, it’s hard to see why you would want to serve on the team,” a Truss source said.
Voters are known to dislike split parties, but some Tories are skeptical whether Labor-edited highlights of the Tories’ election campaign will be such a winner after all.
“There are no swing voters on social media,” said a Tory MP. “Labour will advertise to people who either believe in them or hate them.”
There is as yet no evidence in the polls that the conduct of the contest has further damaged the Tories’ reputation. On July 7, when Boris Johnson quit, according to the Politico ‘Poll of Polls’, Labor had an average lead over the Tories of 10 points.
That has now narrowed to a five-point Labor lead. The contest may have been unedifying, but Johnson’s resignation removed the main factor pushing back some voters.
As the exchange of insults draws attention, a party figure says that in six months no one will remember what Raab said about Truss, and that the real problem was the “politics of Dutch auction” which had led to implausible promises. This would prove to be the contest’s most damaging legacy, he predicted.