Leadership debates are good. Candidates are motivated to hold each other to account and they know the issues well enough to do so. They aren’t perfect, but in this Tory leadership race, I think they’ve been the best two hours of content you could have consumed. Props to them for turning up.
I have not been impressed with the candidates. If they haven’t got a plan to improve the lives of the worldwide poor, a plan for climate change and a suggestion to break the parliamentary deadlock, I’m not interested. Heck, a plan for just one of those would have been an improvement. I can only think of one possibly new idea — Javid’s Islamophobia instigation. Other than that, silence.
So, if I were a Tory, what would I have said? Let’s start with the world. People are suffering out there. A bold policy would be to seek for UK development money to be spent, not towards things that need to benefit the UK, but towards the causes that will have the most benefit. And this wouldn’t need to be purely altruistic — those countries and individuals would know that’s what we were doing. A more well world is a safer world for us. And the Tories could talk about how they are the party of competence. Secondly, they could offer to run a national charity which would do the same thing — your money spent in the way the UK government thinks is best for individuals. The government can get economies of scale, create and seize new opportunities, it has top people thinking about these issues. Perhaps they could offer to match the first billion pounds given each year?
Next climate change. Were there any new ideas here? Nope, just hand wringing. Not quite as bad as how hastily they all said there wouldn’t be another election (which all polling says they would lose), but still hardly noble. Someone could have said, as is true, that the 2050 deadline ignores the government’s own advice that we shouldn’t use international carbon credits — we shouldn’t be able to pay to “transfer” emissions and say we’ve reduced them. Someone could have put forward an ambitious plan to build nuclear power stations, to implement a carbon tax, to remove the subsidies on North Sea Oil. The UK could have had its own Tory Green Deal, which puts huge amounts of money into the green sector in order to develop technology, create jobs and save the planet.
Finally then, Brexit. We are trapped in an insomniac state, unable to sleep, unable to wake up. We need to acknowledge that the current process isn’t working. In that sense Jon-Hun-Gov-Jav’s magical hand waving and Stewarts “same old, same old” are both bad. One is no solution, one is a failed solution. Stewart is right to say the only door out of the room is with Parliament, but that body has rejected May’s deal three times. We need new ideas.
The failed idea is the need to reduce immigration. There is a desire, sure, but where does it come from? I suggest falling wages and fear. I’ve heard from several directions about how it is mechanisation not immigration which causes such sluggish wage growth. I don’t know, but it is worth your consideration. As for fear, a fear that our culture is being lost, if British culture really is better, it must be in a way that is teachable and shareable to newcomers — if there are geographically located sorts of people who cannot learn about it, how does that differ from racism? I don’t see how you can think our culture is better and that other people cannot learn it, without eventually justifying killing those people to protect what you have.
Brexit has changed. Originally it was all talk of how easy a deal would be, now people are saying that WTO is what they’ve always wanted. So it can change again. To break parliamentary deadlock we need new ideas and I suggest letting go of the hold on immigration will give Parliament the room it needs to vote a deal through. Norway+ might be able to get the agreement of MPs in a way that magical options or failed options will not. What’s more, it could be combined with an ambitious package of retraining/universal basic income/manufacturing subsidies to improve stagnant wages whilst delivering the “sovereignty” that Tory candidates say people voted for.
Theresa May did not fail due to a lack of resilience or gumption or “belief in Britain”. She failed due to a lack of ideas. Longform interviews and debates are a good way of hearing ideas, but what this week has taught me is that these candidates don’t have any.