How a leadership change could affect Britain’s Conservative Party | Politics News

Outgoing British leader Boris Johnson is seen by his critics as having pushed his Conservative Party further to the right of the political spectrum.

With Johnson’s resignation as party leader, observers are wondering whether the Tories will continue the trend or shift their direction to a more liberal stance.

“Any discussion of the ideological position of the Conservatives must be preceded by the idea that there are at least two dimensions that matter – the conventional economic dimension of higher taxes/bigger government vs. lower taxes/a smaller government; and the second cultural dimension which some people call open vs closed, others call cosmopolitan vs nativist, and still others describe it as socially liberal vs socially conservative,” said Nicholas Allen, Professor of Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London, at Al Jazeera.

“The Tories are right as they have been for many decades on the first dimension – although Boris Johnson’s rhetoric of ‘race to the top’ implies a potentially bigger role for government in infrastructure development” , did he declare.

Tory benches listen as Labor leader Keir Starmer (R) speaks [File: Jessica Taylor /UK Parliament/AFP]

The Conservatives also hold a distinctly right-wing stance on the secondary dimension, though that stance is partly a legacy of Brexit and the party’s outright rejection of EU membership, according to Allen.

In the end, and compared to the Republican Party in the United States for example, the Conservative Party remained mostly moderate, even under Johnson.

“It is important to note that the party is not particularly conservative by American standards. He may be more skeptical of some progressive ideas about race and gender, but the party is generally pro-choice and supports same-sex marriage. Many if not most Conservative MPs would likely be viewed as liberal by Republicans in the United States,” Allen said.

Leadership candidates

As well as Brexit, the three remaining prime minister contenders are squabbling over the prospect of tax breaks, dealing with illegal immigrants and positioning in the trans rights dispute.

Among them are former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, considered the favourite, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Trade Policy Minister Penny Mordaunt, who face a final ballot in the parliamentary group on Wednesday.

UK Foreign Secretary and Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss speaks at her campaign launch event, London
British Foreign Secretary and Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss speaks at her campaign launch event in London [File: Toby Melville/Reuters]

The 200,000 members of the Conservative Party will decide in a run-off election over the next few weeks who will succeed Johnson. The process is expected to be completed on September 5.

However, with the stakes rising, the tone between the contestants has also changed.

The party right sees Truss as the candidate most likely to defend Brexit in its pure and rigid form. However, this in turn means that the other contestants will have to outbid Truss.

“There will be postures, as we have seen, in the leadership contest where candidates try to be more ‘right’ than others. This is natural given that ultimately the emerging leader has to win over Conservative Party members and not the general public,” said Harshan Kumarasingham, senior lecturer in British politics at the University of Edinburgh, at Al Jazeera.

“The Socialist Agenda”

Indeed, Sunak and Truss had strongly criticized each other during a televised debate on Sunday evening. The acrimony of the altercation would even have raised concerns within the party.

Sunak even accused Truss of having a “socialist agenda,” which reminded various observers of an American debate, where personal attacks and hostile campaigns against an opponent are the norm.

Mordaunt’s recent statement testifies to this when she repeated a lie from 2016 that the UK had to leave the EU because Turkey was about to join the bloc and if not, Turkish guest workers were threatening to flood Britain.

In reality, however, Turkey never came close to becoming a member.

Mordaunt
Mordaunt arrives for a meeting to discuss the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak [File: Simon Dawson/Reuters]

But Mordaunt also came under attack from her opponents, who accused her of pandering to the far left – a tactic Mordaunt called a smear campaign.

Whether this more aggressive strategy can succeed remains to be seen. After all, the role of a prime minister is very different from that of a president.

“Vote loser”

“The UK system is a parliamentary system with multiple parties involved, unlike the US presidential system where the Democratic and Republican parties are effectively institutionalized in their system and government,” Kumarasingham said.

“There is less concentration of formal power and attention on the British Prime Minister, who has to be more careful to gain the support of cabinet, parliament and the country in order to retain power. always a wide range of opinions, including on the right, a Prime Minister must try to gain the support of all parties to push his program through Parliament,” he added.

Moreover, despite all the saber blows, analysts do not believe that the Conservatives will follow the path taken by their American counterpart.

“Radicalization would be a vote loser, and the party lacks the institutional arrangements (primaries, personalized elections), insights, and numbers that have helped drive the GOP to the limits of reason (and beyond). The core issues that drive Republicans in the US — race, guns, Jesus, abortion — don’t drive conservatives in the UK,” Allen said.

“To the extent that the party moved to the right, it was Brexit that did, not Johnson’s relatively liberal worldview,” he added.

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