If the Conservative party has learnt anything over the last couple of weeks – then it is guarding that knowledge closely.
The Party has taken a huge gamble by ousting its most effective electoral asset, and both in and outside of Westminster there is little debate as to why this had to happen. With Boris as Prime Minister, Number 10 had become a random PR disaster generator, with consequences stretching to all levels of the Party.
Though Boris might have preferred to focus on the achievements of his Government – and, indeed, if he had been able to do so a second term may have been within easy reach – such perennial detractions made this impossible. Boris had to go.
If the Conservative Party is to win a record fifth consecutive Election, it must conclusively address the reasons for this recent regicide. It must reset its public image, and it must do so by choosing Rishi. Only he will bring competence, professional honesty, and a tenure that reduces the airtime politics gets in the lives of the general public.
The polls make grim reading for him, however. Among Party members, he is seen as less trustworthy, and less likely to make a good Prime Minister, than Liz Truss. Among the public, he is seen as more out-of-touch, less compassionate, and less principled than his opponents within and without the Party.
Rishi hasn’t been helped by revelations surrounding his wife’s tax status, which saw his usually slick PR operation breached with ease. His family fortune makes him a target for the anti-aspiration Left, and his perceived betrayal of Boris has left a sour taste in the mouths of many Party members.
Anyone who follows these matters closely will recognise that, on personalities alone, the polls do not represent the facts.
Truss has had an easy job as Trade Secretary, which offered ample opportunity for conspicuous photo ops with various world partners. This boosted Brexit credentials that were severely lacking after she campaigned for Remain.
Changes of heart characterise her political career, and it’s clear that her greatest asset is an ability to align her own course with the winds of political change, whichever way they may blow. Her recent interview with The Spectator saw her claim that she abandoned the Lib Dems because she had erroneously believed them to be the party of “freedom and low taxes”. More likely she realised they were the party of electoral irrelevance.
Similarly with Brexit, she backed the side most likely, it seemed, to win the day. Now she considers herself a Brexiteer, and labels her position in 2016 as a “reluctant Remainer”.
Combining past oversights with a well-documented penchant for leaking, it is clear that Truss does not represent the trustworthiness and principle that Party members believe she possesses.
Suggestions that a Truss cabinet would include the likes of Dorries and Rees-Mogg, as well as Boris loyalists like Cleverly and Kwarteng, do not hint at good premiership. Such names mark Truss out as the Boris continuity candidate. Ms Truss even refused to rule out a position for Boris himself last night. MPs, and, if the polls are to be believed, the country, demand something else.
Rishi, meanwhile, is a steadier of the ship. A good housekeeper, if you will. He and his department developed the furlough scheme almost overnight. They have reluctantly had to fund the country through the pandemic.
He has found himself Chancellor of the United Kingdom at the most challenging of times. As Chancellor he has served a Prime Minister known for lavish spending. We should not begrudge his attempts to maintain the public finances through an unprecedented pandemic and economically debilitating foreign war.
The membership may not like to admit that injecting a bit of sense into economic policy is what the political moment demands, but they should realise that prudence is inherently more ideologically conservative than blind tax cuts which rely on spurious hopes of growth.
Accusations of “socialist” may be thrown all over the debating podiums in the next few weeks, but Rishi’s background as a successful hedge fund manager should be enough in itself to convince the membership of an inherent desire to make the UK a post-Brexit beacon of investment.
Truss has thrown a cholesterol-overload banquet of red meat to the Party membership. But the time is not for undeliverable and divisive promises, and continued policial chaos. The time is for competency and sense.
If the Tories are to emerge from a cost of living crisis in a way that leaves the country richer, and not just the Party membership, then it can only be Rishi that does it.