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Sensemaker: What do Tories want?

Sensemaker: What do Tories want?

What just happened

Long stories short

  • US president Joe Biden is “doing great” after testing positive for Covid.
  • The European Central Bank raised interest rates for the first time in 11 years to tackle inflation.
  • India is reintroducing cheetahs to the country in time for independence day celebrations.

What do Tories want?

A member of the Conservative party told Sensemaker this week that they would back Rishi Sunak for the leadership, adding that the former chancellor had flaws, but offered the best chance of beating Labour in a general election.

That view is in the minority. A YouGov poll among members puts Sunak’s rival, Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, squarely ahead by 62 per cent to 38 per cent, although her lead shrinks if the “don’t knows” are included. Sunak is also trusted less by members.

It is the Conservative party members, representing 0.3 per cent of the population, who have the final say in selecting Britain’s next prime minister. Unsurprisingly, they are not representative of the wider electorate: they tend to be older, richer, whiter and male. A 2018 study from Queen Mary University of London found that even compared with members of other parties, whose activists also skew older and middle class, Tories were twice as likely to identify with Saga, an insurance and holiday company focused on the over-50s.

By the numbers:

  • 160,000-175,000: Estimate of current party membership – the Conservative party does not release figures regularly and is cagey about them. A spokesperson said 160,000 people were eligible to vote in the last leadership election and “there will be more this time”.
  • 76 per cent: The proportion of Conservative members who voted to leave the European Union.
  • 56 per cent: Tory members are concentrated in London and the south of England.

So Truss and Sunak are performing on a very big stage to a very small audience. What will be the key arguments?

  • Economy: This is the biggest policy difference between the candidates, with Sunak insisting that the only way to fix the cost of living crisis is to control inflation, while Truss is willing to borrow to fund member-friendly tax cuts that she says will ignite growth. 
  • Brexit: Sunak backed Brexit from the start; Truss was a Remainer but has now positioned herself as an ardent Brexiteer.
  • Thatcher: Both take different lessons from the Thatcher era: Truss champions individual freedoms and has adopted the former prime minister’s sartorial style. Sunak pitches himself as the Thatcherite who will balance the books.
  • Winning: A separate YouGov tally found the single most important factor for members in deciding a candidate was “being able to win the next general election” (chosen by 56 per cent).

This last point should give Sunak an edge over time as the wider public seem to prefer him to Truss: Opinium found 44 per cent think he would make a good prime minister compared with 30 per cent for the foreign secretary.

But the former chancellor is on the clock. Ballot papers are posted out the first week in August and members tend to vote promptly. So he hasn’t got six weeks and 12 nationwide hustings to win over Tory members who blame him for Boris Johnson’s fall from power – he has about a fortnight. If Truss is still ahead in member polling by then, observers predict she will be Britain’s next prime minister.

Many people are questioning the bigger issue of putting so much power in the hands of so few in the first place. Bronwen Maddox from the Institute for Government says leadership selection should be left to MPs: “They are at least elected by the whole country. It would provide a more defensible process than the one now under way.” 

Tortoise’s Democracy in Britain poll shows a third of respondents think Britain is undemocratic. This race isn’t doing much to change that perception as 99.7 per cent of people wait to have their say – the latest possible date for the next general election is January 2025.


CAPITAL ECONOMY, BUSINESS AND FINANCE

Draghi resigns
Italians will go to the polls on 25 September after Prime Minister Mario Draghi resigned (again, this time accepted by the president) after losing the support of his coalition partners. Draghi, who will stay on in a caretaker role, stepped down after three parties in his coalition sat out a vote of no confidence in his government. A group of conservative parties, led by the far-right Brothers of Italy, looks likely to win a majority at the ballot, according to opinion polls, which would put Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Brothers of Italy, in line for the top job in the eurozone’s third largest economy. 


TECHNOLOGY AI, SCIENCE AND NEW THINGS

Tesla sells bitcoin
Elon Musk’s Tesla has dumped 75 per cent of its Bitcoin for $936 million (£782 million), a year after hailing the digital currency’s “long-term potential”. The electric car company announced the sale in its second quarter earnings report, saying it converted the Bitcoin holding, which has seen a 50 per cent fall in value this year, into traditional currency. Musk said in an earnings call that the move “should not be taken as some verdict on Bitcoin”, and was more about a need for cash – but the company has moved a long way since last year, when it briefly accepted Bitcoin as payment for its cars.


The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Bridging the gender health gap
The UK will introduce compulsory women’s health education in medical schools and wider access to contraception and IVF under the government’s first women’s health strategy. The 127-page strategy says that “historically, the health and care system has been designed by men, for men”. This will come as no surprise to campaigner Caroline Criado Perez, who has released a Tortoise podcast exploring the gender data gap and the impact it has on everyday life. The new government strategy was informed by consultations with nearly 100,000 women and includes other wide-reaching interventions such as greater support for victims of sexual violence and improved data collection on reproductive health.


Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Monarch butterflies
For a few days each year at Peninsula Point in Upper Michigan, you can see clouds of brilliant orange monarch butterflies roosting in the cedar trees, a rest-stop for the insects as they ready themselves to journey south for the winter. In late summer, the butterflies migrate up to 2,500 miles from the US and Canada to the forests of central Mexico. To catch a glimpse of a colony on their travels is a true marvel, but it’s a sight that’s becoming increasingly rare. The population of monarch butterflies in the US and Mexico has declined by up to 75 per cent in the past decade. In a report released earlier this week, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature designated monarchs as an endangered species. Climate change, herbicide use and deforestation have all contributed to the steep decline in their numbers.


CULTURE soCIETY, IDENTITY AND BELONGING

Ukraine war
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has announced new British military support for Ukraine, including scores of artillery guns, hundreds of drones and anti-tank weapons, as well as counter-battery radar systems. The next phase of military support will also include air defence systems, uncrewed aerial vehicles and innovative electronic warfare equipment. At the moment, the UK is in 3rd place after the US and Poland in terms of international military support – with a pretty small difference between committed and delivered weapons (in contrast with the US and Germany). Last week, the House of Representatives passed a $840 billion defence policy bill including $100 million to train Ukrainian military pilots on American F-15 and F-16 aircraft.

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what you think. Email: sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Jessica Winch
@jswinch

Additional reporting by Sebastian Hervas-Jones, Asha Mior, Ella Hill and Nina Kuryata

Photographs Getty Images


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