Why the Tories should make Kemi Badenoch the next Prime Minister
IDEALLY, electability should be all about policy and not optics, but let’s face it, we don’t live in such a world. When party members chose their leaders, very few scrutinise the candidates’ manifestos, and instead vote for the person who ‘feels’ right – in other words, the person who is going to get their party into power.
When looking at the front runners to replace Boris Johnson, what is immediately apparent is that none of them feels quite right, and they all lack the necessary star quality to see off Labour at the next general election.
Certainly, there are plenty of more-or-less competent candidates, but the likes of Zawahi, Sunak, Truss, Javid, Hunt, Mordaunt, and Wallace all somehow feel like yesterday’s men and women. None of them are exciting, and certainly none of them are great performers or feel like winners. No matter how much you despise Johnson, he was certainly a performer, and was a master at winning elections.
What the Tories need to find is an exhilarating candidate, one who feels fresh, has star quality, and has the right optics. To do that, the party needs to skip a generation, and should select Kemi Badenoch, who has been MP for Saffron Walden since 2017.
Quite simply – and cynically, perhaps – because the optics are good. Nothing says ‘we’re more modern than you’, than to field a relatively young black female candidate against the paleness, staleness, and maleness of the Labour leader. She’s also a good performer, and would do well both at PMQs and on the campaign trail.
But of course, the Tories are not just electing a party leader and campaigner, they are also choosing the next Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury, and the most common complaint about Badenoch is that she’s not ready, she’s too young, too inexperienced, she should wait her turn, etc, etc.
This is just sexism.
Badenoch is 42 and has been in Government for three years. That is three years more experience in Government than Tony Blair had when he became prime minister at the age of 43. That is also three years more experience than David Cameron had when he too became prime minister at 43.
Besides, the world now has a lot of female prime ministers who started in the job relatively young – Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand was 37, Iceland’s Katrin Jakobsdottir was 41, Estonia’s Kaja Kallas was 43, Finland’s Sanna Marin was 34, and Serbia’s Ana Brnabić was 41.
If Britain can have male prime ministers in their early forties with zero governmental experience, why can’t it have a female premier of the same age, and who has experience to boot? Other countries seem to manage it.
Of course, none of this is to mention Badenoch’s positions on issues such as tax, education, welfare, and the war in Ukraine. It also does not take into account any mistakes she has made. Yes, one could produce a list of all the candidates and their policy positions and goofs, but I doubt perusing such a grid would make much difference to how either Conservative party members – or indeed the country – would vote. Ultimately, it’s all about performance and optics – and Badenoch has got them a-plenty.
One big question remains: Is she a leader? I think so. She certainly comes across as tough. And don’t forget, this is a contest in which the likes of Truss and Zawahi have chucked their hats into the ring.
I can’t imagine anything more fitting than the image of the Queen shaking the hand of the daughter of Nigerian immigrants as her fifteenth prime minister, at (perhaps) the end of a long list that started with an Old Harrovian aristocrat. Nothing would encapsulate more the changes in the British society in our own Elizabethan age. I know that’s just optics, but they’re important.
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