The safe candidate and the reckless one. A counterintuitive choice. Strong and stable is all very well if the situation needs stability but nor if it needs to be overthrown. That is what a reactive, democratically moderated system is for. Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak? Stay in the safe, coastal waters or plunge into the wild ocean? I know what Boris would do, or what he would have done once, before the weight of responsibility bore him down.
The sensible choice surely is the responsible one – but then Theresa May was the sensible choice after David Cameron fled the scene. She was an experienced minister, and the only Home Secretary in living memory not to go power-crazed. We found though that calm, sense and moderation were the very worst qualities in the circumstances – the civil service handed her the white flag of surrender and instructed her to wave it, which she did. Another few months of respectability would have been disastrous.
What it needed was reckless bravado. It needed unbridled confidence that would steamroller opposition, and it needed joy – that is what Boris gave us. He achieved a route out of Europe and a trade deal which every commentator said was impossible, and swelling economic confidence when we had been promised failure – until the lockdown, which put the whole world into collapse.
Once again my hand hovers over the paper. The sensible choice, the responsible one, urges the dull establishment, is Rishi Sunak. I am impressed by the speeches of Rishi Sunak – but that is the young Rishi, the backbencher who spoke with firm analysis and enthusiasm of how ridiculous, how counterproductive it is to raise tax levels, who proved that no more money comes in and it harms enterprise. This was the Rishi appointed with acclaim to the Treasury. Now the young Rishi is lost, and he is now seen as Mr Tax. Oh, if he could but summon his younger self to rebuke him.
Then there is Mary O’Leary, Liz Truss, the untrusted one with wild ideas that sound good to the Tory faithful but which reason says surely cannot come to anything but grief. The scoffing from the columnists of the old guard is audible. And yet, while Rishi Sunak was drinking in Treasury orthodoxy, turning his back on his old self and raising taxes, Liz Truss was actually achieving wonders across the world with those trade deals they said could never be done. Those who said it was impossible then are those same men and women who are now attacking her.
I do not know either candidate. I have never met either of them. I do not trust promises that sound too good, but then I can hardly object when one candidate says she will do just what I have yelled (at anyone who will listen) should be done. Slicing taxes at once will allow personal pockets to recover, reduce business costs, and allow profit to reappear. It may too give a kick to unhappier foreign lands that they should do the same: their prosperity is needed for us to prosper. All the same, ripping a chunk out of the revenues coming into the Treasury is surely dangerous? Not according to a keen backbencher a few years ago – one Rishi Sunak. If accompanied by ripping a slice out of state expenditure, that will help too.
(Is it still too late to get Boris back? At least the old, pre-lockdown Boris?)
Of course, it could all go horribly wrong. It need not, if the Wild One keeps their nerve and takes the right countermeasures to the problems which it is known will arise, like the fall in tax revenue and pressure to increase already crushing borrowing, and the special pleading of inveterate tax-drinkers.
Sometimes the dangerous option is the safest – as Boris was, until he became captured by respectability.
- The Borisiad
- Rishi Sunak’s budget speech
- Moderate candidates:
- Tax shot through the foot
- By Boris Johnson:
- The Borisaurus: The Dictionary of Boris Johnson by Simon Walter
- By David Cameron:
- The Free Ports Opportunity: How Brexit Could Boost Trade, Manufacturing and the North by Rishi Sunak
- The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity by Douglas Murray
- Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay (1841)
- 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B Peterson