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UK politics

What are the Tories for?

Riding high: Boris Johnson in the 2019 election campaign

There’s a lot of talk about who’ll eventually replace Boris Johnson, says Vernon Bogdanor in the FT, but the more important question is how his successor will govern. Because at the moment, it’s anyone’s guess. Johnson himself is “a product of post-2008 politics”. The financial crisis precipitated a resurgence of nationalism and populism across Europe – “the politics of ideas came to be replaced by the politics of identity”. In Britain, that manifested itself in Brexit, which helped propel Johnson to power. But now that we’ve left the EU, the Tories are split down the middle on what comes next.

The “Brexit cheerleaders” – Jacob Rees-Mogg and chums – champion Thatcherite principles. Freed from the stranglehold of EU regulation, they envision a free-trade hub and tax haven, dubbed “Singapore on Thames”. On the other side are the Tory spendthrifts. Their answer is “more spending and larger subsidies”: the Chancellor has doled out double what Gordon Brown did in 2008, and government spending is likely, for the first time, to top £1trn. Forget Jeremy Corbyn’s “magic money tree”: Rishi Sunak has “discovered a magic money forest”. So in which direction will the party – and thus the country – swing? Who knows. Johnson’s own “lack of philosophical underpinning” has made him perfect to paper over these deepening ideological divisions. But when he goes, the Tories will have to answer the question they’ve “dodged since Thatcher’s demise”: what type of party are they to be?