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UK politics

What’s missing from this Tory contest

Badenoch: the real deal? Jonathan Hordle/ITV/Getty

The “confetti of promises” being strewn around by the two Tory leadership candidates is missing one thing, says Melanie Phillips in The Times: conservatism. Rishi Sunak gives little sign of caring about anything beyond economics, “limply flapping his wrist in the direction of the NHS” or Channel migrants. Liz Truss has cooked up the “utterly impractical gimmick” of automatic Oxbridge interviews for every student with three A*s at A-level, and wants to criminalise catcalling, exactly the kind of “state micro-interference” she supposedly abhors.

In truth, the Tories haven’t understood what conservatism is for decades. Rather than defend the “core values of Western civilisation”, they have “insisted on viewing everything through the prism of economics and individual freedom”. The tragedy is that there was a leadership candidate “who did indeed represent conservatism”: Kemi Badenoch. The former equalities minister has robustly denounced the “zero-sum game” of identity politics and “white privilege”; emphasised the need to “stand up for our shared institutions, for free speech, due process and the rule of law”; and insisted on the need for lower immigration levels to reduce pressure on public services. Badenoch “would have smashed it” at the next general election – she would have stood for all the things the red wallers thought Boris Johnson was going to deliver but didn’t. But, not for the first time, the Tory party has shot itself where its brain “should supposedly be”.