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The “tactical” Tory with her eyes on No 10

Kemi Badenoch: a message of optimism, not pessimism. Leon Neal/Getty

“Is the Tory party ready for Kemi Badenoch?” asks Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. If Rishi Sunak loses power next year, the chances are his party will boot him out. Yes, he is an “energetic and intelligent” prime minister, but “politics rarely forgives defeat”. And parties tend to reward a challenge from a more extreme wing. But unlike her rivals Priti Patel and Suella Braverman, Badenoch has shown herself to be a “tactical” rather than “strident” conservative. Instead of merely asserting the right-wing position on every issue, she wants it to be debated – and as a trained engineer and lawyer, she has an eye for what actually works.

Rather than backing Braverman’s open hostility to the European Convention on Human Rights, for example, she has made the very sensible argument that it merely “needs updating”, taking a lead from former UK Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption. On climate, she has deftly defended Rishi Sunak’s “backsliding”, pointing out that bankrupting the British economy to reach net zero – which would have a “minuscule” impact on global heating – would be no more than “virtue signalling”. The same goes for refusing to mine British oil and gas but buying it from other countries. Likewise, she casts herself as a “pragmatic” Brexiter: happy defending the UK’s position as trade minister, but not afraid to stand up to the loony hard-liners on the Tory backbenches. Most importantly, Badenoch has made optimism – or at least “not pessimism” – a leitmotif of her public statements. All this is “not unattractive”.