Last week, Boris Johnson finally packed his bags. Or, at least, he started to. The Tory PM – who is credited with ‘getting Brexit done’, and broadly having made a decent fist of COVID and the UK response to the war in Ukraine – was eventually beset with scandals, as well as a growing loss of confidence in his leadership. What eventually did for him was a deluge of resignations led by his Chancellor and Health Secretary. At the time of writing, eight candidates are now in the running to replace Johnson as party leader and, by default, Prime Minister: Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman, Jeremy Hunt, Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak, Tom Tugendhat, Liz Truss and Nadhim Zahawi.
As Simon Caldwell recently wrote, Tom Tugendhat is the only Catholic in the race. For UK Catholics then, already a diverse bunch, who should they back? It should be stated that social questions which remain live discussions in the US are considered to have been largely settled in the UK, and western Europe. This may be considered evidence of cohesion or cowering depending on your viewpoint. Put simply, in the UK it would be political suicide for a candidate to come out today against same-sex marriage.
We know the “Tory right” is represented by the likes of Badenoch, Braverman, and to some extent, Truss. Trans rights are a big issue for many voters, meanwhile. Badenoch has made a particular splash because of her stance on ‘woke’ issues. She allegedly questioned same-sex marriage, and called trans women “men” in an audio recording obtained by VICE World News. While designed to provoke outrage, it delighted many conservatives. Meanwhile, Braverman – when Attorney General – said teachers should not pander to trans pupils. She said schools do not have to accommodate children who want to change gender and are under no legal obligation to address children by a new pronoun or allow them to wear the school uniform of a different gender. She reiterated that girls’ lavatories and changing rooms have special legal protections as safe spaces.
Meanwhile, two years ago, as Equalities Minister, Truss said there were “no plans” to change access to transgender peoples’ healthcare although she has been fairly quiet on the subject of trans issues overall. Zahawi meanwhile has said trans issues should not be taught to children without their parents knowing. Sunak, who has tended to focus on finance, recently waded into the trans debate, as he vowed to protect women’s rights from gender-neutral language. Like Truss, he appears to have been generally wary of wading into culture war territory too much. Speaking on Sky News, Tugendhat has said he wants to move on from the debate while Mordau nt clarified her position recently, telling LBC: “I’ve never supported self ID. There are some people that socially transition, but what we were looking at what was the Gender Recognition Act, and it’s a process that people go through.”
Again, it was worth being clear that the UK feels it has largely settled many social questions. It is also worth remembering that the ‘Tory right’ is about Brexit and tax as much as about abortion and same-sex marriage (in reality, far more so). That said, it is estimated that around 9 per cent of the UK population is Catholic, and numbers have been boosted by immigration, especially of Filipinos, Nigerians, Poles and South Asians – all groups that tend towards conservative values. In other words, new groups have not merely boosted the Church’s numbers in the UK but likely made it more conservative.
Tory MPs will whittle it down to the final two and then put it to the members, who tend to be older and more conservative than the general public. At the time of writing, it looks as though Sunak will face off against Mordaunt or Truss. To what extent the choice of Tory MPs and members will resonate in the wider country – a country becoming increasingly more secular, liberal and diverse – is very much up for debate. But, based on the data available, UK Catholics who care deeply about right to life issues may not get the candidate they want, unless of course they prioritise trans issues above all else.
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