Tom Tugendhat is an attractive candidate. A Catholic veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, he is French-speaking thanks to his Gallic mother and of Austrian Jewish descent on the side of his father, an Ampleforth-educated High Court judge. Cosmopolitanism tempered by experience of the British establishment is an appealing Catholic mixture, but Tugendhat has too often veered into the neoconservative foreign policy that got us into a lot of bother in the first place – and which devastated the Middle East’s native Christian communities. He is strong on China but can’t avoid giving off the hint that he might walk us headlong into a third world war.
Penny Mordaunt likewise relies on her militaristic image for much of her support. The Catholic-educated daughter of a paratrooper and named after the cruiser HMS Penelope, Mordaunt is a naval reservist herself. She has Cabinet experience from her time as International Development Secretary and was the UK’s first female Defence Secretary. Mordaunt has tried to downplay her woke side, but as Minister for Women & Equalities she vociferously resisted a Lords-led attempt to change the wording of a proposed bill from including the charged term “birthing person” in place of “pregnant woman”.
Liz Truss was head of the university Lib Dems at Oxford and is believed to be a republican at heart. Having spoken at the Lib Dem conference in 1994, she joined the Conservative two years later. Dropped into a safe Tory seat thanks to David Cameron’s “A-List” she entered Parliament in 2010 and after service as a junior minister rose to be Environment Secretary and then the first female Lord Chancellor (though not a lawyer) before Boris appointed her to head the Department for International Trade.
Despite her liberalism, Truss has proved a canny player of the field – for example recommending her department withdraw from Stonewall’s “diversity scheme” that saw sexual activists training civil servants, but citing the excuse that it was poor value for money for the taxpayer. Catholics can welcome her refusal to sign the dotted line of sexual extremism and her courage in opposing it on liberal principles. Her critics wonder if she’s been over-promoted already but she has attracted support from Catholic bigwigs like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Therese Coffey.
Nadhim Zahawi was something of a big dog in waiting, allegedly being groomed for an eventual leadership bid by Mark Fullbrook, one of election guru Lynton Crosby’s partners. His sterling record as vaccine deployment minister put him in good stead, leading to his cabinet role as Education Secretary and now suddenly Chancellor of the Exchequer. His record on life issues is one of the poorest, though, and in Education he has done nothing to end the effective ban on the opening of new Catholic schools (a lingering and damaging remnant of the Lib Dems’ days in coalition).
Rishi Sunak is the front-runner with a solid base of support amongst his colleagues on the green benches – somewhat surprising given the revelations not too long ago about his American “Green Card”. But a week is a long time in politics, and Rishi’s cheery disposition (does that man ever frown?) seems to win him friends. His politics are boilerplate-liberal and the worst you can say about him is that he’s a number-cruncher without much vision. He’d make a decent Governor of California – and who knows, maybe someday – but it’s difficult to see what he could bring to Downing Street.
Jeremy Hunt made it into the final two in the last leadership election as a social-conservative Remainer against Boris’s push to get Britain out of the EU. Despite his commitment to enact the result of the referendum, party members doubted he had what it took to get the job done. His support for pro-life positions will win him Catholic support, or at least respect.
Suella Braverman is the favourite of the hardcore Brexiteers. She has a nerdy charm and has been also strongly outspoken in defending the biological definition of men and women. Her economics might be a bit too liberal for Catholics, however, and she could do with a bit more of a social focus.
Kemi Badenoch has won the support of Catholic backers like Eddie Hughes MP (the homelessness minister) and Marco Longhi MP, China hawk Neil O’Brien MP, former Centre for Social Justice policy director Alex Burghart MP, and another CSJ alum Lee Rowley MP. She worked at McDonald’s while doing her A-Levels and might be the most anti-woke of the current crop of candidates.
Her humble origins could prove an asset in connecting with Red Wall voters in a way multi-millionaires like Sunak or Zahawi might find more difficult, and as a black female Tory MP her mere existence riles the Left. But Badenoch, Hunt, and Braverman, are all fishing for votes from the same constituency of MPs, and their continued division could end up handing the leadership to the metropolitan liberal wing of the party that seemed lifeless until recently. One thing is certain: Kemi is the Conservative candidate Labour fears most.
Sajid Javid, Rishi’s predecessor as Chancellor, exuded the vibe of a safe pair of hands, but having failed to garner enough support he’s already pulled out. So has Rehman Chishti, formerly Boris’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief who attended the canonisation of St John Henry Newman in 2019; Grant Shapps, the unremarkable Transport Secretary, has withdrawn as well. It’s difficult to know where their supporters will go, or who the undeclared MPs will back, but time will tell.
Andrew Cusack is chairman of Catholics in the Conservative Party.
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