Patel or Sunak?

Who is most likely to carry the populist star forward whenever Johnson departs?

For the last few months the answer to the question “who will eventually succeed Boris Johnson as Tory leader and Prime Minister?” would have been unquestionably Rishi Sunak. All polling data indicates as much, and what with being the most popular politician in the country with admiration from the Tory MPs and the Tory grassroots, he’d be a sure winner for them.

But as Sunak’s star wains ever so slightly, there’s another name worth considering, who would probably best be described as a the more hard line authoritarian populist to Sunak’s Cameroonistic free market dogma. Priti Patel is the conservative option, Sunak is the libertarian option.

The wrangling over the last few days to keep Priti Patel in place, despite being found to have breached Ministerial Code, shows Johnson and the government hold her in very high esteem. The easy thing, as always, would be to get rid of Patel, so she clearly has a power base.

Either way, it is somewhat ironic that the party which has continuously enacted policies harmful to POCs in Britain, is set to provide it with its first ethnic minority Prime Minister sooner rather than later.

The next Tory leader, where things stand right now (and these things could change a lot before this decision is made) will either be Rishi Sunak or Priti Patel.

Sunak will command broad support in the parliamentary party, and attempt to steer it in a more traditional establishment direction. His beliefs on economics are to the right of the British public, and in line with the party establishment. He’s a child of the Cameron Ministry and was a firm supporter of austerity. He’ll want to create One Nation Toryism and ditch the culture wars for good, however, he’s to the left of the party faithful socially, and this could be his downfall.

Patel will excite the grassroots and party faithful; they love her. She’s working class, she’s tough, and to the right of the country by far on economics AND social policy. She is likely to embrace authoritarian populism and a tough on liberals/crime/migrants approach that is in tune with much of the older segments of the British public, but will turn off others. The party MPs will be very wary of her.

Either of these two would be uniquely challenging for Labour in ways Johnson never was, and certainly isn’t now. Both being ethnic minorities will appeal to traditional parts of Labour’s base that share socially conservative views with the Tories, such as the British Indian community, and will rebut any criticism of the Tory (awful) race record. At the same time, these two will be able to create very compelling offerings politically, which will be tough to fight in different ways.

Who would be the strongest against Keir Starmer? Too soon to tell, and we may never know.