In August Liberal Democrat Voice ran an article where I suggested that the Tory leadership campaign was looking like a presidential election — with a tiny, and unrepresentative electorate. That tips power further from Parliament to No.10 and pretends that the new leader has an entirely false legitimacy.
News of these donations takes this to a whole new level.
Of course, a leadership campaign costs money. A large number of small donations from Tory members would have been an early indication of support. But the actual donations are large, mostly in excess of £5,000, and the largest being £100,000. That looks like a small number of people having a large influence. Have we just seen a Prime Minister chosen by the 172,437 members of the Conservative party, or by the handful who put up the money?
Is Liz Truss’ perception of “the national interest” shaped by the perspectives of those who funded her campaign? Or did some wealthy backers find someone who could be bent to their interests?
The Guardian article is worth reading in full. Among its observations is that one donor gave similar donations to Rishi Sunak and Penny Morduant, which I hear as gaining influence over whoever was elected. It’s hard to track from donations to policy, but one donor also supports a think tank that supports the denial of climate change, and King Charles has withdrawn from plans to attend COP27 on the “advice of Liz Truss”. The article also says the expenditure limit was £300,000.
Maybe recent polls will cause the Tories to do a handbrake turn, ditching Truss and finding someone more suitable. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll be living with the stench of big money bending the government to its interests, and the reality of a government that seems deaf to the harm they are doing. The hope is that people will vote them out in the next General Election. But how many will have been so ground down by the struggle to survive, and the sense that they’ve been ignored, that they simply don’t vote?
Passing the votes for a party leader to the party’s members seems democratic. It’s something we in the Liberal Democrats also do. But shouldn’t the choice of Prime Minister be made by MPs (or at least, the governing party’s MPs), acting in the best interests of all of their constituents?
Would Labour have chosen Jeremy Corbyn if their MPs too had chosen someone on behalf of all the people they represent? That matters because it’s possible to argue that, in 2019, many people voted Tory out of fear of Labour under Corbyn — so their hard left inadvertently saddled us with a dysfunctional Tory government.
As Liberal Democrats we are some way from our leader being likely to become Prime Minister, but we too need to think about this.
For now, the funding of her campaign for leader adds to the long lists of reasons to be sceptical about Liz Truss — who’s been in office for barely a month.