Harrington: Nickie was right to want a clean start

Two Cities MP backs Rishi Sunak

Friday, 22nd July

Nickie Aiken and Tom Tugendhat

Nickie Aiken with her first choice Tom Tugendhat earlier in the contest

HARRINGTON worries that Tom Tugendhat spent part of this week in a darkened room being demobbed from the Conservative party’s leadership contest.

Perhaps there were drills to remind him that, as proud as he may be of his time in Afghanistan, that he doesn’t need to respond to every question, whatever the subject, with: “I’m ready to serve”.

Considered by some to be the ‘nice Tory’ candidate among a crowd of people insisting that benefit claimants just needed to get a job – oh Suella, they already are in work and still have to claim! – Mr Tugendhat had enjoyed loyal support from Two Cities MP Nickie Aiken.

After the local election meltdown in May, which saw their party lose control of Westminster City Council, her constituency has been marked down as a possible battleground territory at the next general election.

This, btw, explains why a queue of Labour hopefuls has formed for the candidacy in an area where there was once little interest for coming a distant second to Ms Aiken’s predecessor Mark Field – he, the former parliamentary mentor of Liz Truss.

The feeling among some (but not all) of the Westminster Tories who fear these council losses will one day transfer into an unthinkable parliamentary defeat, is that in a London constituency like this, the party needs a louder One Nation voice, rather than the old “Nasty Party” rhetoric.

Ms Aiken has certainly walked that line in her time as an MP, avoiding hard edges, and so perhaps it was no surprise to see her pushing Mr Tugendhat as her favourite candidate and his “clean start” offer.

Right in the mix, last week she tweeted a photo of herself joining him at Channel 4’s leadership debate and she dutifully alerted social media every time he got a round of applause for an answer, probably about his readiness to serve.

By Monday, however, it was all over for Team Tom.

Rishi Sunak can now count on Ms Aiken’s support. Photo: HM treasury

His longshot dream of taking over from Boris Johnson had not garnered enough support from Conservative MPs and he was eliminated in one of the endless rounds of voting.

There were so many rounds of voting in fact that you could be forgiven for thinking it was being done via a premium phone line to raise money for the Conservative party’s coffers.

“Alas it was not meant to be,” said Ms Aiken as Mr Tugendhat failed to get enough votes. “Upwards and onwards. A clean start is just beginning.”

But what is a clean start here?

As readers will now know, the final two for the top job are Ms Truss – who benefited from the right wing press’s organised and fairly naked attacks on her shortlist rival Penny Mordaunt – and Rishi Sunak, the millionaire former chancellor who once clarified on a TV documentary that he does not have any friends that are working class.

Harrington suggests in all seriousness that Ms Aiken herself would make a better candidate than either of them.

The contenders may not have been boorish, rude or absent at the wrong times like Mr Johnson; Mr Sunak was in fact present at the wrong time, and lest we forget also got a fine for breaking Covid lockdown rules.

But for so long they both stood next to and behind a man now being touted for a place in the history books as one of Britain’s worst ever prime ministers. They never called out his bad behaviour, or the offence he caused.

Not until at least Mr Sunak had his leadership campaign video nicely edited and ready to roll, and he could finally resign over a scandal… that was similar to several other scandals he hadn’t resigned over before.

Almost to the very last, Ms Truss and Mr Sunak were defenders, apologists, enablers – and it is typical of our politics that this is all Tory members have been left to choose from.

Ms Aiken had to pick one or the other too and yesterday revealed that she will be supporting Mr Sunak.

“He is hardworking, decent and competent,” she said, announcing her endorsement.

‘Competent’ Mr Sunak, then, has her vote.

All of this is being watched with popcorn by Labour. One of their councillors, Patrick Lilley, tweeted a suggestion that Ms Aiken could actually end up being “deselected for not supporting Liz.”

It’s certainly giddy times when the Labour Party feels it can joke about deselections and internal strife.

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