Dhe Swallowfield Show is one of the highlights of rural life in Berkshire. There’s an obstacle race for the best-trained dogs, bands and children’s carousels, but the focus is on the Royal Horticultural Society’s tent, which meticulously awards the best apples, turnips and flowers here every year. The people of Swallowfield, Wokingham and the surrounding area value predictability and want things to change as little as possible, which is why they have traditionally voted for the Conservative Party. But Stuart Munro, who has long represented the Tories locally, did not show up for the show this year. “It’s not like it used to be,” he says dejectedly.
The change can be seen at a small yellow booth opposite the bouncy castle, where the local Liberal Democrats are handing out leaflets. The region is now in their hands. To the surprise of many, the Libdems won the local elections for Wokingham Council in May, then colluded with the Labor Party and, after 18 years, sent the Tories into opposition. The local chastisement of Conservatives, which took place elsewhere, was one of the many nails that ended up sealing Boris Johnson’s political coffin. Two months after the devastating local elections, which were followed by an unprecedented wave of resignations in the cabinet, the prime minister announced his resignation. Since then, the Tories in Wokingham have had to deal with the question of who they want as their successor.
Questionable tax return
The selection of the best candidate is less transparent than the awarding of the heaviest pumpkin or the longest bean. The “Royal Horticultural Society” judges according to incorruptible criteria. In some disciplines it only awarded second place to the winner, even though there was no competitor. The reason given was that the criteria for first place were simply not met. The election of the next head of government is far removed from such objective standards. Munro has some trouble explaining what yardsticks his fellow party members use to decide in favor of one or the other. He himself voted for Liz Truss, the secretary of state, “because she is smarter than many think” – but also because he senses trouble in Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. First he had to justify his wife’s questionable tax return, then for her penthouse with a gym in California. “It’s like Johnson: one thing after another comes to light and we don’t want it to happen again.”
On the national stage of the campaign, Truss and Sunak try to differentiate themselves politically, but in the counties where the elections take place, this does not always work. Munro never mentions tax policy, which has been declared a key distinguishing feature by the country’s leading media. Truss promises quick tax breaks, while Sunak warns against stimulating demand in the inflation phase; he doesn’t want to lower taxes until next year at the earliest.
Truss is considered the favorite
The nature of the election and the electorate provoked some debate in the country about how democratic it actually is when a small group of perhaps 170,000 party members – the Tories have not given exact figures – are allowed to choose a head of government for more than 66 million Britons. It is acknowledged at grassroots level that the membership, many male and of retirement age, is unrepresentative of British society. The party headquarters counters that the nation did not elect a prime minister in December 2019, but gave the Conservative Party a government mandate. So the party must also decide on the successor when a prime minister resigns.
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