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Kemi Badenoch Plays To The Tory Right With Social Justice Attack In Leadership Launch

Kemi Badenoch vowed to be "honest" with the public about tough economic choices

3 min read

Conservative leadership hopeful Kemi Badenoch has said her party has "lost its confidence" and vowed to "discard the priorities" of Twitter as she launched her bid to become the next Prime Minister in Westminster on Tuesday.

Speaking at the launch event, the former junior minister took aim at the government for having "caved to every campaigner with a moving message" as she attempted to win the support of her Tory colleagues.

Badenoch, who was elected as the MP for Saffron Walden in 2017, announced her leadership bid last week following her decision to step down as a minister in Boris Johnson's government.

She aimed criticism at the current government, and said MPs needed to be "honest" with voters about the tough choices that would need to be made to tackle inflation and the cost of living. 

"For too long politicians have been telling us that we can have it all ... and we need to start being honest about that," she said. 

"Unlike others, I am not going to promise you things without a plan to deliver them."

But she backed away from talking about specific economic plans, saying she refused to get into a "bidding war" with other candidates about how "my tax cut is bigger than yours".

Speaking after the event, one MP on her campaign team told PoliticsHome they were very confident they would secure the backing of 20 MPs by Tuesday evening to allow her to advance to the next stage of the contest.

The event courted hot-button culture war topics, with gender neutral toilets re-labelled with makeshift "men" and "ladies" signs. In her pitch to colleagues, Badenoch took aim at the "Ben and Jerry tendency" of companies, referring to the ice cream giant's habit of aligning itself with social causes. 

"We have been in the grip of an underlying economic, social, cultural and intellectual malaise," she continued.

"The right has lost its confidence and its courage. Our ability to defend the free market as the fairest way of helping people prosper has been undermined. It has been undermined by a willingness to embrace protectionism, for special interest.

"It's been undermined by retreating in the face of the Ben and Jerry's tendency to say a business's main priority is social justice, not productivity and profits. And it's been undermined by the actions of crony capitalists to collude with big bureaucracy to break the system in favour of incumbency against entrepreneurs."

Ben and Jerry's, which is owned by corporate giant Unilever, saw a peak revenue of around £380 million in 2021. 

Badenoch promised to "discard the priorities of Twitter and focus on the people's priorities". 

"When we can't deliver passports and driving licences on time, why are we spending millions on people whose jobs literally didn't exist a decades ago like staff wellbeing coordinators in the public sector," she continued. 

"What about the well being of actual public, you can't go on holiday because we can't process a piece of paper in time."

Speaking to PoliticsHome, Conservative MP Andrew Lewer backed Badenoch's stance on social justice, saying there was a "lot of frustration with some of the people who are in those industries rather than the concept of social justice itself".

He added: "Obviously, at the moment the campaign is being directed towards Conservative members and Conservative MPs, where there is more interest in those issues.

"But I think although there was a section in the speech about that, you did hear a lot about the systems and structures of government which have been spread too far and too thin."

Asked about whether she could overcome the wave of support for the frontrunners, he said: "I've been a great supporter from the minute she said she wanted to do this. And every campaign says they have momentum and its going brilliant, sometimes, literally, in the hours before the candidate pulls out.

"I genuinely think this is a different phenomenon...This does feel likes it's going somewhere."

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