How the establishment takes down outsiders


I have to say that my first reaction to the discovery that Penny Mordaunt is not after all going to be on the ballot for Conservative party leader was profound disappointment.

Perhaps I should not have worried about it – I’m not a member of the party, so I have no vote: it is a little surprising since I have no say in who should be the next prime minister.

It feels like the election of a US president – someone who will affect my life, where I have no way of influencing the result.

Nor am I saying this because her campaign manager was George Freeman, the founder of half of the august thinktank I am now writing for.

As a charity, we are not allowed to take sides in any party political election, so I was unable to say this before now. I can do so now. For a number of reasons, I felt that she could have connected across the various factions, and not just the divisions in her own party either.

Perhaps I was influenced in this by her looks – I have only met her once – but I felt she had a depth of wisdom and interesting ideas. Her problem may have been that she has been something of an outsider.

We have to remember how quickly the establishment united against another outsider during the 2010 general election, when it seemed for a moment that Nick Clegg could win power on his own account.

Within a day or so, the agents of establishment power – the employees of the Telegraph and Mail – had fanned out across the nation, gathering dirt and tittle-tattle. I know, for example, that everyone who was at university with him was interviewed (my step-brother, for example, didn’t even know him but was just happened to be in the same college at the same time).

Something similar seems to have happened with Penny Mordaunt once it was clear that an outsider who thinks for herself stood a chance of taking power.

Stlll, I comfort myself that I will not have any uncomfortable challenges to my current political affiliation.

Also, whether the Tory party chooses Sunak or Truss – both versions of establishment opinion about the economy (though Liz Truss’s economics revealed on the Today programme this morning shows signs of wear and tear) – is really neither here nor there.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. Conall Boyle says

    For the last week the pages of my wife’s Daily Mail were replete with Morduant smears. They really feared somebody like her would become PM.

  2. Stephen Gwynne says

    I too felt profound disappointment for all the same reasons you give and I do have a chance to vote.

    I personally wouldn’t say the Telegraph and the Mail are the only Conservative Establishment newspapers. The Express for example gave her substantial support whilst the Liberal Left broad sheets similarly smeared her as either ‘vacant’ or ‘lazy’.

    The reason is simple. Income equalisation (egalitarianism) is strongly resisted by both the upper and middle classes whether on the Left or the Right so the Establishment as a whole was more than happy to allow the libertarian Conservative newspapers to lead on this attack on Red Toryism (a version of radical centrism).

    With spectacular duplicity, the contest between Sunak and Truss is now being characterised (gaslighted) as a contest between continuity and reform and the opportunity to change the economic consensus.

    The reality is that this contest is about neoliberal orthodoxy versus neoliberal orthodoxy and has absolutely nothing to do with changing the economic consensus.

    The Right has now well and truly disappeared into the same doublespeak sink hole as the Left.

  3. JayCee says

    I agree that vested interests may have briefed negatively to promote their preferred candidate. That is increasingly the manner of contests in all spheres of our confrontational society.
    I wish to take the author to task over his disappointment that he is unable to participate in the process. This has always been the case. We live in a Parliamentary Democracy structured around the grouping of Members into formal parties. The leaders of these parties have always been elected by a restricted group of participants under rules set by the party. The general population has never elected the Party Leaders. This is not part of our Democratic Process. This would be a move to a directly-elected Prime Minister and a formal separation between the Leader and the Parties.
    The author obviously prefers a Presidential style democracy along the style of the US or France.
    I, for one, am far more comfortable with our parliamentary democracy with a peripheral but respected head of state. These exist in Republics and I think of our close neighbours Ireland and Germany in this context so it is not a Monarchy/Republic debate.
    There was no public vote when Brown replaced Blair. In fact, there wasn’t even a party vote! But we did we a massive outcry from mainstream commentators? No, because they were content with the outcome.
    It is important we recognise that the issues RADIX is addressing needs to garner support from all political parties. Localism and devolution of political and economic management should not be a party issue. It is, however, an issue that is going to challenge the established governing structures who will resist change with all the power they have.

  4. JayCee says

    On another point.
    I would no longer classify the Telegraph and Mail as agents of establishment power.
    Today political establishment power is more likely to be associated with the Guardian or Independent and have a left of centre hew.
    The Telegraph and Mail represent a threat to the Establishment with their vocal support of Brexit and, until recently, Boris Johnson.
    The tables are definitely turned as the product of the New Labour era dominate tertiary education, media, public service, the law and the professions.

    • David Boyle says

      i think you are probably right about the need for parties to choose their own leaders – I think I only implied that i wished I could have a say in an important election, rather than actually advocating a change. But don’t think you are correct that the power of the establishment only comes from the left these days. There certainly is an irritatingly boneheaded approach to ‘right thinking’ from the left at the moment, but the real power and the dirty tricks seem to me to emerge mainly from the right. Don’t you think?

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