Jul 13, 2022 - World

U.K.'s Conservative leader contenders pitch themselves as next Margaret Thatcher

The top candidates to replace U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson are competing to position themselves as the true heir to an earlier Conservative standard-bearer: Margaret Thatcher.

Driving the news: Six candidates survived the first ballot of Conservative members of Parliament on Wednesday, led by former finance minister Rishi Sunak (88 votes), trade minister Penny Mordaunt (67 votes) and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (50 votes).

  • A succession of votes among MPs in the coming days will whittle the field down to two.

What they're saying: After Johnson's chaotic and big-spending tenure, all the leading candidates are promising less chaos and more conservatism — and invoking Thatcher's memory to make their case.

  • Sunak argues that the U.K. must get its fiscal house in order before cutting taxes, an approach he describes as "common sense Thatcherism." He compared his upbringing and outlook to the Iron Lady's in an interview with the Telegraph.
  • But Truss — who constantly evokes Thatcher in her rhetoric and once portrayed her in a school play — says she'd slash taxes "from day one." Her allies say that's what Thatcher would do.
  • Mordaunt also evoked Thatcher on Wednesday, saying she first knew she wanted to serve her country when she saw the then-prime minister send ships to war in the Falklands. A smiling Thatcher also features in her launch video.

Between the lines: Thatcher's record of shrinking the state and battling the trade unions remains deeply polarizing in the U.K., but she's revered by the Conservative base — and they're the ones who will pick the next prime minister.

  • Once the field is narrowed to two, the broader party membership will have their say.
  • It's hardly new for a would-be prime minister to tie themselves to a former leader. After all, Johnson once hoped to be the next Winston Churchill.
  • Thatcher might have empathized with Johnson's plight. Lionized as she is today on the right, her own party threw her overboard in 1990.

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