Rather than pander to their base’s worst instincts, Britain’s Tories should go ‘omakase’

Being a politician is a lot like being a chef: skillfully balancing the risk of going in a new culinary direction (at the risk of alienating a loyal clientele) versus offering the same menu items to a public predictably hungry (at the risk of plunging into mass-market irrelevance and culinary bankruptcy).

The ancient Japanese tradition of omakase is the precise antidote to such self-interested continuity. Instead of choosing what you want to eat, you trust the omakase chef, who will delight you with his creativity and know-how.

The kind of creativity and savvy that neither of the British Conservative leadership candidates, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, possess – not because of their lack of political acumen or perceived administrative competence, but because of the structural lack of courage the post-Brexit truth era offers them.

On Monday, Britain’s Conservative Party will announce the results of its vote on who will replace Boris Johnson as leader and prime minister. Party members were offered two choices: the revolutionary zeal of Truss, wrapped around a Reagan veil that appeals strongly to the tax-cutting fundamentalist wing of the party; and Sunak’s speech as a fiscal realist who promises to broaden the Conservatives’ electoral base through a carefully constructed veneer of mean-Joe relatability.

This race for bad-tempered leadership has had no shortage of crises to manage. The lingering war in Ukraine, the escalating cost of living crisis, growing National Health Service backlogs and devastating industrial strikes. But perhaps the menu item that generates the most disagreement is the role of taxation in controlling inflation and ensuring long-term GDP growth.

Instead of addressing these generational issues, the two candidates engage in an awkward and desperate one-upman showdown over who can appear more Thatcherite. Truss and Sunak deploy a portfolio of styles and themes selecting the legacy of the late former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Not because current economic realities demand these policies, but because they find consistent historical appeal among conservative members.

This regression to the “Thatcherite mean” was most evidently demonstrated by Sunak’s reversal of his original promise not to cut taxes until inflation was brought under control. This casual about-face is symptomatic of the ideological rigidity that conservatives have pledged to reject in favor of pragmatic solutions.

In fact, these tactics are a mere continuation of the camp that saw Brexit as a convenient power grab and gradually eroded British constitutional standards along the way – the kind that deployed half-truths to appease a small but powerful conservative minority.

The only person who can ensure the Conservatives’ survival past 2024 is someone who can unite the party and has an unwavering commitment to reality.

This creates the exact context necessary for genuine dissent to thrive. The opposite adheres to a radical form of empiricism. The kind that excessively tests political messages to help strategists decide what will mobilize a subset of an electorate enough to “win.” But it’s a cynical ploy that makes the electorate one that is outright begging to be influenced – and expecting its worst instincts to be tapped.

So who could be such an “omakase politician”? The prototype was Winston Churchill. Warning Parliament of the impending dangers of appeasing Hitler, while calling on citizens to self-sacrifice, Churchill successfully recognized that avoiding difficult realities meant heightening existential risk. By offering Britons nothing but “blood, toil, tears and sweat” in his famous 1940 speech, Churchill instilled in the nation a sense of unyielding unity. This omakase politician understood that the course of normality was worth sacrificing to ensure long-term human flourishing.

Currently, the conservative embodiment of the Omakase philosophy is Tom Tugendhat. Skillfully combining his sense of tact with a daring will to lose, he reflects this truth-seeking personality. His defining Tory heretical moment was when he answered ‘no’ to whether Boris Johnson is an honest person. Too bad he was eliminated early in the race.

So, instead of a chef who hasn’t changed his menu for over 50 years, insisting on ‘but it works’ despite a slowly failing restaurant, an innovative offer designed by a brave person must emerge. A fresh menu that delights, inspires optimism and unites even the most geographically disparate tastes. Let’s see if the Conservatives can get away with it.

Fabio Richter, a UK-based tech entrepreneur, is the founder of Laulau, a platform that tackles senior loneliness and preserves family memories. Twitter: @fabiorichterz

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