Tory leadership hopeful Dominic Raab has said his party should make capitalism “work for the economic little guy” by making consumers “king”, in a thinly-veiled pitch for Theresa May’s job.
With the prime minister’s fate looking uncertain as she faces a potentially record-breaking Commons defeat on her EU withdrawal deal on Tuesday, Raab and potential leadership rival Boris Johnson both raised eyebrows with high-profile public interventions on Monday.
Following a Westminster speech, Raab sidestepped questions about whether he wanted to be leader, saying only “I don’t get drawn into all of that” and insisting it was time to “move on” from last month’s failed coup attempt against May, which he backed.
Meanwhile, in an hour-long phone-in on LBC radio, Johnson admitted he has had second thoughts about pulling out of the race for the Tory leadership in 2016 and suggested he had also backed a no-confidence vote in the PM last month.
“In retrospect if I had my time again I might have done things differently,” the former foreign secretary said.
But it was Raab who appeared to make the more direct pitch to the Tory leadership selectorate, outlining a policy shopping list including tax cuts and measures to tackle “rigged markets” to win over young Labour voters.
Throwing red meat to his party, the ex-Brexit secretary called for a tax cut through raising the national insurance contribution threshold to £11,850, saving someone earning £15,000 a total of £412 a year.
He also called for a harder Brexit deal to make Britain “buccaneering free traders” around the world, which he said would help the small firms that have created 72% of private sector jobs since 2010, even if big businesses want to maintain close ties to the EU.
And despite insisting he was “not in the business of bashing big business”, Raab said Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour had correctly diagnosed the UK’s problem with “crony capitalism”.
But rather than using the “big clunking fist” of state intervention to tackle it, the Tories should boost competition and ensure the “consumer is king”, Raab told the Centre for Policy Studies event.
He said the Tories should model reforms on the approach taken by Which? magazine and the MoneySupermarket website to boost transparency and consumer clout.
This would include making energy giants and mobile phone providers offer a clearer breakdown of the costs of consumer bills to better enable switching, boost transparency and encourage new entrants to the markets.
The competition regulator should also be given the power to issue “Anti-Competitive Behaviour Orders, or ACBOs, against firms ripping off consumers, with large fines for breach”, Raab said.
Meanwhile, the former frontbencher said shareholders should be given powers to sack underperforming bosses and to set executive pay to end “extortionate rewards for executive failure, from RBS boss Fred Goodwin to the former owner of BHS Sir Philip Green”.
He added: “Brexit will bring enormous opportunities that we must grasp.
“And that spirit of renewal must also galvanise us to address our many homegrown challenges around an authentic and credible policy agenda.
“One which never forgets that the central, driving, purpose of the enterprise economy – and capitalism itself – is that it serves the interests of ordinary people far better than any alternative system.
“It does that by standing on the side of small businesses, the shareholder, the worker and the consumer.
“That’s how we can deliver a better Brexit.”
Tory Leadership Runners And Riders
Sajid Javid: The Thatcherite home secretary had been tipped as the frontrunner, but his chances may have been damaged by what was seen as a slow response to the Channel migrant “crisis” and suggestions he referred to himself as “The Sajid” in meetings.
The Rochdale-born son of a Pakistani bus driver nevertheless has an impressive back story, good experience, and is a Eurosceptic who voted Remain.
Boris Johnson: The Vote Leave campaign leader remains a darling of the Tory membership, but his knockabout style and dreadful spell as foreign secretary are not helping him with Tory MPs, whose backing he will need to make it to the final two of a leadership race.
Johnson’s interventions, for which is reportedly paid £275,000 a week at the Telegraph, are becoming less and less newsworthy, but he is likely to still have the desire and cannot be ruled out.
Dominic Raab: Seen as the frontrunner among Leavers, the 44-year-old karate black belt has an impressive CV, which includes helping officials prosecute war criminals in The Hague.
The former Brexit secretary has long been regarded as capable of high office and is friends with arch-Remainer Dominic Grieve, potentially widening his appeal.
But gaffes including failing to understand how heavily the UK relied on the Dover to Calais crossing may work against him.
Jeremy Hunt: The Remain-voting foreign secretary has spent recent months attempting to burnish his Brexiteer credentials in anticipation of a leadership contest, straying too at Tory party conference in October by comparing the EU to the Soviet Union.
As the longest-serving health secretary, he secured £20bn of funding for the NHS, winning respect from moderates, but enraging others who feel the health service gets too much Treasury cash.
Amber Rudd: Back in the cabinet, the work and pensions secretary is already winning praise for reforming the embattled Universal Credit welfare scheme and is seen as an excellent media performer.
Her stark warnings about the dangers of a no-deal Brexit will have delighted Remainers but alienated many Leavers, while her slim 346 majority in Hastings and Rye and closeness to May could work against her.
David Davis: The former former Brexit secretary is seen as a potential caretaker if May is toppled before the UK leaves the EU, so could still get a chance.
But the 70-year-old is unlikely to be among the frontrunners if the party is looking for a longer-term leader further down the line.
Allies say he is ready to serve if people want him.
Michael Gove: Another leader of the Vote Leave campaign, Gove has since alienated Brexiteers by staunchly backing May’s hated Brexit deal.
He is also regarded with strong suspicion after knifing Johnson in the 2016 leadership contest.
Nevertheless, Gove has a strong reputation as a reformer and has made waves with moves as environment secretary to tackle plastic pollution.
Penny Mordaunt: The least experienced of the contenders, but the international development secretary’s Leave credentials could put her ahead of some colleagues.
The daughter of a paratrooper and a special needs teacher, Mordaunt is a naval reservist and has a dual role serving also as women and equalities minister, meaning her appeal could be broad.
But failure to quit the cabinet in protest at May’s deal may spark accusations of betrayal from Brexiteers.