It needs to be stressed just how remarkable this Conservative leadership race really is. A party that is routinely accused of being racist and sexist has almost completely obliterated the pale, stale, male from contention.

Tom Tugendhat, the token white man, is likely to be dumped tomorrow making it a clean sweep for diversity.

The frontrunner, Rishi Sunak, should become Britain’s first BAME prime minister. The next most likely to succeed, either Liz Truss or Penny Mordaunt, would become the Conservative Party’s third female leader.

Labour has not had a woman, a black, or an Asian leader in its entire history. Even the rising star award goes to Kemi Badenoch. Twenty, even 10 years ago, this leadership election would have looked very different. In 2005, the line-up at this stage was Kenneth Clarke, Liam Fox, David Davies and David Cameron – straight, white men.

This culture change has happened because Boris Johnson made a point of promoting women and non-white people into his Cabinet. But it is also because Britain itself has changed – and the Conservative Party couldn’t help but reflect that.

This fractious and rather toxic leadership contest also confirmed, for anyone who doubted, that women can be just as ambitious and harsh about their rivals as men.

It also shows that being black doesn’t mean you are left wing. This is frustrating to many anti-racist activists who think that non-white people should be naturally woke. BAME Tories are sometimes called “coconuts” – black outside, white inside. Just don’t say that to Kemi.

Economic nostalgia

HOWEVER, while all this diversity is to be welcomed, the Tory party’s current economic nostalgia is not. All the candidates have pitched their tents on a Thatcherite or neo-Thatcherite platform of low taxes, small state and spending restraint. This applies even to Rishi Sunak, though he is careful to stress that this free market nirvana cannot be achieved overnight.

They are, we are told, seeking to appeal to Conservative members who are assumed to be hard right on tax and spending even if they have become liberal on social issues. But I’m not entirely sure this is correct. Certainly, Tory MPs in Parliament, especially on the Brexit right, fell out with their erstwhile champion, Boris Johnson, over his big spending programmes. They were appalled at taxes being raised to heights last seen in 1950. They believe that public debt, which Boris increased spectacularly, is morally wrong because it loads the burden of paying it on future generations.

However, it is yet to be established that ordinary party members want an axe taken to public services like the NHS, which is what the recent National Insurance rises are for. It is pretty certain the wider electorate does not. The party mainly wants a clean sweep after the chaos of the Johnson years. That is why many have been tempted, according to internal polls, to back the relatively unknown, and by her colleagues unloved, Penny Mordaunt.

Clean Penny

THE Trade Minister’s main qualification seems to be that she hasn’t been seen much with Boris Johnson. That seems a pretty risky way to assess a potential prime minister. Ms Mordaunt has come from nowhere for a reason. She is known as “Penny Dormant” by many of her colleagues, not just Lord Frost, who said she was so lazy he had to fire her when he was Brexit Secretary.

In Friday’s debate, Mordaunt was at sea over the economy and her equivocation over women’s rights was damaging. She told viewers that men and women cannot change sex. But as Kemi Badenoch pointed out, Mordaunt is on record as supporting self-ID and reciting the Stonewall mantra that “transwomen are women; transmen are men” which affirms that they can. Trans is an odd issue to foreground and Mordaunt’s inability to make a coherent case either way betrayed her inexperience and, frankly, her dishonesty.

Liz Truss is the accepted champion of the Brexit right, even though she opposed Brexit and used to be a Liberal Democrat. The Foreign Secretary is brittle, has an awkward delivery and never seems comfortable in her skin. In the TV debate she sounded robotic and strangely detached. If Mordaunt now collapses, Truss will benefit but satirists are already licking their pens.

On any objective measure, Rishi Sunak should win this contest hands down. He is the most fluent and engaging speaker. Being compared to Tony Blair is not a bad thing – he won three General Elections, remember. The former Chancellor is the only candidate who seems to know what he’s talking about on tax and the economy.

Rishi’s highly rated

HE has a solid track record in Government too. Mr Sunak’s handling of furlough was assured and he is rightly praised for the £1,200 help-for-heating grants to poor families. He also has Dominic Cummings on his side, which means he is unlikely to be targeted by The Dom’s inexhaustible supply of kompromat.

Mr Sunak’s wealth has been overplayed by critics. Voters don’t disown pop stars or footballers because they make a lot of money, so long as they pay their taxes. Many people, especially in the BAME community, rather respect boys who “done good”.

He is being cast by rivals as a “tax and spend” Chancellor, almost a socialist, which is odd because he is an ideological Brexiter and a fiscal conservative, who supports low taxation on principle.

However, he has no time for the “fairy tale” of unfunded tax cuts, which he knows is fatal to economic credibility. Too many Tory MPs have made the mistake of thinking that people voted Brexit because they wanted low taxes and Thatcherism.

They didn’t. Brexit was a rebellion against economic globalisation by the “left behinds” in provincial English towns.

They had seen their secure jobs disappearing and blamed supranational bodies like the EU for their hollowed-out communities.

A temporary fix

TAX cuts are the calling card of the globalists. Big corporations love low taxes, so that they can play countries off against each other. Footloose billionaires love low taxes and often invest their earnings surplus abroad or in unproductive assets.

This is why the independent Office for Budget Responsibility says there is little evidence that lower taxes right now would boost growth and productivity. The UK’s problems are more deep-seated, and largely to do with the backwash of Brexit, an ageing population and lax monetary policy.

As Rishi Sunak says, echoing the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the immediate impact of cutting personal taxes would be increased inflation. That would embolden the Bank of England to jack up interest rates with dire consequences for overstretched mortgage holders.

Cutting spending in a cost-of-living crisis would also hand political ammunition to Labour. Keir Starmer, who has been notably muted on the economy during the big-spending Boris years, would heave a sigh of relief. Labour would say it is the “same old Tories” giving tax cuts to rich pals and not caring about the state of the NHS, education or “levelling up”.

Rishi Sunak knows this. He has pretty good political antennae. He is their best shot at winning the next election. If the Tories opt for one of his fairy-tale rivals they’ll go down to electoral defeat as surely as Boris Johnson has been economical with the truth.