by Martin Odoni

Real-life drama. But scripted

The drama of this week in UK politics has been irresistible, I cannot deny it. But at the same time, there is little pleasure to be taken from it. For one thing, it all had a horribly similar stench to the ‘Chicken Coup’ in the Labour Party almost exactly six years ago. The orchestration of Tory Ministers rebelling against the Prime Minister was so obvious, with resignations happening at the top of every hour – just like six years ago. You could see this was completely a wide conspiracy.

The reasons the Tories gave for rebelling were stomach-turning, treating the public’s intelligence with their usual contempt. ‘Pincher-gate’ – the appointment of Deputy Chief Whip Christopher Pincher (unfortunate name) despite already being known for sexually inappropriate behaviour – was a disgusting example of just how alienated from morality Boris Johnson has always been. But at the same time, it was evidently just a pretext for revolt. Not one of the resigning Ministers imagined for one minute over the last three years that Johnson was “better than this”. Not one of them, when he was elected, thought for a millisecond that Johnson would run a clean administration. The man is a slobbering conglomeration of baser instincts. Greedy, manipulative, self-interested, violent, bullying, corrupt, sleazy, womanising, irresponsible, and a congenital liar – he probably identifies with Pincher therefore. But everybody knew that about Johnson in July 2019.

Johnson has always reeked of deceit

When Sajid Javed said, “Enough is enough!” in Parliament, I know it was not just me who sputtered in contempt. Because Johnson’s record in just three years in office was not ‘enough’. Ye cup had well-and-truly runneth over before Christmas 2019. By this week, it was a thirty-glass overflow.

A lengthy summary of my thoughts at that point; –

‘Why this? Why is this the point where enough is enough? Why wasn’t Johnson’s near-coup attempt to prorogue Parliament, an act that fundamentally undermined the UK constitution, reason to resign? Why are Johnson’s various attempts to violate International Law over Northern Ireland and Brexit not reason to resign? Why is his attempt to overturn the NI Protocol not a reason to resign, given Johnson’s own Administration was the one that had drawn the Protocol up in the first place? Why not resign over Johnson not bothering with no fewer than five COBRA meetings at the start of a deadly pandemic arriving in Europe? Why not resign over his negligent failure to ban a football match on Merseyside whose attendance included over three thousand spectators from Madrid at a time when Spain was the biggest hotspot in Europe for the Coronavirus? Why not resign over his persistent issuing of Personal Protective Equipment contracts to cronies instead of to firms that have a tried-and-tested history of producing PPE? Why not resign over the failure to stock up on ventilators in huge numbers until after the pandemic was out of control? Why not resign over the constant made-up or spun statistics about resources procured for fighting Covid-19 e.g. doubling the official number of surgical gloves by counting each glove individually rather than in pairs? Why not resign over the super-expensive farce of the ineffectual Test-and-Trace app that was not created by the NHS? Why not resign over Johnson refusing to give a pay increase to NHS workers, many of whom had endangered their own lives and health to fight the pandemic? Why not resign over Johnson saying, “Let the bodies pile high!“? Why not refuse to join his Administration to begin with over him saying, “F*ck the families!“? Why not resign over the revelations of Johnson indulging in sexual activity on his work premises, when he should have been working, and his nepotistic attempts to get his bed-partner a job at the Foreign Office? Why not resign over the silence of Gavin Williamson about the affair apparently being bought off with a knighthood? Why not resign over Johnson funnelling public funds to another of his sexual partners, namely Jennifer Arcuri? Why not resign over Johnson wasting over £200 thousand in public money re-decorating his living room with vulgar luxuries? Why not resign over Johnson’s grotesque mishandling of Owen Paterson‘s astonishingly corrupt dealings with Randox and the Foods Standards Agency? Why not resign over Partygate, and the superior way Johnson just assumed he was not subject to his own lockdown laws? Why not resign over Johnson’s attempts to remove democratic rights of protest from the public while they were hindered from opposing him by lockdowns? Why not resign over the unrelenting arrogance with which Johnson keeps dismissing the enormous mire of corrupt behaviour he gets into trouble over, as though he is allowed to be his own judge and jury?’

Face it, gammons, Corbyn is stronger than Johnson, because he was doing what he did on principle, not on stubbornness or ego

Johnson’s corruption was self-evident long, long before he returned to Parliament in 2015, never mind the 2019 Conservative Leadership Contest. Indeed, his loss of a job at The Times for lying had made that clear before the turn of the 1990s. Yes, Johnson’s administration has been an absolutely disgusting cess-pit of financial and political malpractice. But please, Javed, stop pretending to be surprised about it. We were all expecting scandal-after-scandal from Johnson when he became Prime Minister, because he has no innate understanding of right and wrong, and therefore needs reminding to take moral factors into consideration.

Self-preservation is the motive, not principle

The real reason for the rebellion of course is that only now have the British public finally lost patience with the non-stop catalogue of sleaze, which is making the tail-end years of the John Major Government look thoroughly pristine. Council and by-Election results since the start of 2022 have been absolutely abysmal for the Tories, showing that the tide has finally turned against Johnson. He is not Teflon after all, and the party realised that Johnson’s ghastly behaviour was now threatening their own futures. Hence the Motion of No Confidence in early June. The fact that the result for Johnson was rather worse than the result for Theresa May in 2018 (she was out six months later) suggested that Johnson had bumbled his way onto the slippery slope.

The idiot outgoing Prime Minister would probably think this is meant as a compliment on his virility

Especially shocking was the battering, record-breaking defeat by the Liberal Democrats in Honiton & Tiverton three weeks ago, alongside a more predictable loss to Labour in Wakefield. Oliver Dowden resigned as vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party in response, and that, for me, was the point-of-no-return. From there, it was all just a question of when the ‘Ides Of March’ would be scheduled.

Every door available keeps us in hell

As I say, the attempt to make it sound like Pincher was the straw that broke the camel’s back is quite contemptible, and no matter how dramatic the Tories made Tuesday-to-Thursday, it was difficult to become completely immersed in it. It was so artificial. Plus of course, while what is likely to replace Johnson may be somewhat less corrupt, it is hardly likely to be better or more progressive.

I utterly despise Johnson, and he was always my absolute nightmare Prime Minister. The three years of relentless corruption, breathtaking incompetence, right-wing economics, and erosion of civil rights in order to keep himself in power, have been as unbearable as I had feared. I have therefore enjoyed seeing his collapse this week.

But I see no serious improvement at the end of any of the future paths open to the country.

Rishi Sunak should be in prison, not Downing Street

The likely favourite for the top job after Johnson goes is Rishi Sunak. This is an immensely privileged Tory-disguised-as-Blairite – he even has Tony Blair’s voice and 90’s hairstyle – who really should be reviled worldwide. It is an irony that many ill-informed Britons still blame the last Labour Government for the financial crash of 2007-9 (a nonsense interpretation of a global disaster whose roots lay in the US Derivatives Market). If there is anyone in the House of Commons who should be treated as partly-responsible for the British part of the crash, it is Sunak, as he was the manager of a Hedge Fund that specialised in betting on banks going bust. One of their victims was the Royal Bank Of Scotland, which was tricked by the fund into purchasing the failing Dutch Bank, ABN Anro. This left RBS liable for ABN’s bad debts, and played a huge role in its £45.5 billion-share of the public bail-out instigated by Gordon Brown’s Government to keep it from folding altogether. The Hedge Fund had bet on precisely that.

Do we really think Sunak is going to be any better, or even less corrupt, than Johnson, when he has deeds that amoral on his record? And yet he is probably the best of the Tory candidates!

Who else?

I am sure I was not the only way who choked on his coffee on hearing that Suella Braverman was putting her name on the board. Braverman? The Attorney General who does not know the law? A Prime Minister is the nation’s top law enforcer, how can she have such a role when she keeps advising the Cabinet to break the law all the time?

Grant Shapps? The snake-oil salesman who is always on the market for a new name, because he keeps soiling the aliases he has used during his prolific career as an online conman? His record of probity as about the same length as Boris Johnson’s.

Jeremy Hunt? Surely he knows by now that everybody in the Conservative Party hates him, and finds the idea of taking his orders intolerable.

He really said Corbynism is the same as Stalinism

Nadim Zahawi? The guy who came from Iraq to the UK as a young man, and thinks the best way of rewarding his adopted home country for the shelter it gave him is to take as much money as possible away from its poorest citizens and let them starve, and who compares Jeremy Corbyn’s ideas to Stalinism? Please, just stop.

And these are probably the best of the candidates.

More of Johnson or a switch to Starmer? Useless

Alternatively, if the Tories are unable to form a new Government, what then? Labour surely have nowhere near enough MPs in the Commons to form a workable minority Government. Even if they did, what has Keir Starmer ever promised except not to do anything rich people dislike? When the strikes started up the other week, what did Starmer do? He opposed them, thus agreeing with and, by implication, defending the Government.

The paradox of the present UK polity. The Government cannot govern, the Opposition will not oppose, and the outgoing leader will not leave.

Worse, despite what Johnson said in his insufferable ‘resignation statement,’ his repulsive ego could not allow himself to say that he was actually resigning. While listing off a boastful series of “achievements” that he objectively never accomplished (no, he has not even delivered Brexit yet, otherwise why does he need to rewrite the Northern Ireland protocol?), and among expressions of contrition that he noticeably gave no voice to, he simply announced that the selection process for the next party leader would have to begin. There has rightly been consternation in some quarters that he intends to stay in office around three months before he steps down. This is probably just to make sure he stays in office substantially longer than May did, and thankfully, the decision as to whether he can stay that long is not his, but that of the 1922 Committee.

But more worrisome possibilities over this ‘caretaker’ period do occur, especially given Johnson’s almost Royal belief in his “natural” right to lead. If granted such time, he could use it to contrive any number of delays and disruptions to the Leadership Contest to extend his time in office. And given the powers of the Prime Minister’s office, the array of events he could engineer to create such a delay is very wide. It includes manipulating the conflict in Ukraine, and even trying to create another conflict. Either has the potential of being presented as a “national emergency,” thus giving Johnson an excuse not to step down.

The man is a manipulator who thrives on the perception of him as an idiot. But outside of his manipulation games, he is also a genuine idiot who does not have the attention span or know-how to govern

A truly wooden Cabinet

All of this, of course, is happening at a time when we need a solid, effective Government in place to tackle what is becoming an increasingly worrying cost-of-living crisis, with inflation out-of-control at levels not seen since the late-1980s. (Once again proving that the post-war social democratic consensus was not the cause of high inflation in the 1970s.) We have the worst possible Prime Minister, at the head of a ‘caretaker’ Cabinet of talentless usual-backbenchers that is effectively hamstrung at birth, when we are least-well-placed to endure such instability, or inability.

On that subject, this week has been quite the irony. I said after the 2017 General Election that the modern era is disproving the platitude that “First-past-the-post” electoral systems create stronger Government than any form of Proportional Representation. Two Hung Parliaments and one majority of just twelve in seven years had put paid to that lazy assumption. The 2019 General Election resulted in a sizeable majority for the Tories, and yet within a couple of years, even that Government is completely dysfunctional.

Who is in the Government will always play a far bigger role in its stability than how many parties its numbers come from. Johnson may have an 80-seat majority, but he is so manifestly self-serving that he was bound to alienate too many of his allies sooner rather than later. Despite that majority, he cannot govern after barely three years in power, because so many in his own party would keep voting against him until he stands down. A ‘Hung Majority,’ you might say.

Stop quoting perceived wisdom and actually look at the facts, United Kingdom

Modern Westminster; sometimes good at politics, always bad at Government

So this is where we are. Loads of different doors all leading to the same place. A House of Commons so shorn of people with real ability that giftless no-marks with disputed employment references like Alan Mak can actually get into the Cabinet. Everyone and everything of note in the House of Commons just seems to be a microcosm of Johnson or Johnson’s crimes. Johnson at least had a knack for elections, even though he had no clue how to run an administration. He could do politics, he could not do government.

What Johnson has surrounded himself with, and whatever will succeed him, looks incapable of either.

Government does not take place in the House of Commons; some politics takes place there, and much theatre takes place there. Government happens in private. As in all public performances, the real work is done in rehearsal, behind closed doors. Then the public, and the House, are shown what the government wishes them to see.

Jonathan Lynn, March 2003