The Return of Boris?
Kara Kennedy, Douglas Murray, and Brendan O'Neill on the state of the conservatives
Boris’s downfall, the real one — not the multiple wobbles — began with Partygate. A steady drip of salacious stories for months, each one getting slightly more unforgivable, recounting incidences of Boris and members of his government breaching the strict lockdown rules he himself had set in place. The biggest blast came with a report of a suitcase full of wine being wheeled toward No. 10 Downing Street the night before Prince Philip’s funeral. Newspapers splashed the poignant image of the Queen sitting alone in Windsor Chapel, with cries of “how could you?” Disrespecting the Queen is a cardinal sin for Brits.
From then on, things just got worse for the Tories. Multiple tales emerged of their Members of Parliament involved cocaine use, sexual assault and sleaze. Britain could see the internat rot at the core of the Conservative Party. And Boris Johnson presided over it. In June the prime minister’s authority was damaged by a confidence vote that saw 41 percent of his MPs try to oust him, followed by a series of resignations that saw fifty-two — an unprecedented number — step down from the Johnson government in just twenty-four hours.
But the show must go on — and bizarrely it may be Boris Johnson that returns to the main stage. In his resignation speech, he referenced the Roman statesman Cincinnatus, who left power only to be called back to office when his people were in trouble. “Like Cincinnatus, I am returning to my plow,” he said. While Cincinnatus returned to his farm, Johnson’s plow was a few overseas vacations and the purchase of a five-bedroom home in Herne Hill, south London, with his wife Carrie. Alright for some.
If anyone is expecting an apology, don’t hold out: Johnson is famously unapologetic. When he departed as editor of The Spectator in 2005, his advice to his successor included: “The Spectator surrenders to no one. The Spectator is always right.” He’s right, of course. But that attitude may not be fitting for a prime minister, especially one discovered to be breaking his own laws during the Covid lockdown
There are mixed reactions from MPs about a potential Boris return. One called it “fucking mad,” while another quipped that he and his wife Carrie would “get some more use out of the wallpaper at least.” A third claimed that “if he does return, nobody will be able to challenge him. He will be the most secure and powerful PM in a century.” As the last year has shown us, nothing is impossible in British politics — not even being ousted by your own people only to be begged back a month later.
Britain has burned through Prime Ministers in recent years in part because of the results of the 2016 Brexit vote. Most of the political class – including MPs – were against Brexit. But the British public wanted to leave the EU and voted to do so. Still, the politicians seemed to think they knew better. They campaigned against the public, refusing to do what the public asked them to. This created huge anger.
And there are consequences to that. When politicians promise one thing and do another then all politics becomes restless. And that´s something we should think about here. How many political candidates have promised to get on top of issues like illegal immigration? How many of them have done so? US politicians are as expert as British ones in pushing difficult problems away. But, when the public says they want something, in general, it´s a good reason to listen to us.
The disaster of Truss raises other issues too. Not least about the caliber of people now going into politics. Most of us can remember a time when there were at least some politicians admired across the political aisle. People who were respected because – whether you agreed with them or not – they seemed to have their country´s best interests at heart. How many politicians of this generation can this be said about? Perhaps it´s the fault of the people going into politics. Or perhaps the ones going into it want the wrong things? Certainly, a lot of them seem to put their own advancement ahead of their country. When they are also visibly incapable of their job there´s no way that voters won´t notice that too.
Today Britain looks like a shambles. Its reputation for calm politics has been shot and the ruling party´s reputation for economic competency has been shattered. Who knows if either will recover?
And this should serve as a reminder to America of how swiftly things can change and how easily a reputation can be ruined.
It could be the same here any day. American politicians seem to think that America´s financial dominance makes us immune from disaster. But there is no law in nature that makes this so.
Let’s go beyond Truss and Hunt and ask what this all tells us about the Conservative Party. This is the oldest political party in Europe, arguably the world. It’s the party that gave us Peel, Churchill, Thatcher, properly historic figures. Which birthed so much of the legal and political order we live under. Which The Economist aptly called ‘the world’s most successful party’. And which once reached, through Conservative Associations, the Church and other formal and informal networks, into communities across the land.
Now it’s a hollow machine, bereft of strategy, in dire want of ideas, out of touch with the public, disorientated, and infamous for having a PM who couldn’t last a naff, paltry 50 days in Downing St. The factional Tories cheering Truss’s demise are fools. Your entire party is indicted by this shitshow. And by the fact that your big replacement for lame Liz – Hunt – is a man so disconnected from British people, British history and British politics that he prefers EU oversight to national sovereignty, technocracy to belief, and ‘competence’ to passion. Congrats!
To see the true state of the Tory Party, look no further than a comment piece penned by one of its former leaders, William Hague, this week. ‘Ideology is dead: it’s competence we need now’, the headline said. In short, you’ve had your fun with Brexit and Boris and the mad populist experiment – now it’s time for the adults to come back into the room and take control. Not only is this undemocratic (14million people voted for Boris to be PM, no one voted for Hunt to be de facto PM). Not only is it anti-political. Not only is it bureaucratic, stiff and unabashedly concerned more with making the trains run on time than with inspiring the people with proposals for a genuinely better life. It is also an admission that they have no ideas left. That the once great Conservative Party is completely out of steam. That Westminster itself is knackered. ‘Competence’ is the last refuge of the visionless. They’re finished. Kaput. Clueless. Not just Liz, all of them. The need for a political overhaul has never been so pressing and so great.
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