Boris Johnson for UK PM? Or David ‘bra size’ Davis? Place your bets
Britain seems trapped in a never-ending Conservative leadership race
Conservative contenders: David Davis, Boris Johnson, Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd flank the British prime minister, Theresa May. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/AFP/Getty
There is some dispute as to who first described the male libido as like being chained to a madman. Certainly, Kingsley Amis described the eventual loss of his as a relief: “For 50 years, it was like being chained to an idiot.”
For Britain no such unshackling is at hand. Barring the Blairite interregnum, Britain has been chained to the insatiable Eurosceptics of the Conservative party for decades. All recent attempts to sate or castrate them have made matters even worse, with the country’s stability merely collateral damage in the party’s power struggles. Last summer it had the divisive EU referendum; last month it had Theresa May’s Darwin Award-winning election campaign. Consequently, Britain is are now staring down the barrel of another summer of leadership jockeying in the “natural party of government”.
This week Britain had a queen’s speech that was so thin on policy I’m surprised they didn’t pad it out with a dream sequence
May herself has been made powerfully aware that no one wants to hear her new stuff. This week Britain had a queen’s speech that was so thin on policy I’m surprised they didn’t pad it out with a dream sequence (unless that’s the Brexit bit). You can tell the Conservative Party is out of control because all manner of apparitions have escaped its ghost-containment unit.
Broadcasters who’ve spent a year being told Andrea Leadsom can’t come to the phone because she’s trapped under something heavy are now able to put her on the telly several times a day. Leadsom’s media appearances are outstripped only by those of the former party leader Iain Duncan Smith, who has emerged from wherever the Tories hid him, and is now peddling a brilliantly knowing form of self-satire. At least, I think that’s what happening. There’s no other reasonable explanation for a man who’d be intellectually outgunned by any of the runners at Royal Ascot this week deciding to launch an attack on “silly people in the Conservative party with big mouths and small brains”.
It comes to something when David Davis is regarded as a unity candidate – particularly given that this week the Brexit secretary scored the coveted Nigel Farage endorsement
Either way, this was the Iain Duncan Smith verdict on a leadership stakes. And so to the paddock. It comes to something when David Davis is regarded as a sort of grandee unity candidate – particularly given that this week the Brexit secretary scored the coveted Nigel Farage endorsement. Younger readers may care to know that the last time David Davis launched a leadership bid, he had female supporters walk round the Tory party conference in tight T-shirts bearing the legend: “It’s DD for me.” Critics of the stunt were accused of a “sense of humour failure”. Still, he was only 56 at the time. Today, Davis is the UK’s man at the Brexit negotiating table, and would doubtless assure you those days were just a distant mammary.
Second favourite is Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, who this week said he wouldn’t be running for the leadership until 2019, when the help will have cleaned up his Brexit mess. (I paraphrase slightly.) What a shame to see someone stifle his own ambition in this self-effacing sort of way. Lean in, mate. Then again, perhaps Johnson’s reticence was influenced by his coach-crash interview with Eddie Mair on BBC Radio 4 this week.
And yet, because Johnson remains Britain’s foremost stupid-person’s-idea-of-a-clever-person, some believe he dun it on purpose. If I understand this theory correctly, Johnson deliberately sabotaged himself this week because he knows that the favourite never wins in a Tory leadership contest. So when he sounded like someone wantonly clueless who’d rather refresh his odds on Betfair than consider discrimination against black people in the criminal-justice system, it was all careful calculation. Mmm.
Moving on, we come to Philip Hammond, the chancellor of the exchequer, who will have marked himself as a relatable choice with his explanation of why Britain needed to transition gradually out of the European Union. “When you buy a house, you don’t necessarily move all your furniture in on the first day you buy it.” Two things, Phil. 1: Yes you do. 2: It’s slightly fascinating that anyone’s takeout from the past few weeks could be the universality of a home ownership metaphor. I mean, really? Really?
Liam Fox will crash out early, transfer his votes to the winner, and guarantee another ludicrous overpromotion
Elsewhere in the betting, Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, is staying well out of it, while Amber Rudd, the home secretary, is going to need more than a deserved reputation for adequacy. At least we will be able to count on that old chestnut a Liam Fox bid. One way or another the trade secretary will be on manoeuvres, gearing up to pull a classic Fox. Which is to say crash out early, transfer his votes to the winner, and guarantee another ludicrous overpromotion.
All this action is taking place to daily noises off from George Osborne, Hammond’s predecessor and the longtime Tory-leadership hopeful who is now editor of the London Evening Standard. On the one hand, society should be grateful for Osborne’s insta-rehabilitation. His career shift from Tory politician to newspaper journalist should do much to remove the social stigma from armed robbers who wish to retrain as heroin smugglers. On the other, his focus still feels a little personal.
Friday’s drive-by consisted of the revelation that in the days following the referendum result last June, David Cameron had wanted to make a unilateral offer to all EU citizens in the UK that they would be allowed to stay. The entire cabinet had agreed – but it was blocked by Theresa May. Thank you again, George.
If only there was some other current issue in London that a serious newspaper could get its teeth into in the interests of the city
I’m not against the Evening Standard being revived as a campaigning newspaper. I’d just have hoped the campaign in question would be something more than one against the boss who sacked the editor from his last job. If only there was some other current issue in London that a serious newspaper could get its teeth into in the interests of the city. Ah well, perhaps something will come up.
In the meantime, we must assume that Osborne will continue to veer between schadenfreude and vengeance until May’s departure is set and a leadership election is formally declared. And yet I think we all already know the real winner in this. It is surely Great Britain itself, still fighting the last war, still in several kinds of limbo, still chained to the uncontrollable urges of the Tory party.