Sunday 11 June 2023

After Boris

The battle for the soul of the Tory party begins! So screeched the headline from the Mail on Sunday. Following the blond bombshell's bombshell departure, this most broken wing of the party's Fleet Street outlets warned Rishi Sunak in no uncertain terms that it's "civil war" if he prevents Boris Johnson from re-entering the Commons. Peculiar that they should already be talking about a comeback when only a day had passed since announcing his resignation. It bigs up the piece also appearing in the Sunday edition from Jacob Ress-Mogg, in which he darkly advises party managers against throwing obstacles in his road to redemption. The Mail rounds its piece off with the "chaos" and "turmoil" Johnson's departure has supposedly wrought on the party.

In an altogether less febrile piece in The Times, we read that Johnson's exit, accompanied by Nadine Dorries and Nigel Adams, did not and will not spark off a civil war, actually. Rumours on Friday and Saturday night that Alok Sharma and the tricksy Nadhim Zahawi were going to leave parliament haven't come to fruition. Indeed, they were flatly denied in Zahawi's case. If Sunak was worried more MPs were about to throw in the towel, the moment of danger appears to have passed. By nodding through most of Johnson's honours list, it appears the titles due to the likes of Rees-Mogg, Michael Fabricant, and Priti Patel has indeed bought them off. For instance, when Patel enters the field to claim to punctured corpse of the Tory party following the next election, that dame hood will be another string to her leadership bow.

Stirring the pot a little on Laura Kuenssberg, Nigel Farage said the number of Tory MPs speaking to him about an alignment on the right has reached double figures. Okay, but what use is such talk? None of them are going to ditch their seats. Presumably, most of them like being MPs, even if they're well heeled enough not to be reliant on the income. The problem with the "civil war" the Mail's editorial office is trying to will into being is that, by resigning, Johnson has already surrendered the field and in taking two loyal lieutenants into the fire with him, there is no obvious figure for the dwindling lump of loyalists to cohere around. If you fancy a tasteless analogy, Johnson and co pulled the cords on their suicide vests miles short of their target, and the Mail is demanding others sacrifice themselves to a pointless martyrdom just because. Pressure could be brought on Sunak by emulating the examples of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, who resigned their seats to force by-elections and won them back as UKIP candidates. But, despite Farage boasting about the political space being bigger now than it was for his party in 2014, Reform UK are in no fit state to contemplate anything so ambitious.

The civil war, such as it is, has already been won by Sunak. And he barely had to do anything. With his destabilising predecessor now gone, the Conservative Party could calm down a bit. Indeed, this is what plenty of grandees and senior figures are hoping. Yes, Johnson will be making "rare interventions" from outside. He might resume his berth at The Telegraph or The Spectator from which to launch attention-seeking missiles to remind the world he exists. And, as per tradition, undoubtedly the media will pick up whatever his self-serving talking points are and amplify them. But, assuming there are no more political shocks over the next year, they won't affect Sunak too much, or knock him from his course of delivering precisely nothing. The worst he'll have to put up with are Rees-Mogg style grumbles that direct their unhappiness at unnamed apparatchiks or a remoaner blob or whatever. But all this depends on what happens with the by-elections.

Johnson's vacated seat of Uxbridge and South Ruslip is sure to go Labour. The other two, as very safe Tory seats, are different. If huge upsets happen and those majorities are overturned, Sunak has a big problem. This close to the election, for a set of suspicious tea leaf readers like most politicians the disposal of these seats will have Tory MPs across the country panicking, just after they've got over the shock of the local elections. Looking down the barrel of despair, they might become fatalistic and despondent, choosing to openly feather their own nests, wallow even more in the gutter to try and snag enough notoriety to win a pundit's job, or carry on running their own leadership campaigns. A Johnson missive might add a few volatiles to this heady brew.

As far as I'm concerned, there is no route by which the Conservatives can win the next election. The fight now is how many seats can be saved when the anti-Tory tide finally rolls in. If Sunak loses Mid-Bedfordshire and Selby and Aintsy, this miserable project becomes even more fraught. If Sunak is really unlucky, because of Boris Johnson the party might face something more serious than civil war: the pull of anarchy and disintegration.

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Robert said...

Bye bye Boris.

His ego is determined to do as much damage to his party as he can. I suspect he's hoping Sunak fails so he can come back when the Tories are in opposition. I don't know what he's smoking; it seems pretty clear that his political career is over.

Blissex said...

«The battle for the soul of the Tory party begins! So screeched the headline from the Mail on Sunday»

The people who understand that the Punch-and+Judy show about personalities and gotchas and how it masks the real inter-class (and intra-class) politics of today may consider these astonishing news (with fascinating details) even more important than Johnson's fate:
«The Daily and Sunday Telegraph newspapers and the Spectator magazine will be put up for sale after their parent company was forced into receivership by the Lloyds Banking Group over £1bn of debts owed by the Barclay family, who own the titles that have dominated rightwing media discourse in the UK. The bank has put B.UK, a Bermudian-based holding company that ultimately controls the Telegraph Media Group, into receivership, Lloyds confirmed on Wednesday. AlixPartners has been appointed as receiver at B.UK [...] Sir Frederick Barclay and his brother David acquired the Telegraph newspapers in 2004. The family loans were acquired by Lloyds with the takeover of ailing lender HBOS in 2008, and have since been written down as bad debts. The debts are close to £1bn, bigger than previously reported, according to people familiar with the situation.»