There has perhaps never been a week like the last in British politics. Faced with the obstinacy of Boris Johnson refusing to resign as prime minister, senior ministers, junior ministers, parliamentary assistants, envoys and others resigned from the government in droves. Recognising the reality that he as soon as he filled cabinet posts, ministers were either walking out or lashing out at him, Johnson finally stepped down on Thursday.
Channel 4 will elect and “alternative prime minister” in the autumn. It is being described as a political reality show. A dose of reality is certainly needed in national politics in country that has been run by a man who lived in a fantasy world where a party wasn’t a party and gropes and other misbehaviours, including his own, were shrugged off. There is a need for the fractious, divided Conservative Party to heal or accept that it is a second rate party led by second rate politicians who are not fit to govern.
The mudslinging already underway in a leadership contest that has yet to start suggests no matter what the outcome, this party is not fit to govern.
The list of candidates for the highest elected office in the land grows longer by the hour even though the procedure and timing of the election will not be known until tomorrow night.
Rishi Sunak was the first out of the gate. He had clearly been preparing his campaign for some time and with a slick video rumoured to have cost £250,000. His message of the need for higher taxes and cuts to spending will appeal to well off Conservatives, not those struggling on benefits or joining the ever longer queues for food banks. However, the membership of the Conservative Party is tilted towards the well-healed and some of the bookies are giving very short odds on him becoming the next prime minister. A front runner is not necessarily the winner and we might see others becoming favourite in the coming days.
Philip Dunne is backing Jeremy Hunt for the leadership. Dunne was Hunt’s campaign manager in the last leadership election and will be for this attempt. He told the Shropshire Star a couple of days ago: “If [Jeremy Hunt] stands, he would be the best placed candidate to provide the integrity and competence that we need to bring back into the role.” Philip Dunne must be hoping he will at last get elevated to the Lords. However, he is backing a man that presided over desperately low increases in NHS funding and cuts to payments to hospitals. Although the pandemic has since made the situation worse, delays in patients being seen at A&E and hospital waiting lists increased during Hunt’s tenure. He is not a friend of the NHS and neither I believe is Philip Dunne. Dunne has recently made the usual noises about problems with ambulances here in Shropshire and across the country, but he failed to turn up to the debate by MPs last Thursday on the crisis. Making noises is not good enough. North Shropshire MP Helen Morgan has done far more in probing the failings within the NHS in just a few months than Philip Dunne has done for years.
At the time of writing, the main battleground between candidates are taxes (high and low) and dealing with the cost of living crisis. But it is likely that health services will become a key battle issue alongside how to finish our exit from the EU and whether to leave the European Convention on Human Rights. Law and order is a traditional Tory campaign and we might see that becoming important, though the outgoing administration has been more focused on restricting rights to protest than getting crime solved. The environment and climate change are unlikely to feature strongly.
Most people will not have a say in who the next prime minister is. The decision will be down to MPs, who whittle the shortlist to two hopefuls, followed by a vote by 200,000 Conservative party members. That’s less than half a per cent of the 47 million people eligible to vote in a general election.
That’s a feature of our democratic system. Although each successive prime minister has become more presidential in style since the days of Tony Blair, they are not directly elected. It is down to the MPs who struggled to keep Boris Johnson in power and then ejected him to shortlist our new prime minister and then for the Tory faithful to decide.
There is a need for stability, whoever is in Downing Street. We are unlikely to get another fop and liar like Boris Johnson but we may yet again get a prime minister who pursues policies in the interest of their own status and not the interests of our country.
If it wasn’t for the heatwave, I’d hibernate until all this is over.