Be careful what you wish for. Just a week ago, televised leadership debates had been a no-brainer for the Conservative party. A chance to introduce its candidates to an audience who might otherwise have known little about the MPs eyeing up the Downing Street wallpaper. A showcase for the range and depth of talent within the Tories. Or maybe not. For what the debates have revealed is not the gravitas but the sheer levitas. A gaggle of contenders with selective memories, fighting like rats in a sack and who barely agree over anything. From knowing too little, the country knows far too much. The rotting entrails have been exposed.
The third TV debate was originally scheduled for Monday evening. Up until someone realised that would clash with the third round of voting. Though that could have livened up proceedings for the rest of us. Rather than hearing the same five candidates reheating their tired lines and animosity for the third time in four days, we could have had someone eliminated on live TV. Proper jeopardy. “You are the Weakest Link. Goodbye.”
So the debate was then moved to Tuesday only for Ready4Rish! and Liz Truss to pull out within minutes of each other on Monday morning. Almost as if it had been coordinated by Tory HQ. Heaven forbid. Rish! had apparently got tired of making fun of how hopeless Truss was – why was he being so horrible to Liz in public, he had asked. Because it’s easy and the misfiring, robotic Truss was so useless. Obvs. On many occasions her face had been the computer’s spinning circle of doom – and wasn’t going to reengage until the last stages of the contest. Though if Liz made it to the last two he would happily restart the trash talking.
Truss was adamant that she wouldn’t take part in any debate unless all five of Friday’s and Sunday’s lineup was included. Which rather suggested she hadn’t understood the format of the leadership contest. Someone explain this to her, please.
Penny Mordaunt had been happy to go ahead and blamed the cancellation on Rish! and Truss being unable to be civil to one another. Before she remembered that wasn’t Tory HQ’s preferred message and contradicted herself. Rish! and Truss had been getting on too well with each other. That was it! That was why the debates were a goner. Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat said nothing. Presumably because they had seen the numbers and realised they would have been unlikely to take part on Tuesday. So the Tories kicked away one more democratic plank in the interests of self-preservation.
Meanwhile over in the Commons, Boris Johnson took time out from his fantasies of being a Typhoon pilot to cosplay the role of prime minister for what might be the last occasion. It’s still odds on he finds an excuse to fly to Kyiv to say goodbye to Volodymyr Zelenskiy rather than show up for PMQs on Wednesday. These days the Convict gets to pick and choose what takes his fancy. Obviously chairing Cobra meetings on extreme temperatures was far too dull. Especially when there were parties at Chequers to be had.
But if this was to be Johnson’s last stand, it was somehow fitting it should be on a debate of no consequence. A premiership that degraded the office with lies and incompetence should end in the futility of a no-confidence vote with no meaning. And laced with its own internal contradictions. Just because the Tory party had chosen to remove the Convict as its leader it somehow didn’t follow he was unfit to remain prime minister and run the government. Go figure.
There were plenty of gaps on the Tory backbenches for Johnson’s last hurrah, though the ever loyal Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg cosied up close to keep the flame alight for a while longer. Along with the vacant Truss. Selling herself to the party as the continuity Boris candidate while happily trashing his economic record in government. Then, nothing much makes sense in the modern Conservative party. Not least the cheers that greeted his arrival from the same MPs who had spent much of the past few weeks trying to get rid of him.
The Convict opened up by saying he couldn’t understand why Labour had tabled the confidence debate. The Speaker had to gently point out to him that it was the government’s own motion. Johnson waved him away – details have never been his strong point and he wasn’t about to change now – and went on to deliver what was, even by his own standards, one of his more shambolic speeches. Up there with Peppa Pig in its chaotic delusion. Almost as if he were still hung over from the previous day’s Chequers’ party as he went into a Biggles extended air force metaphor.
Vain fantasies. Tilting at windmills like some latter day Don Quixote. Only one utterly without honour. Unaware he was building his own monument to hubris, he spoke of his time in office as a series of ever greater triumphs. A showreel of greatest hits reframed by narcissistic denial. By achieving far less than other governments he had proved his dynamism. He had got all the big calls right. Even in the face of final judgment, he was unable to tell the truth. There was nothing on food banks, inflation, energy prices, poverty or the collapse of public services. All we had were past glories. His 2019 election success and a Brexit that’s still far from done.
“I am proud of my leadership,” he concluded. Really? The lies, the parties, the cover-ups? Keir Starmer tried to gently point out to Johnson that he was leaving in disgrace. Most of his ministers and countless backbenchers had refused to serve under him. He was simply too corrupt. It wasn’t Labour who had forced him out, but his own party. He had finally overstepped the mark among MPs with a high threshold for sleaze. Rather than boasting, waiting for a card that is so high and wild he’ll never need to deal another, he should have been making an apology. Not just to the Tories but to the country.
But the Convict wasn’t listening. He sat sour-faced, arms crossed in front of him as Nad shouted abuse at Starmer. She too is allergic to the truth. As soon as indecently possible, Johnson scuttled to the exit. Let’s hope we never see his like again.