The next prime minister paused at the entrance to the corridor, shared a laugh with a pal and played a forward defensive cricket shot. A flat bat. Perhaps they were discussing the Cricket World Cup. Or maybe it was the fact that standing between him and the small room, in which he was about to vote for himself to be the next Tory leader for the third time, were around 50 journalists.
These people would want to know answers to the questions he continues to avoid. Questions like, “Are you a racist?” The SNP leader Ian Blackford had just called him one in the House of Commons. Maybe something on the fact that his plan for Brexit, as shared with Tory activists at the weekend, is legally impossible, and totally unnegotiable with the European Union.
A complete non-starter. Not so much having one’s cake and eating it as a full chimpanzee’s tea party. Some journalists simply want to know how many children he’s got. Another one he won’t be waving a bat at.
He wandered down the corridor, in and out again, his cross safely in the box marked Boris Johnson.
142 of his colleagues did the same. Andrea Leadsom paused as she did so and looked about. It looked like she didn’t get why nobody wanted to talk to her. It is hard to imagine the mental state of anyone who has decided that only Boris Johnson can save them. That is the mental state of the Tory party.
Certainly, they’ve decided that Rory Stewart isn’t going to save them. He lost 10 of his 37 votes overnight, and that marks the end of the road. No one is quite sure why he went backwards as quickly as he went forwards. The most credible theory is that Javid, Hunt and Gove supporters lent him votes in the hope he’d attack Boris Johnson in the televised debate over his non-existent Brexit plans. But he had a go at all of them equally, because it isn’t just Johnson that doesn’t have a clue what to do, none of them do. That wasn’t what was meant to happen, so the guy willing to tell the truth couldn’t possibly be indulged any longer.
In the moments after Tuesday night’s debate, Stewart conceded it hadn’t gone well. By Wednesday lunchtime he’d reflected further. TV viewers had thought he’d done well. And perhaps he’d only thought it had gone badly, he said, because it had felt that way in the room, as it would do, in a four-on-one job.
Any more Stewart and the blue-on-blue attacks could have got out of hand. Seriously, how long were they meant to put up with this? This annoying, odd-looking guy, constantly popping up to tell them, and the general public, that none of them have got any chance whatsoever of getting a new deal out of the EU by 31 October, so why don’t they just stop lying? Pick off the truth and the lie lives. Best do that.
The trouble is, they actually believe it. These people really do seem to believe what they’ve been saying on the radio and the news channels, when Johnson’s various mercenaries have come out fighting and gone down not so much in flames as thermonuclear explosions.
“Boris is a winner,” they say. “Look at what Boris did in London.” They really do seem to believe that the guy who turned London Tory twice can do it all again. They don’t seem to notice or care that the Londoners who voted Boris in 2008 and in 2012, literally the same people, were banging on his car bonnet in June 2016 and shouting, “scum!”
Some of them really do seem to believe he can unify the country, can bring it together. They really do think that once he’s gone and got all their voters back from Nigel Farage, he can plonk them all back on the centre ground and life can go back to how it used to be. They genuinely don’t seem to be aware that what they’re doing is not bringing these people back but rushing out to meet them. To go to dark places, out on the margins, from where they cannot return.
Some of them really are stupid enough to think that the centre can be restored through the man who dive-bombed right in the middle of it and blew everyone out to the extremes.
Some of them, unfortunately, when the absolutely inevitable happens, will still be too stupid to understand it was all their fault.