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9 things we’ve learned since the collapse of Britain’s Tories – POLITICO


Blink and you might have missed it.

In just a month, Boris Johnson has gone from top dog in British politics to man of yesterday – and the bitter contest to succeed him is in full swing, with Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss tearing each other apart.

Johnson’s authority had waned for months, but few would have predicted how quickly the botched handling of a sexual harassment scandal in late June would end Johnson’s premiership and spark a fierce fight for the future of the country. . Here are nine things we learned in a tumultuous, historic – and at times quite confusing – month in British politics.

Johnson wasn’t so teflon after all

The wisdom received at Westminster was that Johnson’s flaws – better campaigning than governing, a chaotic personal life and a lack of truth – were “counted” by Tory voters and MPs, part of the deal to choose a colorful leader who can connect with voters and get big ideas across.

Even this year, when Johnson’s government was reeling from a scandal over boozy parties breaking COVID rules, few pundits would have staked their reputations on the prime minister leaving anytime soon. Indeed, Johnson himself annoyed his critics less than six weeks ago by making it known that he was already planning a third term – although he has yet to win a second.

Yet months of disarray – including Partygate, a series of election defeats and the rising cost of living hitting voters hard – had a cumulative effect, eroding the Prime Minister’s authority and allowing the Chris Pincher scandal (more in a moment) to deal the final blow.

In politics, it’s the dissimulation that catches you every time

In purely political terms, the Pincher scandal seemed survivable for Johnson. Accused of groping two men while intoxicated at an event in west London, Deputy Leader Whip Pincher – a key ally of the Prime Minister – resigned immediately.

Still, it was what happened next that really did it for Johnson. The Prime Minister, who had a habit of dithering over the fate of scandal-hit allies, initially refused to suspend Pincher from the Conservative Party.

It got worse. Downing Street has repeatedly changed its position on whether Johnson was made aware of the allegations against Pincher when he was promoted to senior law enforcement official in the government. A host of new allegations – all denied by Pincher – then emerged, while Johnson had to deal with the claim that he had made a joke about a man he allegedly nicknamed “Pincher by name, pincher by nature”.

What could have been a painful weekend for the government turned into a week-long scandal, derailing government announcements and exposing all of Johnson’s worst tendencies in the eyes of weary lawmakers.

Sexual misconduct by MPs still a national scandal

The Pincher saga has highlighted another dark aspect of Westminster life: sexual harassment and abuse remain rampant in the halls of power.

As claims against Pincher aired, staff, unions and MPs themselves demanded further action to overhaul a culture they say continues to fail people who should be able to go work without fear for their safety.

Despite small steps to better protect staff in recent years, the Pincher saga capped an inglorious run. It came on the heels of two by-elections triggered by, alternately, an MP convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old and a lawmaker resigning after he was caught watching pornography in the chamber of the House of Commons.

Tory MPs are ruthless as hell

In case you’ve lost count, the Tories are now on the hunt for their fourth leader in just six years, having defenestrated David Cameron, Theresa May and now Johnson in quick succession.

It has long been accepted in Westminster that the Tories are far more effective at dispatching underperforming leaders than the opposition Labor Party, which tends to hang on to a loser until the public does the job in its place in a general election.

Yet the strength of the Tory coup this time around has been something to behold – a record number of government resignations from top to bottom; hurtful personal criticism of Johnson on national airwaves; and a string of leadership candidates who can barely pronounce his name all show that the party has lost none of its bloodlust.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss beware.

Leadership races are wildly unpredictable

From favorite Ken Clarke dropping the ball in 2001 to Johnson torpedoing his own leadership bid in 2016, Tory leadership races have long been the scene of great drama.

But the first weeks of the last battle were unpredictable, even by conservative standards. Big names like Jeremy Hunt, Nadhim Zahawi and Sajid Javid all crumbled early after failing to gain any real momentum, while long shots Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat were elevated to kingmaker status after exceeding expectations .

Perhaps the most dramatic story of the race to date has been the meteoric rise and fall of Trade Secretary Penny Mordaunt, who has upset Tory members and sued ex-Chancellor Sunak for the past two , only to be eclipsed by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in the final stage of the campaign’s first round.

Politics still matters

Brexit hasn’t gone away, but this time around it seems far less important when it comes to wooing Tory MPs.

Instead, Truss and Sunak are locked in a battle over the future of Britain’s economy, with the pair trading blows over taxes and spending, the cost of living and the state of the country’s public services ( when they’re not summoning the ghost of Margaret Thatcher to their side, or indulging in a bit of identity politics, of course.)

While both are proponents of free trade, the economic plans of Sunak and Truss diverge sharply, showing that there is still an ideological debate to be had within conservatives that is not just about proximity or otherwise to the European Union.

TV talk shows can still be quite captivating to watch

Political reporters would be forgiven for having a collective look at the prospect of covering a summer of prime-time Tory leadership debates – but the result was genuinely riveting television that helped illuminate the choice before members conservatives.

From the candidates being asked directly if Johnson is an honest man to a debate moderator collapsing on set, the clashes were not short on raw drama.

But they also highlighted the candidates’ relative strengths and weaknesses, Truss defying expectations in her first one-on-one match with Sunak, and the former chancellor’s reputation as a classy media performer. of a master taking his fair share of punches. The camera does not lie.

“He who wields the knife…” is always a thing

It’s another of the great British political clichés: “He who wields the knife never wears the crown.” The phrase’s use in Conservative politics dates back to Michael Heseltine, the great Cabinet beast who quit Thatcher’s top team in the mid-1980s but failed to win over his party in the election. to the leadership that followed and thus to take the throne.

The history of the Conservative Party since then shows that there is, in fact, plenty of room at the top for a knife-wielder (Johnson himself did a lot to kill Theresa May’s government), but, according to current polls, it looks like Sunak may well be headed down the Heseltine route.

Sunak played a pivotal role in Johnson’s downfall, stepping down in dramatic fashion alongside colleague Javid, who soon saw his own leadership campaign flounder.

By contrast, favorite Truss has remained publicly loyal, sticking to her day job as Foreign Secretary – and refusing to take aim at Johnson despite repeated opportunities to do so. It does him no harm.

Everyone underestimated Liz Truss

Truss started late, disappointed at her campaign launch, escaped a televised leadership debate and finished third on the first ballot among Tory MPs.

As her rival Mordaunt rallied backers, many in Westminster wondered if the gaffe-prone foreign secretary was missing on the count – yet she is now the overwhelming favorite to become Britain’s next prime minister. Show what we all know.




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