Assisted suicide or fratricide? – POLITICS

Jamie Dettmer is Opinion Writer at POLITICO Europe.

Reeling Britain’s Tories are hoping their agony is over.

They got rid of Boris Johnson. Or at least they are close to doing so once they install a replacement who they hope will unite a polarized party and tackle the enormous social and economic challenges besetting a demoralized and bewildered country.

Johnson has Turkish ancestry and may know the story of Mehmed II, the 15th-century Ottoman sultan who legalized the practice of fratricide to protect the state from siblings vying for power. “From any of my sons who ascends the throne, it is acceptable that he kills his brothers for the common benefit of the people,” Mehmed decreed.

Fratricide, however, leaves a bitter taste and has a habit of repeating itself. Blood begets blood. The many killers who felled Caesar were hunted down and massacred in turn. Could the political careers of Johnson’s ousters meet a similar fate?

Tory ministers say their stabbings were for the good of the party and the country – a reasonable assertion. And, anyway, Johnson’s political death was largely of his own chaotic fabrication — they only aided in the suicide.

‘For party and country’ is what Margaret Thatcher’s ministers told each other after ousting her in 1990. But that did not stop a long simmering civil war that has corroded Tory unity for years with outbreaks that derailed the government of his successor John Principal. It condemned the Tories to years of bickering in the political wilderness as Tony Blair’s New Labor reigned supreme.

Boris Johnson was not liked by Tory lawmakers. He’s never really been an authoritatively overlooked parliamentarian and party backbench MPs – except when he needed to be in a tight corner. For him, they were there to vote and not to be heard.

As Johnson’s downfall is seized upon to settle scores, the toxic aftershocks will inevitably take on a life of their own. And as with all wars, once the conflict begins, the trajectories can become very unpredictable.

Politicians are ambitious people who will do anything to beat their rivals, even at summer garden parties or in the quiet tea rooms of the House of Commons.

Just hours after Johnson announced he was stepping down, the annual soiree hosted by the Spectator, a conservative-friendly weekly newsweek, gave a clear hint of the bitterness and backstabbing to come. As Johnson’s would-be replacements – including former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Nadhim Zahawi, the man who succeeded him – made the rounds, “all around them the knives were out”, reported The Times of the event.

“Sunak, already seen as a frontrunner, was the subject of a vicious briefing war, ridiculed by his rivals as a socialist and ‘Remain candidate’, even though he voted for Brexit” , says the newspaper. “Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, has been called ‘crazy’ and ‘Boris in a dress’, a comment her supporters have called sexist.” Other reports highlighted a fight between bickering aides.

Liz Truss, British Foreign Secretary | Pool photo by Marcus Brandt/AFP via Getty Images

Political historian Tim Bale once noted that British Tory infighting takes on a particularly bitter nature: “Because Tories have always cared as much about men as about measures, their arguments about broad principles take on added advantage by being linked to high politics. The very big splits in the Conservative Party’s long history have always seen fights over one issue conflated with competition for the crown.

The vast field of aspirants forming to compete to replace Johnson reflects how divided the party is – and perhaps desperately – between “small government” libertarians, “big state” national conservatives, “centrists” of one nation”, the Remainers and Leavers, so-called “Blue Wall” Conservatives of southern England, and the working-class “Red Wall” Northerners who traditionally voted for Labor but who have been attracted to Johnson.

The future former prime minister managed to keep this mess down with a rhetorical sleight of hand. It is unlikely that his successor could achieve the same feat, especially in the context of political toxicity that he seemed to encourage in his “resignation” speech.

Johnson is still adored by a large group of Conservative Party members and supporters. An opinion poll published last week, on the eve of the cabinet coup, found that just 54% of Tory supporters wanted Johnson to quit – meaning a significant portion remained loyal to him, despite all the foolishness, lies and mismanagement.

They were the ones who may have nodded when, in his resignation speech in Downing Street, Johnson blamed ministers and the parliamentary party for his downfall. “I have tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we are doing so much, and we have such a broad mandate, and we actually only have a handful of points of view. lagging in the polls, even in the mid-term,” he said.

Johnson clearly believes he was stabbed in the back, and he may well have issued an invitation for revenge.


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