Boris Johnson has shambled ever closer to the black door of Number 10 Downing Street, with victory in yet another round of the interminable Conservative Party leadership contest last night. To the surprise of no one, Johnson prevailed with 143 votes to his nearest rival, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt on 54, with bug-eyed former child actor Michael Gove three votes behind him.
The vote, of all Conservative MPs, was the latest in the bizarre process of choosing a leader of both party and country at the same time, de facto, if not de jure. Effectively, all candidates who survive an initial ballot go to a series of daily ballots, in which the lowest voted is knocked out, and also anyone who gets under a certain ratio of the votes. Of the dozen candidates who put their hand up, several withdrew early, including the only black candidate, James Cleverly. Both women candidates, Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey — dry your tears, they’re both to the right of Boris — went next, and then a couple of white male bozos were culled.
That left Boris, Gove, Dominic Raab on the Leave side of the Brexit debate, against Jeremy Hunt — Remain but now pro-Leave — and former soldier Rory Stewart on the Remain side, with former home secretary Sajid Javid trying to occupy all positions at once.
Dominic Raab was the first to go, after an attempt to go right of Boris by threatening to prorogue parliament until the crash-out date of October 31, thus making a vote preventing no deal impossible. That was widely judged as a step too far, with Rory Stewart threatening to do “a 1629” and set up a “bare bones” parliament — or was it the long parliament, or the pony parliament, I forget — in Westminster Hall opposite.
For some Remainers, the candidate to get in place was Rory Stewart — whose Afghan war record could draw people over from Boris — his sinister, child-meat-puppet demeanour notwithstanding. (Gove, too, looks like a child of the Jago. What are the odds of two such?) They were buoyed by Stewart’s good result on Tuesday — 37 — and then crushed when his vote fell on Wednesday, despite Raab’s 30 votes being released into the system. This gave credence to the idea that Boris’ forces had lent them some votes — although his lame performance in the previous night’s TV debate could also have been a factor.
There are now four candidates, and this process goes on until there are two, who are presented to the 160,000 members for a final vote. Who will win? Boris. Boris will win. In the meantime, Gove and Javid need to be offed; in Javid’s case nicely, to show that the party is not racist; Gove, as nastily as possible because he is loathed. It seems virtually certain that Hunt will get most of Javid’s votes.
In the lead-up to the final vote, the election has taken some strange twists along the way, with Stewart “admitting” to having smoked opium at an Afghan wedding once; after which Gove announced that — shock! — in his previous career as a London journalist, he had — gasp! — taken cocaine. This looked like a bragging comp, until it was remembered that Gove, as education minister, had organised to have teachers with minor drug convictions sacked.
Boris’ drug history also became an issue — he took coke but says he didn’t do it properly — which at least means that dope is now acceptable. Everyone smokes that. Boris has been trying to tamp down his previous wild reputation, not to mention his hair. That has not proved easy, not least because there is some dispute as to how many children he has, and by how many women. But once he goes up against either Hunt (a Remainer) or Gove (a dehydrated version of Boris) it’s all over. I’ll go the full Van Onselen here: there’s no way he can lose.
Boris’ pitch has been that Brexit will happen on October 31. He has however failed to promise that he would resign if parliament voted to seek and accept another EU delay on Brexit. His lieutenants have taken the same stance, which suggests that it’s the same old Boris: brazening it out, selling hair oil to the faithful and sailing on regardless.
But he would have to be wary. The Brexit Party — that Cerberus-headed outfit of Nigel Farage, the old Revolutionary Communist Party and the Maoists — is now polling at 24%, with Labour’s total split on Brexit, sending it below the Lib Dems, who have emerged at 22%. These numbers will come in quite sharply, but they’re a nightmare for both major parties, because they expose their dirty secret: both are outfits split between their elites and their base, along class lines. The Lib Dems are the only party with a leadership-membership-base class fit, which is why, like the German Greens, they have suddenly sailed through the pack.
Of course why the leadership of one party should be regarded as so hegemonic that its internal debates are broadcast on the BBC is another question altogether; one that raises the question of whether this process — Theresa May advising the Queen to ask Boris to form a government — is even constitutional. Maybe, come the English autumn, it’s not only Rory Stewart who will be taking a stand in Parliament Square as Boris and the nation stumble towards Pluto’s black door.
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