On Sunday evening we were graced with the Channel 4 Toryfest, in which five middle class Conservatives who are not going to become Prime Minister competed with one another to normalise a form of politics that only a couple of years ago was considered on the far extreme right, in front of a studio audience of Tories. So it was pretty much like any episode of BBC Question Time. All that was missing was a sectarian bigot in an orange jaiket. Although Jeremy Hunt did refer at one point to “our friends in the DUP”. So near enough.
If you could hear the sound of distant thuds as the programme was on telly, that was the sound of EU leaders banging their heads off their desks. That’s the only logical and sane response to what was essentially a willie waving contest between four also rans, each of whom was keen to assert that he was the only one macho enough to ram Brexit through by sheer force of will. And then there was Rory Stewart, trying to say that they couldn’t, but he’s the also rans’ also ran so it doesn’t really matter what he thinks. The only people who are going to vote for him belong to the Middleland branch of the Conservative party, and that’s as mythical as Rory’s statistics.
Jeremy Hunt used a question about business not wanting a no deal Brexit in order to take a crack at the elephant who wasn’t in the room. Saying that Boris Johnson should be present to answer that question. Jeremy’s own answer was none too convincing. But then this is a man who ran the English NHS into the ground, so perhaps his estimation of his expertise in business is as exaggerated as the rest of his opinion of himself.
Boris Johnson had decided not to bother turning up, but even so he still managed to put in a more convincing and persuasive performance than Michael Gove. Michael Gove went on about how he can deliver a renegotiated backstop. The EU has said repeatedly that it’s not going to renegotiate. Presenter Krishnan Gurumurthy kept interrupting in order to get him to answer the point that if the EU has said it’s not going to renegotiate the Irish backstop, why are they going to reopen it for Michael Gove. Perhaps it’s time you listened instead of interrupting, slimed Michael, continuing not to answer the question.
Gove has convictions, just not a cocaine conviction. He won the EU referendum, all by himself apparently, so that means he’s the guy to deliver Brexit. Funny how he’s not taking any responsibility for the mess and chaos that British politics have been mired in ever since. I’m surprised to hear that Michael won the referendum by himself, I could have sworn it had a lot more to do with illegal overspending, foreign interference, and some seriously dodgy social media campaigns. Oh, and he repeated the lie about his dad’s fish company being closed by the EU. That’s the lie that even his dad has contradicted. Gove wants us to believe that he’ll listen to the country, when he won’t even listen to his own dad. On Father’s Day too.
Rory Stewart kept going on about bins, and the impossibility of squeezing three bags of rubbish into one small bin. This was apparently a metaphor, and not an actual description of Conservative politics, although it very much could have been. Dominic Raab does have the look about him of a man who’s spent the past three years yelling at a binbag for not believing enough. He kept looking like he was about to punch someone and storm out. I wish he had. Believe in the bin! Believe. In. The. Bin! BELIEVE IN THE BIN!!! It’s the new Tory slogan for Brexit.
Sajid Javid scarcely got a word in. Or if he did no one really noticed. That’s what happens when you’re Ruth Davidson’s favourite candidate. Sajid was only experiencing what Ruth’s winning really means.
Then I went to take the dog out, and when I came back it was like I hadn’t missed anything at all. They were all still stuck in the same mindless and meaningless loop of disengagement from reality that they had been before. Which isn’t that surprising really, since they’ve been stuck in it for the past three years. Getting a dug to crap was at least a productive use of time.
Then they were asked about uniting the country. That’s a laugh. That’s like asking a horde of zombies what they’re going to do to encourage veganism. Jeremy Hunt used the little trick of writing down the name of the person who asked the question, then repeating it back during his answer so that he could pretend like he gave a toss. Michael Gove said that he had learned that every individual had something to offer. Like a line of cocaine, or a drag on a spliff.
Rory told us that he’s Scottish. In case we’d forgotten. That’s a Glen Eton accent he’s got there. He mentioned the independence referendum of 2014 and said that it was the most important campaign he’d ever taken part in. That was the campaign where he got people to pile rocks up on the border in a memorial cairn, you know, like you do for dead people. Which is apt. Rory thought that the most fitting monument to the union between Scotland and England is a literal pile of rubble. He wasn’t wrong. He didn’t actually say what he was going to do to heal the political divisions between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Presumably like the rest of them it will be by telling Scotland that it doesn’t have the right to ask itself about its future. Cos that’ll work.
Then they all started talking about social care, education, and opportunities for the young, like none of them had been responsible for any of this until now. You don’t have to be a cynic to suspect that their newly found enthusiasm for social care might not be unrelated to the age profile of the Conservative party membership. God what is it with Michael Gove and hand gestures? Someone must have told him it makes him look forceful and decisive, but really it just makes him look like a Joe 90 puppet with a string malfunction. They’re all terrible in their own unique way, but Dominic Raab comes across as particularly unpleasant. Which is quite an achievement when you’re in the same room as Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt. He’s like someone who gets really angry when he doesn’t understand something. Which we must assume happens frequently
Anyway, all of a sudden they’re all going to invest in public services yet for the past decade they’ve all personally benefited from and promoted austerity. And that means you too Rory. You only come across as reasonable because you’re standing beside yer actual vampires and ogres. Your own voting record is just as abhorrent.
Then they were asked about their greatest weakness. Each of them competed with one another to give the smarmiest job interview answer. Caring too much. Impatient. Working too hard. Bollocks. Jeremy Hunt said that his friends tell him he’s too stubborn. So far the biggest surprise that has come out of this debate is discovering that Jeremy Hunt thinks he has friends. But then he said that stubbornness was a good quality in a Prime Minister, because that worked out so well for Theresa May. Sajid’s weakness is that he’s an outsider whose dad wouldn’t let him get a dog. “I’ve been used to being an outsider my whole life,” said Sajid, the multimillionaire ex-city banker. Although to be fair Rory Stewart gave an answer that he found in a fortune cookie. But we all know their greatest weakness is garlic, sunlight, and a stake through the heart. It’s a pity that Boris Johnson wasn’t there for that question, although he’d probably have to say that he couldn’t answer as it was still subject to a superinjunction.
Then there was a bit of handwringing about mental health issues, with none of them accepting or apologising for the role of their own party and government in producing the lamentable state of mental health service provision in England. And yes, we’re looking at you Jeremy.
Finally we got to the end, and each candidate was given 30 seconds to make their pitch as to why they’d be the best Prime Minister. It was a bit of blah. Some more willie waving. Some more blah. There were promises to secure the future for young generations that they’ve all voted against in the past. What’s been signally lacking from the entire proceeding this evening is anything approaching a fact based plan. It was wall to wall management speak by people who think that the middle management self-help section in a airport bookstore is a fount of deep wisdom.
Boris Johnson definitely had the best idea. By not turning up he still managed to come across as more human than those who did. God help us all. Believe in the bin! It’s where the UK is headed.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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