Many thanks to BJ Approved Foreign Correspondent Tony Jay:
BJ International Presents: The Brexit Follies
– An Alan Smithee Production
I think it was the late, great Glenn Medeiros who said, in reference to his third manager and fifth confirmed victim (WWE wrestler and pianoforte aficionado Danny “Hot Grease” Famagusta) “He couldn’t sing and he couldn’t dance, but if you didn’t want him applying a Figure-Four leg-lock and rabbit-punching your liver into patè, lying about it was always the smart move”. Wise words, Glenn, wise words. I’m sure that if he were here with us today and even passingly interested in the slow, grinding travesty that is this season of ‘Britain’s Got No Political Talent Whatsoever’, there’s no doubt that Mister Medeiros would look at the remaining Tory Leadership candidates and see the very clear analogy I’m drawing. Then he’d nod and he’d walk away, slowly, along the beach, sand between his toes, hair glistening, quietly satisfied.
Yes, it’s week two of the Contest of Charlatans and this evening the four remaining losers, plus Boris Johnson’s knuckle-cracking spokespeople, will once again ask the Parliamentary Party to throw their support behind their clear-sighted and not-at-all-ludicrous candidacies for the job of fucking up Brexit and everything associated with it in order to drag the corpse of the Tory Party a little bit further towards an inevitable General Election. Delusional optimism and naked ambition aside…. well, there’s not much left to cover, but we’ll try and drag this out for a few more pages so I don’t have to do any – actual – work before going home.
When we left them last week, the candidates had just emerged from the first round of Conservative MP’s votes and the ones who had cracked the magical 16+1 qualification score were:
Boris Johnson -114
Jeremy Hunt – 43
Michael Gove – 37
Dominic Raab – 27
Sajid Javid – 23
Matt Hancock – 20
Rory Stewart – 19
Andrea “Gaffetacular” Leadsom, Mark “Who? Why? Who again?” Harper and Esther “Black-Sheep of House Bolton” McVey were all dumped out for lack of popularity (look at my oh so very shocked face why don’t you), with Health Secretary and Yoof Outreach maestro Matt “Door” Hancock dropping out under his own steam a day later citing the need for a leader who could unite the Tory Party around the issues that Hancock felt were most important. Considering that Hancock had based his campaign on avoiding the self-inflicted mutilation of a No-Deal Brexit you would, of course, expect that he’d throw his support behind Stewart, or maybe to be more practical, Gove or Javid, but you would, of course, be quite wrong. Hancock immediately declared himself loyal to Boris the Brexiteer, proof, if needed, that the only thing more duplicitous and self-serving than a ‘One Nation Tory’ is a ‘One Nation Tory’ in a hurry to nail down his Cabinet job before the real fighting starts. Hancock’s 20 supporters were now up for grabs, and since very few of them would be expected to back one of the Brexit Uber Alles crowd they could provide a less overtly extremist candidate with some of the 33 votes needed to get through the next round of voting.
Before the voting the candidates were scheduled to have their first Leadership Debate live on Channel 4. I say ‘the candidates’ but there was a huge Johnson shaped gap in the proceedings as the Bard of Brexit was dutifully following the advice of his Australian campaign advisor, Lynton ‘I sell sheep-shit to sheep” Crosby and keeping himself locked in a gaffe-proof box until after everyone else dropped out and/or the BBC’s ever-so-friendly political editors could manage proceedings in a manner he’d be comfortable with. Prior to that the latest instance of Trumpian sabre-rattling in the Gulf of Oman gave the other candidates an opportunity to play the macho hardmen by affirming their unqualified support for whatever lunacy the Autonomous Amerikan Oblast was tweeting out as official policy. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was first out of the blocks, displaying his level-headed calmness in a crisis by insisting – without a shred of evidence – that the Foreign Office was almost (like, 99.9% and a bit more) certain Iran was responsible, and rounding on Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn for daring to suggest that maybe we should keep our rockets in our pockets until actual evidence emerged that didn’t stem from badly photoshopped stills lifted from CoD: Modern Warfare 3. The other candidates (sans Boris the Silent) followed along, waving fists in the general direction of Tehran and castigating Corbyn for being insufficiently loyal to Imperator Smallgloves. The Media started lubing up to ride this latest instance of Corbyn Rules deep into The Narrative, but were caught flat-footed when the Rest of the World (other than the Likud-Saudi Axis) confirmed that they were very much with Red Jezza on this and frankly didn’t believe a word emanating from Mike Pompeo’s pie-crust of a face or, by extension, from Blue Jezza’s mysterious Intelligence sources. Oooooh, that’s gotta sting. Funnily enough the topic didn’t come up during the Channel 4 debate and the candidates were spared an embarrassing climb-down, concentrating instead on domestic issues revolving around the omnipresent B-Word.
Opinion after the debate basically boiled down to a few essential truths. Hunt was a bit dull and would probably have been much happier standing in front of a mirror practicing variations on Blue Steel. Gove wanted to base his whole campaign around that one time he was rude to Corbyn while standing in for May at Prime Minister’s Questions (probably out of his face on three lines of Bolivian Devil, that stuff’s proper Bo). Everyone ganged up on Raab and bricked him for his talk about proroguing Parliament (translation – telling Parliament to go and stand in a corner and count to a hundred, no peeking) to prevent MPs from stopping the UK from crashing out of the EU without any kind of withdrawal agreement in place. Javid hoped his humble non-Oxbridge background would make him the obvious choice to take on the Aristotle of Eton in the final round of voting (just don’t mention Chase Manhattan or Deutche Bank, yeah?). Stewart had a good debate and stood out as the only candidate with a couple of toes and maybe part of a heel still firmly planted in the Real World, enabling him to slam the others as macho poseurs without a clue how to make good on their promise to force the EU back to the negotiating table. Johnson was (of course) declared the real winner by the Media, since his empty-chaired absence kept him in everyone’s mind while simultaneously sparing him the irresistible opportunity to say something disastrously empty-headed and borderline offensive every few minutes. Now that’s some privilege on display right there.
In between the Channel 4 debate and the BBC extravaganza where Johnson’s programmers were planning to unveil their shiny new product came the second round of voting. As noted, only candidates who could garner 33 votes or more would get through to the later stages, and whoever got the fewest supporters would be dropped regardless of the number. In the lead-up various bombs were half-heartedly tossed around while the political world waited with bated breath for The BoJo Show to finally debut, hair trimmed and tassels a-whirling.
Rory Stewart’s post-University links with MI6 were somewhat oddly ‘revealed’, like potentially being an operative of Her Majesty’s Secret Service in your early 20’s would count against a Tory candidate? Seriously? All Stewart had to do was state – accurately – that he could neither confirm nor deny (wink wink) the claims and reap the benefits of being within a Kevin Bacon of Daniel Craig. Not bad for a man who looks like a pre-pubescent garden gnome in his uncle’s best interview suit.
Jeremy Hunt dropped his campaign right in it by agreeing ‘150%’ with the sentiments expressed by your own National Embarrassment when Tang Toad Wang retweeted onion-eyed hate-spout and Ann Coulter wannabe Katie Hopkins as part of his disgusting racist attack on London’s Muslim Mayor, Sadiq Khan. After initially trying to style it out Hunt soon realised he was being abandoned by Downing Street and outflanked by his intermittently Muslim rival Sajid Javid and so beat a hasty retreat by clarifying that, while he had been totally right to agree with the offensive sentiments, that didn’t mean he agreed with the sentiments that gave offense, or something. Ladies and gentlemen, our Foreign Secretary, on a one-man mission to remind the world that Boris Johnson wasn’t exactly an outlier when it came to privileged dildoes with microphones.
Johnson himself got a bit of a working over when it was revealed that much of his support was based on – and you may need to be sitting down with a stiff drink to hand while you digest this bombshell – his willingness to promise different factions completely contradictory things in order to secure their votes. Imagine that! Boris lying? Who would have thunk it? Telling the Brexiteers he would utterly rip up May’s withdrawal agreement and its hated Backstop provisions (which even steroid-necked peanut head Dominic Raab wasn’t willing to do) while simultaneously promising more moderate MPs that of course the already agreed withdrawal agreement would form the basis of his negotiating position, with a few tweaks. Oooh, Boris, purred the political press, you dashing rogue, you. Honestly, as an example of how infuriating it is when the Media unilaterally shield their favoured candidate from blowback, their treatment of Johnson is a towering phallic monument to the style. They keep on wondering if the crap he pulls might possibly hurt him, then in the next line they turn around and declare that “for some unknown reason” it’s not damaging him. No shit, Sherlock. It’s almost like he can knife a man on Carnaby Street and get away with it, isn’t it?
[Breaks for a spot of heavy breathing and snapping pencils. Gets splinter. Curses. Returns]
The second round of voting occurred yesterday against back-and-forth whispers that Johnson might be instructing some of his supporters to vote for Hunt in order to inflate his numbers and weaken the others. In the event that didn’t seem to happen, but the results were a bit of a shocker all around.
Boris Johnson – 126 (+12)
Jeremy Hunt – 46 (+3)
Michael Gove – 41 (+4)
Rory Stewart – 37 (+18)
Sajid Javid – 33 (+10)
Dominic Raab – 30 (+3)
For all the talk of the inevitability of Boris and the near certainty that scores of Tory MPs would start flocking to his banner out of ambition and a very real fear of being labelled an internal enemy once his substantial arse gets poised above the Number 10 hot-seat, he’d still only picked up 12 new voters, which I’m pretty sure is fewer than the combined votes confirmed Brexiteers Leadsom and McVey had in the first round. That’s not a great showing, not even close. Dare I say it Johnson is hovering around the crazification factor for the Conservative Parliamentary Party which you can estimate by seeing how many voted against May last December when the ERG group was manoeuvred into trying to remove her from the Premiership at the worst possible moment for a leadership challenge. He’s still the prohibitive favourite, probably, but as far as momentum goes, I don’t see it.
Jeremy Hunt has been the official winner of the Runner-Up Trophy twice now, but he’s also having a momentum problem. To me he gives off a very strong “British Mitt Romney” vibe and his essential privileged dullness seems to be working against him. People keep dropping out but he’s not picking up many of their voters. The same is true of Gove, he’d like to be the guy who can unite Brexiteers and moderates in opposition to Johnson, but the truth is not many people like or trust the slimy little turd, which is doable if you have the institutional power to command obedience through threats of retribution (let’s call it the Trump Doctrine) but is a real handicap when you’re trying to become Primes inter Pares of a group as reflexively vicious as Tory MPs.
Rory Stewart was, of course, the big surprise of this round, picking up the most new voters and winning plaudits for rejecting the groupthink on Brexit and negotiations with the EU. OTOH there have been wobbles, with the ‘Not really that Tory for a Tory’ gloss being tarnished first by some overdue attention to his voting record (loyal to the Government on all of the policies that have hollowed out public services and social care under the banner of Austerity) and then by his vote against Labour’s motion to rule out the No-Deal Brexit he’s supposed to oppose and his flip-flopping between “I’d never serve in a Johnson Cabinet” and “Oh yes I’d definitely serve in a Johnson Cabinet”. Defenders would point out that he’s fighting for the votes of Tory MPs and Tory Party members, so voting with Corbyn’s Labour on a motion so contrary to the opinions of the radicalised Party Base would be suicide, and that’s a fair point, but politics isn’t fair, is it? And vacillating about a Cabinet post just made him look shallow and easily moved about. You’re supposed to be the principled Tory that can win votes from Labour and the Lib-Dems, dude, not a fucking weathervane.
Sajid Javid just scraped into the running for the next round of votes, which is rather surprising considering his policies. I don’t know what it is about this devoted Thatcherite who dragged himself up by his own bootstraps to make a shitload of money in international finance and then gave it all up to become an MP comfortably on the Right of the Party that the bulk of his fellow MPs can’t get behind. It’s really odd. Far be it from me to cast aspersions, but a person could be forgiven for thinking that it might just be a teensy-weensy tiny little bit to do with the institutional Islamaphobia that is absolutely rife within the Conservative Party, so much so that the vast majority of Tories who would otherwise see Javid as the perfect Stop Boris candidate if his name were, say, Simon James, can’t see the point of getting him to a run-off where the electorate are openly and increasingly prejudiced against ‘those people’.
Dominic Raab was the biggest loser, falling below the 33-vote threshold and going out of the race. Not that surprising. He’d tried to define himself as the arch-Brexiteer, but with Johnson staying out of the media spotlight and working the Westminster factions by promising everyone whatever they wanted, Raab was forced to compete with a phantom. That’s what his gaffe about proroguing Parliament was about, staking out an extreme position where he thought Johnson ‘might’ not be willing to go and paying for it when he had to justify it in front of the cameras. His people complained after the fact that Johnson stole away his natural constituency of ERG-branded Brextremists even before the contest began by making outlandish promises Raab couldn’t match, but that simply makes him look like an idiot for persevering with his candidacy. Goodbye, peanut-head, I’m sure we’ll see your altogether too pleased with himself for no discernible reason face again soon enough.
The real jaw-dropping event of yesterday was the release of a YouGov poll of Tory Party members that… well… I’ll just drop these here and let them stand as a tribute to what the ‘Natural Party of Government’ has become.
“For each of the following scenarios say whether you would rather Brexit did or did not take place, even if Brexit led definitely to the scenario becoming a reality.”
Scotland leaving the United Kingdom
Do Brexit = 63% Drop Brexit = 29%
Significant damage to the UK economy
Do Brexit = 61% Drop Brexit = 29%
Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom
Do Brexit = 59% Drop Brexit = 28%
The Conservative Party being destroyed
Do Brexit = 54% Drop Brexit = 36%
Fucking hell. It’s officially a cannibal cult.
There is one scenario where the cultists would let their precious drop into the fiery heart of Mount Doom, though. Can you guess what it is?
Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister
Do Brexit = 39% Drop Brexit = 51%
Oh, and there’s this.
“Would you be happy or unhappy if Nigel Farage became leader of the Conservative Party?”
Happy = 46% Unhappy = 40% Neither = 13% Don’t Know = 1%
Now, there has been a lot of talk, officially poo-pooed by the Conservative Party’s mandarins, of large-scale entryism into the Party from UKIP and even further Right. Some estimate up to 30% of the membership are basically agents of the Brexit Party (which doesn’t have its own membership rolls, being in fact a limited company selling shares in the Nigel Farage brand) on a mission to either drag the Tories with them or force the ‘moderates’ to split off so that they can wear the Party’s skin like a onesie. But even so, these numbers are absolutely fucking horrifying. I can only imagine the seismic shift in openly hostile media coverage that would follow any similar kind of polling amongst Labour Party members, but since it’s Tories happily casting aside the Union, the economy and their own Party in pursuit of Brexit unicorns… one day wonder and a plunge down the memory hole for you, inconvenient facts.
And these are the people who will get to choose the next Prime Minister. We’re doomed.
On to the BBC leadership debate itself, which by all accounts was a bit of a damp squib. I didn’t catch it myself, being out with my partner while she pitched for (and won) funding for a Community Garden she’s setting up in our area, but I’ve caught the highlights and I can see what they mean. Johnson was as you’d expect, blustering and evasive, with no grasp of issues or even his own policies. You’d be forgiven for thinking he really wasn’t that enthusiastic about winning the contest, which wouldn’t be all that surprising, given the insane Party he’d be leading into nailed-on disaster.
Stewart came in for a kicking from the other three also-rans who have clearly decided that he’s getting above his station with this ‘Nice Guy’ campaign and needs to be reminded that David Cameron patented that line of bullshit roughly a decade ago and he won’t be allowed to make the rest of them look like shitbags by comparison.
Hunt and Gove didn’t do much to move the needle either way, with the former promoting decrepit and out-dated pro-business, anti-regulation quackery as the solution to all Britain’s ills and the latter trying to thread a needle between claiming Brexit as his baby while also shedding tears for the poor and the marginalised. Javid got a good moment when he pivoted from Johnson and Hunt’s really cringingly bad responses to a question about Islamophobia and the racist language they’ve used to a call for a full-on independent inquiry into how prevalent it is in the Tory Party, but then you remember what Party it is he’s trying to win the leadership of and it don’t look so much of a win.
In the aftermath, the usual polling took place. Some of the highlights include:
Amongst Tory voters Johnson was declared the winner, with Hunt second and Stewart third, while amongst Labour and Lib-Dem voters Stewart was the runaway winner with Hunt second and Johnson way back. That’s not good news for Saint Rory, but very good news for the Johnson campaign. He could drop a turd on the stage and as long as he turned to camera, smirked, and muttered something about “Miffle piffle…. Corbyn’s head” his support would still rocket.
There is something very, very wrong with these people.
So currently it’s about halfway through the next round of voting. I expect that the bulk of Raab’s support will go to Johnson, which should elevate him over the 150 mark, and maybe even to over 50% of MPs. Short of a scandal even he couldn’t shrug off (Dead girl, live boy, undead panda) he’s going to go into the final round as the favourite of the nutbars who make up the Tory Party membership. The only question is which of the other candidates will join him there. Hunt looks shaky, Javid looks doomed, Gove looks stuck, Stewart may have shot his bolt after the results of the polls. I really do not know what is going to happen. One thing is for certain, though, whoever wins this election will be feted by the Media as a fresh new start for the Conservatives deserving of a chance to solve the Brexit Problem, and they’ll fail.
General Election before the end of the year, semi-official Tory/Brexit Party pact, and we’ll see how the last three years of epic fusterclucking has changed the opinion of the electorate.
Post Vote Addendum
So, the votes came in while I was on my way home and Stewart is out on his bony little arse.
Boris Johnson – 143 (+17)
Jeremy Hunt – 54 (+8)
Michael Gove – 51 (+10)
Sajid Javid – 38 (+5)
Rory Stewart – 27 (-10)
It looks like either Stewart’s supporters decided he was done for after the last debate or – more likely – a big chunk of his 2nd Round vote was ‘loaned’ to him by Johnson’s faction who wanted to ensure that Raab was picked off to free up his Brextremist voters for the front-runner. Now Johnson is within touching distance of 50% and the suspicion will be that he’s artificially propping up one or more of his opponents to orchestrate who his final opponent will be. Of course, he and his team may not be doing any such thing, but the suspicion is there, and you can be damned sure Team Bozo will be fanning it like mad.
What now? Well there’s another vote tomorrow and obviously there’s going to be a ton of pressure on Sajid Javid to fold up his tents and either bring as many of his supporters as possible across to one of the other Not Boris candidates or, since he’s an ambitious fellow with Brexiteer credentials, do what most of the other defeated candidates have done and bend the knee to the Lord of Misrule in return for a nice Cabinet post. OTOH it’s entirely possible that Johnson would prefer to have Javid with him in the final two (for obvious reasons) and might prop him up with spare votes over the next two rounds, which puts yet more pressure on Javid to drop out and take away Johnson’s ability to meddle.
Gove and Hunt’s teams will likewise be communicating to see what kind of deal there is to be done, but I don’t think either man will be willing to budge unless they have to. They’ll both be looking to see where Stewart’s 27 supporters go tomorrow and how their own vote totals hold up.
Bloody hell, these Tories, it’s never simple. That’s why I prefer reading about American politics. It’s all happening safely far, far away and to someone else. s/