Despite the vast majority of Tory MPs deciding that the public should not have a confirmatory vote on the Brexit deal (the masses are somehow only entitled to take a view on the global status of our countries once in a generation), they are chafing at the bit to elect a new leader.
Theresa May ‘won’ the questionable honour of leading the Tory Party a couple of weeks after the referendum on the UK’s EU membership, the position becoming vacant when David Cameron fled the mess he caused.
Less than a year later, Mrs May attempted to exploit being ahead in the polls by holding a snap general election. It was not a great success (consider this British understatement), yet she clung to power — even after a subsequent leadership challenge that can only be described as botched.
Now May, amid outrage in the hard right of her party that she hasn’t secured Brexit (to a large extent because they didn’t vote a deal through parliament), has had to give a vague assurance (not words that should go together) that she will leave office after one more try at getting her Brexit deal through. In reality, the hard right doesn’t want her deal to pass, they want some mythical ideologically pure Brexit unicorn, as though pushing the UK over a cliff is a pure thing to do, and in no way dangerous, callous or predatory.
So, the hard Brexiteers are writhing around and hissing like snakes in a pit, taking any media opportunity to show off their venom and fangs. Meanwhile, Theresa May is paralysed, as though a lovely day running in wheat fields has turned into a hellish acid trip, stuck in a snake pit composed of slithering metamorphosed party colleagues.
The Oddschecker website, which compiles odds from major betting firms, currently has Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab as strong frontrunners. Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove trail some way behind. Therefore, today I will focus on the two figures at the head of the pack.
Where to start with Boris Johnson? He’s an old Etonian who started out as a journalist, where he wrote ludicrously distorting attacks on the EU for The Telegraph. As a journalist, he told an old Etonian friend (fraudster Darius Guppy) plotting to get a journalist beaten up for investigating him, that he would provide the intended victim’s address.
His glib ‘charm’ did not prevent Johnson from getting sacked for fabricating quotes when a trainee reporter at The Times — though he still has managed to get paid a fortune for writing articles (money he has described as chicken feed). This pattern of dishonesty not ultimately doing him harm has extended to Johnson’s political career. In 2004 he was sacked by party leader Michael Howard for lying about an adulterous affair, yet he has blundered, barged and bullshitted his way back to prominence and could be UK prime minister in a matter of weeks. This is a chilling thought for anyone who has followed his career and his many outrageous and irresponsible utterances.
While serving as foreign secretary, from 2016 to 2018, Johnson told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (a UK citizen and mum serving a five-year jail sentence in Iran, after being detained on holiday and accused of espionage) had been “simply teaching people journalism”. In relation to a state that jails more journalists than most other countries, this was a dangerous and idiotic claim. Johnson’s words caused the regime to add a charge of ‘propaganda against the state’, which risked her sentence being doubled. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains incarcerated and separated from her four-year-old daughter.
During his stint as foreign secretary, Johnson also embarrassed the UK by reciting a colonial-era poem when visiting a temple in Myanmar, surrounded by cameras. The British ambassador had to tell him to refrain from reciting Rudyard Kipling’s poem The Road to Mandalay. Before Johnson reluctantly stopped, he was approaching a line which refers to the Buddha as a “Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud”.
To those who have followed Johnson’s career, the above example might not be too shocking (though doing that as a foreign secretary ramps up the idiocy and insensitivity of it), as he has spewed out a number of racist comments. Writing in The Telegraph in 2002, Johnson described black people in Africa as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. In 2006, while a shadow higher education minister, he suggested people from Papua New Guinea were prone to “orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing”.
More recently Johnson was accused of pandering to the far-right by suggesting some Muslim women look like bank robbers and letterboxes. Steve Bannon, a white nationalist behind Cambridge Analytica and Trump’s campaign, and former executive chairman of far-right website Breitbart, is one of the few political figures who defended Johnson after those comments.
Dominic Raab has only been an MP since 2010 but has managed to court a lot of controversy and ridicule already. In the run-up to the EU referendum, Raab wrote: “We’ll be better off if we’re freed up to trade more energetically with the growth markets like Latin America and Asia”, seemingly oblivious to the fact that UK trade deals have been enabled by being in the EU. Swapping pig semen for suspiciously cheap Huawei wizardry will not replace the huge EU market and other markets it has secured us with deals with.
In July 2018, following the resignation of David Davis, Raab was appointed Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. He only lasted a few months. In November 2018 he was criticised and widely mocked for saying that he “hadn’t quite understood the full extent” of how much UK trade relies on the Dover-Calais crossing.
If the next Tory leader is to unite the UK, it is hard to see how Raab is the best person for the job. In an article on the Politics Home website entitled ‘We must end feminist bigotry’, he used the term “the equality bandwagon” and said: “feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots” and “While we have some of the toughest anti-discrimination laws in the world, we are blind to some of the most flagrant discrimination — against men. From the cradle to the grave, men are getting a raw deal.”
The tone of that article is more appropriate for far-right vomitorium Breitbart than cabinet meetings in a progressive society — or statements on the world stage. Therefore, for me, Raab has already proved himself too divisive and toxic to be an adequate prime minister. However, in the fever to get a hard Brexit through, it might be that many Conservative Party members are less interested in having a leader who can unite the UK than one who would (foolhardily in my opinion) give that final push off the cliff onto the jagged rocks below.