Scummy Bastards

7 July 2022

Scummy Bastards

The Tory defectors.

By John Watson

Photo of John Watson

Bastards! Unmitigated, turncoat, scummy bastards. Yes, you know who I mean. Sunak and Javid, whose resignation yesterday will almost certainly trigger the fall of Boris Johnson. Hanging is too good for them frankly. Bring back that drawing and quartering business. They knew how to deal with traitors in the Middle Ages, firmly that is how, and they were right about that.

No, don’t get me wrong. I am no admirer of Boris’s style of government and I don’t give a fig for the fact that they have undermined him. It is time for him to go, anyway; he has nothing further of value to contribute and Sunak and Javid are quite right to resign from his government. No, it isn’t the fact that they did it which is outrageous. It is the timing.

There I was on Tuesday afternoon, writing my Shaw Sheet article on the state of the Tory party. Illness and holidays mean that we are short of material this week so I was keen to make it especially good. There were lots of intelligent things to say. How MPs who crossed the floor were unlikely to be selected by Labour as candidates at the next election, for example. How those who had supported Johnson in the first confidence vote could hardly vote against him in the second without appearing to run scared in the wake of the by-election results, for another. How the secrecy of the process probably meant little when sensible MPs would already have discussed their stance with constituency chairmen. It was a beautiful article, full of Parliamentary mathematics, brilliant insights and caustic wit and it came to the obvious conclusion that Johnson was safe for the time being. Then, just after completing it, I switched on the news, heard about the Cabinet resignations and forwarded my article to the “trash” box.

Why on earth could they not have held their resignations back until today? True the predictions in my article would have been proved wrong, but so what? These days journalism is about entertainment rather than truth and I could have written an article next week explaining how my analysis had been betrayed by the political equivalent of an Act of God. But they didn’t hold up their resignations, did they? In a fit of piggish selfishness they just went ahead, ignoring the inconvenience they were causing to one of the nation’s foremost journals as though they cared nothing for the Shaw Sheet’s future support. Well, all I can say is that when Johnson is gone and it comes to deciding who should be the successor there are a couple of names which I will strike off the list.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining and the fact that mention of these traitors as potential leaders is now taboo does at least shorten the list.  Who is top of the leaderboard? “Cometh the hour, cometh the man” they say in the sporting world and as I was watching some of last week’s racing at Henley I began to wonder how that man, or possibly woman, might be identified. In modern rowing it is common for crews to seek to establish an early lead and then hang on to it but in many of the great races the winning crew sits behind the opposition for the first part of the course and then powers past them in the closing stages. That is how the British ladies eight won the Remenham Challenge Cup and it is the tactics commonly pursued by the victors in political leadership races. Seldom do those who desert the previous leader early come through. In the case of Mrs Thatcher it was Heseltine who mounted the original challenge and yet it was Major who ended up succeeding her. Look, then, for a possible successor who is suspiciously slow to leave the sinking ship, Gove for example.

Now move the crosshairs. Whatever they say about public duty, most Conservative MPs are far more interested in their own prospects of surviving the next election. That means that the new government must be different from the old and in particular that it needs to be far more focused on what it is trying to achieve.  So it must have new ideas and be led by an intelligent reformer. Where do you find one of those in the present pack? Not among the Harrys and harridans whose position is defined solely by their loyalty to Brexit. No, you need to look for someone who is not afraid of new thinking and making courageous decisions. Perhaps again you need to look for Michael Gove.

Of course such a choice would have its risks. Gove didn’t go down particularly well at education, largely as a result of a tendency to over manage his department. On the other hand he was much respected at DEFRA and there is no reason to think that he has not learnt from his earlier experiences. Mrs Thatcher was not much of a success at education either but, like her or loathe her, she certainly proved her competence as a leader when she took on the top job. The other thing, of course, is that Gove comes across as slightly eccentric and those of the Tory MPs who believe that successful leaders are defined by “image” could see that as an issue. They are wrong to do so. The public cares far more about being well governed than whether its leader is eccentric or not (after all, in Victorian times they actually elected Disraeli), and if Gove impressed them with his intelligence and thoroughness, as he probably would, they would not vote against him on that score.

Then again look at the other candidates. Wallace seems a good man and Jeremy Hunt is a careful albeit unexciting one, but these are safety first choices. If the Tories want to win the next election they need to follow the example of the England cricket team and storm through with an exciting and modernising programme. There is only one politician in the party who has the ability to lead the charge. His name is Michael Gove.

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