You have to hand it to the Tories for restoring the “silly” to the silly season, that fallow period for the news industry when very little is supposed to happen.
Over the last few months, we’ve moved beyond silly and entered a realm more suited to The Monster Raving Loony Party.
As the Tories’ current leadership campaign picks up steam following the defenestration of Boris Johnson, there are several lessons to be learned, although whether the candidates are capable of learning anything remains a matter of mere conjecture.
It should never have come this far for the Conservatives and Johnson. After all, he delivered an 80-seat majority. He “got Brexit done” (after a fashion). He smashed the increasingly militant Labour Party. The UK’s vaccine roll-out was far more successful than many countries still in the EU. And, let’s not forget, Johnson was the first European leader to offer unwavering support to Ukraine, while France and Germany sat on their hands.
Yet while the case for the defence is undeniably strong, the case for the prosecution was simply undeniable.
Due to Johnson’s own hubris, he has managed to quite spectacularly snatch defeat from the jaws of
Supporters argue that there was no other Conservative politician who could have delivered the kind of electoral result they enjoyed under his leadership and they may well have a point. But it’s equally hard to imagine any other Conservative politician so spectacularly squandering the enormous goodwill they once enjoyed.
After all, more than 14 million people voted Tory at the last election, many of them for the first time in their lives.
Now many of those “new Tories” are delighted to see the back of Johnson and will be thinking twice about who they vote for at Britain’s next polling day.
From our parochial perspective, Johnson’s departure can be seen as good news for a Northern Irish Protocol which he seemed happy to destroy. That flagrant disregard for an internationally binding legal treaty was indicative of a man who never thought the rules applied to him, even when those rules had been agreed and signed off on by his international partners.
Frankly, under “BoJo” the belligerent attitude towards Ireland and the EU saw the Tories become the diplomatic equivalent of Millwall FC – no one likes us and we don’t care.
But while many Irish people loathe Johnson with a passion, they should be careful what they wish for.
Liz Truss, for example, is one of the front-runners in the 11-person race to replace Johnson and while she is known by her detractors as “the pound shop Thatcher”, she has a lot of support.
So how would we fare if she gets into Number 10? Well, this is a woman who only a few weeks ago referred to the Taoiseach as the “Tee Sock” and in 2019 she claimed that a no-deal Brexit would only be bad news “for a few Irish farmers with turnips in the back of their trucks”.
Likewise, the tough-talking Priti Patel was so incensed by the Irish attitude at the start of the Brexit negotiations that she actually suggested the UK could even stop food exports to Ireland, effectively starving us into submission. Given the inherited memory we all have of that little thing we call the Famine – the last time Britain enforced food shortages on us – those remarks weren’t well received but she simply shrugged her shoulders at the furore and issued a deliberately vague “sorry/not sorry” apology.
These are the kind of people we will be dealing with. In fact, I often used to joke that Sinn Féin and the Tories actually had more in common than ether side realised. The reason? Well, both of them want a united Ireland, just for different reasons. The Shinners want to get back their fourth green field and the Tories simply want to get rid of it.
Instead, they’re concerned with chasing their fever dream of a “Global Britain”, where they can turn their back on Ireland and most of Europe and conduct their trade around the world. That’s just not going to happen and they currently find themselves on a collision course with the United States over their willingness to tamper with the Good Friday Agreement.
So why can’t they see that?
Well, there are lots of questions that spring to mind when we look at the current Tory regime and leadership contest, but the answers are rather more difficult to find.
None of them has the raffish charm of Johnson – a man who squirmed his way out of so many self-inflicted scandals he eventually became known as the “greased piglet”. So a rather boring safe-pair-of-hands would be quite welcome now.
Uncertainty abounds but one thing is for sure – the next UK election is going to be a vicious, dirty, captivating spectacle.