Prime minister Boris Johnson has been branded a lame duck, a dead man walking, toast. The mood among Tory MPs has been described as ‘sulphurous’, with demands for resignation coming from Scottish Tory Leader Douglas Ross, MPs like Roger Gale and David Davis, and a mutiny brewing among the 2019 intake. With ex-advisor Dominic Cummings joining in the onslaught and an apology to the Queen to top it all off, Partygate doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. The total number of alleged gatherings now amounts to somewhere near sixteen, including regular ‘Wine-Time Fridays’.
Others feel it’s too early to call the end of Boris Johnson’s career. What isn’t too early to say is that the line-up of potential successors means whoever takes his place as leader of the Tories and prime minister of the country, whether it’s this week or another, shouldn’t be relied upon to make things that much better.
Having somehow managed to miss the parties going on every other night next door, the Chancellor is emerging from Partygate not only seemingly unscathed but still uniquely popular. His tepid support for Johnson, including a hinted confession that the premier would have to leave were it proved that he had lied to Parliament, suggests a play for the leadership that, going by current odds, would start him off out ahead.
Sunak has spent the pandemic putting distance between himself and Johnson in terms of image, but his carefully crafted social media presence has been balanced out by moments of widely-criticised inaction. As the hospitality trade collapsed in December, for example, the mastermind of Eat Out to Help Out (a scheme believed to have caused a rise in Covid deaths) was in California meeting technology and investment leaders, and on his watch, three million people were left excluded from income support during the pandemic.
The positive approval ratings obscure another list Sunak sits at the top of, too: with a reported net worth of £200 million, he’s believed to be the richest person in the House of Commons. His wife, Akshata Murthy, is wealthier than the Queen. Sunak is also part of the intricate Westminster-media web, having been best man when Allegra Stratton, the first casualty of the party scandal, married James Forsyth, political editor of the Spectator.
‘Please not Truss, please not Truss, please not Truss,’ a Foreign Office source reportedly said upon learning of the reshuffle back in December. Truss, current Foreign Secretary and part of the Britannia Unchained group which famously decried British workers ‘the world’s worst idlers’, has been shown to have the highest ministerial satisfaction ratings among party members—but she’s also known to be gaffe-prone, most famously when cheese deals and pork markets are involved.
Sometimes it’s much more than a gaffe. In 2019, during her tenure as International Trade Secretary, Truss ‘inadvertently’ allowed the export of arms to Saudi Arabia in a clear breach of a court order banning the sale of weapons to the country as a result of the ongoing conflict in Yemen. So inadvertent was this event that it happened not once, not twice, but three times. The following year, she made the decision to resume arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition, labelling any breaches of international law that had taken place in Yemen ‘isolated incidents’.
Few politicians today inspire as much dread as Priti Patel, and it’s a fact she appears to relish. Having previously voiced support for bringing back the death penalty, Patel is the political force behind the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts and Nationality and Borders Bills, which make moves to criminalise protest and asylum seekers respectively. The latter comes after threats to send asylum seekers first to a volcanic island and, more recently, to Rwanda. Patel’s comments on ‘activist lawyers’ have been blamed for inciting physical violence, and plenty would argue her updates to the asylum process—including the accommodation of asylum seekers in prison-like barracks—amount to physical violence themselves.
Of course, Patel’s stances are also reliably hypocritical. Having recently called for greater action against foreign influence in Parliament despite being forced to resign in 2017 for her unofficial meetings with the Israeli government, she also said last year that if she saw or knew of illegal gatherings while Covid restrictions were in place, she would ‘ring the police’. She has since been making the rounds on Tory WhatsApp groups defending the prime minister’s partying.
It says a lot about the state of politics that former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt now looks a viable candidate to run for leadership, having this week told the House magazine that his hopes of leading the Tory Party have ‘not completely vanished’, although it would take ‘a lot’ to persuade him.
As the longest-serving health secretary in history, Hunt considers himself the man who ‘saved the NHS’. His actual record in the NHS says something different.
Hunt took over the health brief in 2012, leaving the post in 2018. Official figures show that 2017, 2018, and 2019 were successively the ‘worst on record’, with the British Medical Association reporting that the winter crisis was replaced by a ‘year-round crisis’. The number of patients waiting over four hours to be seen in A&E when Hunt left office was three times higher than when he took over. His response? Patients could simply be banned from walking up to A&E—an idea he was quickly forced to renounce.
In 2016, Gove was the least popular leadership candidate out of himself, Andrea Leadsom, and Theresa May. His position wasn’t helped by a reputation as an outstanding back-stabber, with a spat with Boris Johnson during the same leadership election epitomised by Gove’s claim that Johnson simply wasn’t up to the job.
For many, Gove’s legacy is the destruction of England’s education system. His tenure as Education Secretary saw him alienate most of the workforce in an attempt to reintroduce a learning culture from fifty years ago, including a £370,000 endeavour to deliver copies of the King James Bible to every school in the UK with a foreword included from the minister himself. The plan ran into trouble after David Cameron ordered Gove to find private funding, deeming the initiative unpopular even by Tory standards.
In the four years following Gove’s 2010 appointment, the number of academies rose from 203 to 3,979, the National Curriculum was overhauled, and teachers were subjected to a new model of performance-related pay. His latest tenure as Levelling-Up Secretary has been marked by a comparative continuation of the status-quo, with the poorer half of the country seeing a real-terms income loss of £110 per year since 2019. Nonetheless, the Telegraph reports that he is making leadership ‘manoeuvres’.
Six months on, it’s still not quite clear what Dominic Raab meant when he said the sea was closed, preventing him from taking part in the activity of which he was accused: paddle-boarding while the Taliban took Kabul.
Currently Deputy Prime Minister, a title widely believed to have been bestowed in an attempt to pacify his disappointment at being demoted, Raab has been wheeled out to various interviews to defend the current administration in light of the current scandal. He has so far denounced questions about a potential leadership candidacy as ‘daft’, but the word of a man who says the police don’t normally investigate retrospective events and that a party isn’t a party if people wear suits should probably be taken with a pinch of salt.
Drawing inspiration from Ayn Rand, before his entrance into politics, Sajid Javid was a career banker. He’s also an ex-senior adviser to JP Morgan, a position that earned him £150,000 on top of his parliamentary salary, and a passionate advocate of the outsourcing of public services, despite the practice’s well-documented failures. As Health Secretary, Javid is currently presiding over the passage of a Health and Care Bill that’s been denounced by medical professionals and NHS activists across the board.
None of the Above
There are plenty of other names being tipped, too: Nadhim Zahawi, out at the forefront of denials about the existence of Operation Save Big Dog; Kwasi Kwarteng, a fellow contributor to 2012 tome Britannia Unchained; Tom Tugendhat, the ex-soldier receiving glowing write-ups in the Spectator; Nadine Dorries, a committed culture warrior most recently making headlines for doubling down on plans to defund the BBC. The list goes on, depending where you look.
The point of outlining possible candidates is not to say Boris Johnson should stay put. That the prime minister partied while people were forced to watch their families dying alone in hospital should be the end of Johnson’s political career—politicians have resigned for far less. But it’s also not just Johnson we need to be rid of.
The Tory Party is full to the brim of individuals who make a virtue of being clueless about the lives of normal people. They are not just individuals with individual records of incompetence, corruption and authoritarianism. They are the group that has overseen a country with more food banks than branches of McDonalds; with 1.8 million children growing up in deep poverty. The parties mean Johnson should go, of course, but the problem at the core isn’t who gets to call themselves Leader of the Conservative Party—it’s the ruling class itself.