For two and a half years, Tory MPs have enabled an incompetent and self-serving liar to ruin this country, and looked on. It would have been difficult to see how they could have made that situation worse, but of course they have.
Over 50 members of the government resigned and forced Johnson’s own resignation, after a fashion, but of course the present tentative situation is in his own interests, as always, and not in those of his party or the country. His colleagues have agreed to his proposal that he resign from being party leader, but he is left in charge of the country.
So they are telling us that they can no longer allow this narcissistic liar to bring down their party. But it’s perfectly acceptable to leave him to continue to bring down the country. On Sky, Adam Boulton described it as a moment of peril for the British constitution. He was correct, and we will see the constitution and what imperils it looming large in the weeks ahead.
The present position could also have been predicted. After Boris Johnson quit his role as foreign secretary, it took civil servants three weeks to chivvy him out of his grace and favour house at One, Carlton Gardens. Like his father, he is what the Australians would call a bludger. He takes, he borrows, he asks favours, he never pays anything back.
Labour is talking about a no confidence motion in the Commons. That would place the Tories in a difficult dilemma. Naturally one would usually expect the Tories to oppose it. Usually. But how could they express confidence in a prime minister who a majority of them have been calling an incompetent liar?
Boris Johnson’s illicit contacts with sinister Russian figures have begun to re-emerge this week, as his overthrow begins to throw more light on the darker aspects of his regime.
There are serious questions by serious people about how, as foreign secretary, he could shake off his security detail to flee to a bunga-bunga party in Italy thrown in a castle by the son of a former KGB man. Especially when it emerges, as it has this week, that while there he had an intimate meeting with the KGB man himself, with nobody else present.
How could that happen? And how could those secret service men then not sound the alarm?
There is much talk of Russian kompromat on Boris Johnson, and on other senior figures in the British establishment. One of the strongest rumours at the moment concerns Theresa May, and why as home secretary she did nothing to curtail what (if the secret services are any good at all) she must have known about him. But in fact she actually made him foreign secretary, which is still today as astonishing a decision as it seemed at the time.
So the selection process for a new Tory leader, and inevitably our next prime minister, has begun. But recent by-election results and the present state of the polls have added a new argument to the discussions in the tea-rooms, and readers will already have guessed what it is. Candidates this time will be boasting about who has the biggest…
The size of a majority will play an important part in who MPs choose, since what is the point of going through all this only to lose the new leader a few months or a couple of years down the line. Once this element is stirred into the mix two possible candidates in particular look under threat. Jeremy Hunt can only boast a 9,000 majority in his seat in South West Surrey, and in Wycombe Steve Baker’s majority is only 4,000. So count them out.
Matt Hancock (West Suffolk) says he won’t be standing for the Tory party leadership…
So who are the upcoming new men and women? Sweaty James Cleverly (Braintree) joins the cabinet for the first time, as education secretary. He will be the third education secretary in three days. One source claims his immediate predecessor, Michelle Donelan, will receive £17,000 in severance pay – for two days.
Mr Cleverly is widely seen as a man promoted beyond his capabilities, and Pecksniff hopes to return to that. But one of the things he’s clearly not very good at is the constitution. In a criticism of John Major for his call for Johnson to go quickly, Cleverly says:
“The prime minister has said he is standing down. The timescale for that departure will be defined by the process that the 1922 Committee and the Conservative party put in place.”
This means the process and timing of Johnson’s replacement has been established by Johnson himself, an incompetent liar and possible national security risk, and the chair of the Tories’ backbench 1922 committee. From where, dear readers, does it say in the constitution that the man or woman to lead us should be chosen by a disgraced liar and an apparatchik of the Tory party?
Another on the move is Johnson trusty Steve Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire), who becomes the new health secretary. Pecksniff is grateful for the memory of Professor Deirdre Heenan, who points out that, while Brexit secretary, Mr Barclay voted against a government motion he himself had proposed just 20 minutes earlier.
Shailesh Vara (NorthWest Cambridgeshire) has been appointed as the new secretary of state for Northern Ireland – also his first cabinet post. This will come as a shock to many of his constituents, and probably to members of his own local party too. Mr Vara appears an ineffectual nonentity in a three-piece suit, and the stories Pecksniff hears about him support that impression. Which is worrying, given the requirements of his new job.
Before being elected as an MP, Mr Vara was a property solicitor, but according to previous colleagues he was not a very good one. He is described as being seriously poor at the law – a bit of a handicap if you’re a lawyer – and was in the habit of calling colleagues late at night in a panic, for help with his files.
At the Northern Ireland office he will have to deal with the intractable issues confronting Stormont, and the small matter of Article 16 and (for a man with a reputation for having difficulty with his brief) confrontation with all those sharp-suited negotiators from Brussels.
It was noticed that Priti Patel (Witham) was absent from prime minister’s questions on Wednesday. She had leadership pretensions herself, of course, though they never really took off. Once again, the Home Office has proved a graveyard for Tory political aspirations. You can never hang or flog enough of them or send enough home to pacify the Tory backwoods.
So what role does she see herself playing in the present imbroglio? Does she still fancy herself as PM? She was employing PR consultants Crosby Textor to promoter her campaign – Did you miss it too? – but they were also in No.10 to advise Boris Johnson. That worked out well… but at least Lynton Crosby can concentrate on flinging his dead cats on only one table instead of two.
So on to our inevitable story about Liz Truss (South West Norfolk). Ireland’s deputy prime minister (or “deputy tea sock” as Ms Truss would no doubt call him) has expressed the view that she and the government are guilty of “shocking blunders” over Northern Ireland and effectively accuses her of being dishonest and dishonourable. He goes on to say: “Well, there are some people clearly who are able to say a square is a circle. That’s just not the facts.”
Which is as clear a denunciation of Ms Truss as a liar as one would ever expect in international diplomacy.
And another. Here, in giving evidence to a House of Commons select committee Liz Truss claims she brings up the question of human rights with Gulf leaders all the time. This in spite of her civil servants saying the matter has never been mentioned, and Ms Truss herself being unable to give a single example.
These days Ms Truss seems to carry a desperate sense of foreboding. It’s as if she fears the turnip Taliban she so mocked, and who are the backbone of her vote in Norfolk, might just begin to have doubts. Which, given the state of things isn’t wholly unlikely.
And a third. This week’s nonsense in Westminster caught La Truss flat-footed. She was in Indonesia at a summit, which was supposed to feature a showdown with Russia. But she has abandoned issues of international relations and potential conflict. She has much more pressing concerns. She has rushed home, to stake her claim on MPs’ support in the forthcoming leadership bloodshed.
Looking at her behaviour over the past months, the posturing, the photos, and now abandoning her country’s interests in favour of her own, there really seems little difference between her and Boris Johnson.
That sentiment seems to have occurred to the EU too. One diplomat said: “Surely Truss will make a run for it, which doesn’t bode well”.
James Wild (North West Norfolk) wears the slightly manic look and rictus grin of a sixth former who wants to take over the world; an Adrian Mole who has just discovered Machiavelli. He was late in his rebuke to Johnson – it didn’t arrive till Thursday morning, when the show was all but over, and they were clearing away the empties. But then he was in a difficult position. His wife is still leader of the Tories in the Lords so presumably still a Johnson acolyte.
Mr Wild is another in an apparently safe seat who must nevertheless be acutely aware of how by-elections show even the largest Tory majority can be overcome. His own majority is nearly 20,000, but larger majorities than that have been thrown aside. His closest challenger in 2019 was Labour, though at the moment all the running seems to be made by the Liberal Democrats’ Rob Colwell.
Councillor Colwell held a party outside Mr Wild’s constituency office to celebrate the 74th anniversary of the founding of the NHS. It will not come as a surprise that he used the opportunity to bring to the MP’s attention the state of the local Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where more than 1500 struts are holding up the roofs and any number of buckets are placed around the hospital to catch the rainwater as it leaks through the roof.
It seems that Kings Lynn is not among Boris Johnson’s much vaunted 40 new hospitals – not a surprise since it turns out nowhere is. There are to be no 40 new hospitals. The idea was simply made up.
Meanwhile, has the local Labour Party even chosen its candidate? Pecksniff would like to know. The regional party has a monstrously complacent attitude to fighting elections in East Anglia – they throw people into two or three winnable seats and ignore the rest. Those of a progressive political persuasion in the seats abandoned have a right to feel aggrieved.
Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) has resigned from her post as junior Defra minister but adds to the introduction to her resignation letter: “I will not be doing interviews on this matter”. To students of Ms Churchill’s tenure as MP this hardly needed saying. She is a stranger to journalists, unless they are benevolent photographers and there are children and smiling people in wheelchairs. Interviewers, not so much. She is not known as ‘No-show Jo’ for nothing.
A new YouGov poll shows the Liberal Democrat Sam Collins is favourite to replace Bim Afolami as MP for Hitchin and Harpenden. Mr Afolami is looking increasingly hapless these days, after Rory Stewart (for whom he once worked in the Foreign Office) implied that he had promised support for his own leadership bid last time, played a part in the planning, then decamped to one of his rivals.
Now here’s a fascinating coincidence. At the height of Tuesday evening’s dramatic happenings in Westminster, whilst ministers were resigning and Boris Johnson teetered on the brink, Michael Gove was at the opera. But so was Theresa May. They were there to watch a double bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. The first is a tale of betrayal and sexual incontinence, ending in bloody murder. Pagliacci also ends in bloody murder, and the main character declares: “La commedia e finita!”
Michael Gove is everybody’s favourite pantomime villain, the plotter in dark corners, and his very public alibi – at the opera where hundreds of people can see him – will not fool fans of The Godfather. While all that blood is being spilled on stage and back in Westminster, of course the villain makes sure he has an alibi. All the makings of a Mafia vendetta movie. But what of Ms May’s presence, what alibi did she need while it was all kicking off back there in Westminster? What role in The Godfather can she have been playing? The Godmother? Are the happenings at Westminster really Ms May’s revenge, eaten cold?
A month ago one of Pecksniff’s esteemed moles provided a story about another Brexit cock-up in Felixstowe Dock and elsewhere, in which lots of extra staff have been employed in jobs which don’t exist, because the government has once again put back its new customs procedures. But your correspondent was too busy poncing about selecting a suitable wardrobe for a lengthy holiday in the south of France, and let the story go unreported. The story is now heavily reported elsewhere this week.
So EAB misses an exclusive and the efforts of a valuable contact go unrewarded. Apologies are due then to that diligent listener at keyholes, and reassurances that it won’t happen again. [It had better not! -Ed.]
Likewise, should any other readers have information to pass on discreetly, Pecksniff would be delighted to hear it, either by email to EAB or direct message on Twitter to @PecksniffsDiary.