How are you finding the pace of Boris Johnson’s political demise? I once saw a wildlife clip where a snake was eating a live chicken, but stopped for a long rest in the middle of it, leaving the bird sort of half in, half out of the jaws. The chicken veered between shock, which gave the appearance of calm, and distressingly grim bouts of flailing. Though it wasn’t wearing the Facemask of Shame and trying to talk about its vaccine rollout, I did find myself reminded of it this week. Of course, in tribute to Johnson’s gift for political escapology, David Cameron once called Johnson a “greased piglet”. But as David well knows, even pigs get defiled by reality in the end.
Speaking of swine, there has been a huge amount to be amused by amid the horror show. It seems pause has currently been pressed on something called the pork pie plot, which must be a relief to the prime minister. I’m not sure Boris Johnson could handle the truly hilarious self-realisation of getting to the Reichenbach Falls and discovering his worthy foe was … hang on, let me get my monocle … ah yes, Gary Sambrook. “Bugger off, Gary – I’m expecting Sherlock Holmes, not some 32-year-old Freemason no one’s ever heard of.” And more on the generational comedy in a bit.
We know how bad things are because Johnson keeps saying that the public just wants him to get on with the job. If you ever hear a politician say “I think what people really want to see is us getting on with the job,” you know that what people actually want to see is that guy, specifically, being made to fight a hippo in a pit. Ideally a hippo with tetanus.
For now, a range of outcomes remains on the table/in the pit. Some are suggesting that mooted Tory leadership rule changes mean Johnson could stay in post “on probation”. Or, to put it differently, we’d have a prime minister who’s out on a tag. At least he’d get more value out of his Downing Street flat refurbishment that way. Bear in mind this hadn’t been started in November 2020 and ended up costing him at least £142,000, so the Johnsons are currently looking at the best part of four hundred quid per day of use.
In the meantime, we’re at the timeworn stage of the biennial Tory Hunger Games when the focus falls on the likes of chief whip Mark Spencer and 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady. I do enjoy all these burly men, who look as if they drive an S-class Mercedes and would get disproportionately furious if you parked in the wrong field at the Young Farmers’ Ball.
Anyway, a lively week. Christian Wakeford is having a medical at Labour. Half the Tory party are acting like they’ve woken up after a midsummer night’s dream and can’t BELIEVE they’ve been involved in donkey porn. The other half would very much like you to know that policemen are getting younger. One report put the average age of plot leaders at 34, and many older Tories are Simply Not Having It on that basis alone. As one raged on Wednesday: “This isn’t like changing your brand of iPod, or your trainers.” Take it easy, Grandpa. Also: what’s an iPod?
Warming to their theme, this anonymous elder fumed: “It’s not alright to have this fucked up by a lot of kids.” Quite. You can’t win anything with kids – a line first uttered when the Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison was two, which certainly puts things into perspective. By now you’ll be getting the point, though, and if Nadine Dorries were any quicker on her feet, she’d have been out there screaming about Tory MPs being millennial snowflakes.
But it feels telling that it’s this generation who are complaining about the whips’ intimidation of them. Finally, a working definition of levelling up – it’s getting up in some red-waller’s grill and showering them with spittle and the words, “I swear to God, if you don’t save the fat twat I will LEVEL YOU RIGHT UP!”
The whips deny all this, but 34-year-old Tory chair William Wragg kicked off Thursday’s constitutional affairs committee session asking his colleagues to call the police on the prime minister and his henchmen for blackmail. Alas, as far as Westminster goes, the Met only investigates future crimes. I suppose you could get a private investigator to look at it for you, but honestly. Forget it, William – it’s Chinatown. Let’s face it, the Houses of Parliament are a place where blackmail is not just fully licensed but expected; where MPs formally found to have sexually harassed a number of their staff still come to work; where you basically do your own bullying investigations. You would call the Palace of Westminster lawless, were it not for the fact it makes literally all the laws of the land.
And yet, Conservatives who have spent the past few years honking delightedly that there has been a political realignment have failed to understand that there may just have been a generational one too. The old guard really have internalised some ridiculously abusive behaviour. For decades, many politicians were unable to reach orgasm with their researchers or child’s nanny without their minds immediately racing ahead to whatever ghastly aye vote the whips would eventually extract from them in hush payment. For some, the response has become Pavlovian – even without the presence of a researcher or au pair, male Conservative backbenchers now become aroused every time they hear the division bell.
To these deeply damaged, never-did-me-any-harm generations, the actions of the Pork Pies must seem outrageously insouciant. The plotters are apparently now discussing releasing phone recordings and WhatsApp messages from the whips – “the receipts”, in the parlance of the times. It reminds me of that Simpsons episode where some old buffer is sniffing, “I must say that in our day we didn’t talk like that to our elders,” only for Bart to shrug and say: “Well, this is my day, and we do.” You keep hearing allies of Boris Johnson – Boris Johnson! – lambast these youngsters for disloyalty and disrespect for political conventions. To which the only reasonable rejoinder is: “lol can I get a quote about the kettle from the pot?!”
It must be said Johnson has seen “no evidence” of intimidatory behaviour. Then again, the PM saw no evidence of a party in 40 people gathering round trestle tables of food and booze. If even a quarter of the claimed threats end up being backed by documentary proof, Mark Spencer and his operation could end up looking like the least appealing whips this millennium, which is quite impressive, considering the silver medallist was played by Kevin Spacey.
So there we are – it really is the most fantastic country. Don’t call it a banana republic unless you want to give the Queen her second apology inside a week. Settle on banana monarchy, and adopt the brace position for the Sunday papers.