Cumbria Times
Weekend Edition
Roger Winterbottom
Features Writer
1:00 AM 27th January 2024

Fifteen Minute Prime Ministers

As the latest series of the Traitors approaches its dramatic conclusion, the scheming and backstabbing continues, with no one sure who is faithful and who is working behind the scenes to undermine and get rid of them. And in unrelated news, the Conservatives are yet again considering defenestrating their leader.

Yes, the Tory party seems determined to put more of the psycho into psychodrama, with the Telegraph today publishing an opinion piece by Conservative MP Simon Clarke advocating yet another change of prime minister. While Tory MPs seem hostile to the concept of 15-minute cities, they seem remarkably relaxed about having 15-minute prime ministers. It’s this level of intellectual rigour that has made the last few years of government so…erm…stimulating? Is that the word?

But does anyone remember when Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair as PM? Boris Johnson wrote at the time that Brown had no democratic mandate because he’d been made PM without a general election. “It’s the arrogance. It’s the contempt… It’s Gordon Brown’s apparent belief that he can just trample on the democratic will of the British people,” Johnson wrote.

“The extraordinary thing is that it looks as though he will now be in 10 Downing Street…without a mandate from the British people. No one elected Gordon Brown as Prime Minister.”

Of course, when the Tories do the same thing, that’s perfectly okay. Johnson himself; Truss; Sunak; and now potentially some other random stickleback from the talent pool. “The contest need only take a week,” wrote Clarke, clearly not even inclined to allow the twenty-three pensioners that make up the Tory party membership to get a vote, let alone the rest of the electorate.

Then again, the Tory party membership previously decided that Liz Truss was their idea of a good PM, so he may have a point.

While the Brexit vote was The Will Of The People and cannot possibly ever be revisited, the Conservatives now don’t seem so inclined to trust The Will Of The People about who gets to be prime minister. This is their idea of a functioning democracy.

But seriously, who do they think is going to appeal to the electorate this time? Suella “I have a dream” Braverman? Priti “wave machines” Patel? Grant “three personalities” Shapps? Really, the idea that the Tories can get over their electile dysfunction with another little blue pillock is ludicrous.

Clarke said that Sunak has gone from “asset to anchor” for the Tories, which I think may have been down to the auto-correct removing expletives.

“Rishi is fiercely intelligent,” said Clarke of the man who can’t use a contactless payment card or put on a seatbelt. “But he does not get what Britain needs,” Clarke continued. A General Election, right? You mean a General Election?

“And he is not listening to what the British people want.” Yes, it definitely sounds like he means a General Election. But no: it’s immigration again. Apparently if they could just send a few people to Rwanda, people will forget the last fourteen years of incompetence and stagnation.

The Tories’ only argument seems to be that it could be worse. “Our country,” warned Clarke, “is on the brink of being run by Keir Starmer’s Labour for a decade or more.” Which probably sounds good to most people at this point. Where’s the downside? “If Nigel Farage returns to the fray,” he went on, “extinction is a very real possibility for our party.” Okay, I see. And again, where’s the downside?

With the article warning of a “decade of decline under Starmer”, I’m starting to suspect that that phrase is going to be this year’s “chaos with Ed Miliband”. This might be more effective if we hadn’t already experienced more than a decade of decline and chaos under the Conservatives.#

There was condemnation from all sides in response to Clarke’s article. Clarke is “engaging in facile and divisive self-indulgence,” said former home secretary Priti Patel on X. “And that’s normally my job,” she didn’t add.
The former Brexit secretary David Davis said: “This is getting silly. The Party and the country are sick and tired of MPs putting their own leadership ambitions ahead of the UK’s best interests.” You’ll remember Davis as the intellectual giant who, when he himself ran for the 2019 Tory leadership contest, turned up at the party conference accompanied by several large-breasted women wearing t-shirts sporting the slogan “It’s DD for me”. Davis subsequently accused critics of having “a sense of humour failure”.

Meanwhile, Sunak continues to insist that he’s the best person for the job, saying that he’s not scared of making the difficult decisions. That’ll be decisions such as impoverishing disabled people by cutting their benefits to fund a meagre tax cut bribe; and appointing the girlfriend of his disgraced MP to be his next Tory candidate.

But the longer the Conservative infighting continues, the less actual governing gets done. The country is seemingly adrift, with the Tories willing to do anything but the one thing that would break this cycle: go to the polls. In the meantime, the self-centred squabbling reminds me of the Alien vs. Predator tagline: “Whoever wins…we lose.”