Just when you think this whole Tory leadership contest thing couldn’t stink any more, out waddles Boris Johnson. You’ll need to give it a lot longer than 15 minutes.
You’d imagine, when you’re already assured of victory in a contest that has made watching the news channels feel like a 2019 reboot of the Two Girls One Cup challenge, you might not go out of your way to undermine the process any further.
But, why of course, that is exactly what has happened.
The details, like the entire thing, are tawdry and tedious, but lamentably necessary. In Thursday’s two rounds of voting, Sajid Javid was eliminated first. Fully five of his backers publicly declared they would back Boris Johnson in the next vote. And yet, when the next vote came, Johnson’s share rose by a mere three from 157 to 160. Meanwhile Jeremy Hunt eliminated Michael Gove by just two: 77 to 75.
It is as close to confirmation as possible that Team Johnson’s unofficial chief whip, the disgraced former defence secretary Gavin Williamson (not to be confused with the disgraced former former defence secretary Michael Fallon, or the disgraced former former former defence secretary Liam Fox) has been loaning out Johnson’s surplus votes to other candidates, to control who makes it through to the next rounds.
This, apparently, is a well established tactic in votes to executive positions at the Oxford Union. And as neither Boris Johnson nor Michael Gove have at any point since the mid-1980s become aware that the Oxford Union and the world at large are not one and the same thing, the inferences are not hard to draw.
Hunt and Johnson will now begin a nationwide hustings tour, where its ageing membership of suicidal terrorists (a poll on Tuesday showed its members don’t care if Brexit destroys the Conservative Party, as long as it definitely happens) will choose between the white mid-50s former head boy of Charterhouse and the white mid-50s former school captain of Eton.
It is tempting to imagine how such a charade would be described were it to happen in, say, Russia, or sub-Saharan Africa. They’ll even be televised, these “debates”, lending the affair all the outward resemblance of a democratic event, but without the democracy bit.
And, in the end, Johnson will win, by miles. He’d have won by miles whatever happened, but Michael Gove might have done an acceptable job of exposing the stunning reality that he hasn’t got a clue what he’s going to do about Brexit.
There are, of course, around the country, tens of millions of people who aren’t altogether sure whether they’re fully OK with the most universally loathed man in Britain being installed as prime minister without their having had any say in it.
We are about a month away from an enthralling new political twilight zone. Prime Minister Johnson will have to choose between betrayal – keeping the country in the EU beyond 31 October – or catastrophe – a no deal Brexit, which he will struggle to get through parliament anyway.
An election is going to be required, and if even the faintest whiff of Brexit betrayal is allowed to slip in before it happens, Farage and the Brexit Party will be upon him without mercy. It will be a premiership in which no light can be allowed to penetrate. Even the tiniest flicker of reality will destroy it.
So get ready for a con job the like of which you’ve never seen before.
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