It's easy to imagine the Tory leadership contenders as cartoon villains. Let's start with the Joker

In my mind, the faces of the Joker, the Penguin, Two Face and the rest have morphed into those of the contenders for the leadership of the Tory party, just as the pigs and the men merge into one at the end of George Orwell’s Animal Farm

James Moore
Saturday 09 June 2018 11:09 BST
The joker is clearly present in the Cabinet, but where the hell is Batman when you need him?
The joker is clearly present in the Cabinet, but where the hell is Batman when you need him? (Alamy)

The sight of the “Gotham City villains” T-shirt at the DC Comics Boutique almost ruined Comicon for me.

Part of the reason I go to the event (aside from being a confirmed geek) is to get away from writing about the depressing cast of characters at the top of British politics, and from thinking about the dreadful economic hole they’re digging for us all.

But to my dismay, there they all were on the garment. The faces of the Joker, the Penguin, Two Face and the rest: they morphed into those of the contenders for the leadership of the Tory party, just as the pigs and the men merge into one at the end of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It was a scary moment, I can tell you. I had to seek refuge at the Universal stand, where a trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was showing on a big screen. Imagining a giant T-Rex gobbling them up made me feel a bit better.

The trouble is, the idea kept nagging at me. I realised that the only way to purge it was to share it. So if you don’t want to see the Joker’s features merging into those of Boris Johnson the next time you read a Batman book, or watch the caped crusader on film, I suggest you look away now.

Like Mr J, Johnson (see even the letter fits) is a clown who really isn’t funny. The Joker periodically disappears from the DC Universe, only to re-emerge to spread chaos and destruction in big set-piece events, often spanning multiple titles, all the while metaphorically screaming, “Look at me, look at me, look at me.” And that’s what Johnson does, doesn’t he? He flies overseas for a bit, and if we’re lucky we get a period of relative calm when it’s almost possible to forget about him. Then he returns and all hell breaks loose. His recent, staggeringly disloyal, leaked Brexit speech being a case in point. “Friends” supposedly said he was disappointed about it getting out. Yeah, right. If that man ever walks through the door of Number 10 Downing Street, the joke will be on all of us.

Next up, his sometime rival for favouritism as far as the betting goes, and a man of which the same could be said: Jacob Rees-Mogg. He’s the Penguin. They are both fond of the elaborate dress favoured by “gentlemen”, something their actions show that they are not. And they are both disciples at the temple of mammon.

Before m’learned friends haul me over the coals, no, I’m not suggesting Rees-Mogg shares Oswald Cobblepot’s criminality.

But the latter’s lack of principle? Put it this way: Rees-Mogg makes a mint from a fund management company he founded with some of his Eton chums. He may have called for a tougher line on Vladimir Putin, but the Mail on Sunday recently revealed that Rees-Mogg’s company invests in companies run by the Russian president’s mates, but has a reported “almost nothing” in UK companies that the Tory MP claims will thrive in the wake of his beloved Brexit.

He had an explanation: he’s no longer involved in the running of the thing, which is an emerging markets specialist that invests money on behalf of its clients. For me, that’s Penguin-style sophistry and it’s not good enough for someone in public life, who ought to practise what they preach. The chairman of the Tory European Research Group has a quarter of the shares and so could clearly influence its business if he wanted to. We can but hope he doesn’t get the chance to influence British policy from Number 10.

What about the current betting favourite, Michael Gove, the man who knifed Boris Johnson in the back when the latter embarked on an attempt to replace David Cameron?

He’s devious enough to be the Riddler. I also thought about Mr Freeze, because freeze is what he’ll do to the UK economy if he gets his way.

But Two Face wins because of the duality of Gove’s nature. He’s often described as a reforming minister, one who notably (and correctly) stated that we jail too many people while at the Department of Justice. He’s talked about a “green Brexit” now he looks after the environment (poor us). He even recently had the gaul to claim Britain is more open to immigration than our European neighbours.

That’s where the duality of his nature shows itself. The Vote Leave campaign, of which he was part, deliberately, and falsely, sought to scare people with talk of Turkish EU entry leading to a wave of migration. Stoking fears was a key tactic. Gove likes to come across as the fresh-faced, reasonable Harvey Dent (Two Face’s alter ego), but the other side – the scarred, snarling, hard right-wing monster – is never very far away.

David Davis? He’s an outsider now, but he is the Riddler, the riddle being how such an amateur, with a tendency to stomp his little feet and threaten to quit at the drop of a hat, ever got a job as important as negotiating Brexit.

I struggled with Home Secretary Sajid Javid before settling on Clayface, largely because, like the shapeshifting super-villain, he’s a bit of a chameleon. We still don’t really know who he is. He sometimes seems reasonable, particularly by comparison to his rivals. His support for allowing councils to borrow to build houses shows he’s a man who has some good ideas. On the other hand, he was behind some of the most repressive anti-union legislation we’ve seen under David Cameron. If the reasonable side wins out, and Javid becomes leader, we’ll have to reassess because a reasonable leader of the Tory party would seem like some sort of super hero these days.

As for the others? Right now, they’re mostly like those anonymous henchmen and women no super-villain can be without, snapping and clawing at each other in the hope of getting onto the next T-shirt alongside Catwoman, Killer Croc, Bane, and the rest of the motley crew.

We shouldn’t, of course, forget Theresa May, who is the current Tory leader, and a great analogue for Poison Ivy, poisonous being the perfect word to describe the “hostile environment” immigration policy she put together while at the Home Office. The one that killed the career of Amber Rudd and has caused such needless pain to the members of the Windrush generation, British citizens who were invited over here from the Caribbean by the British government.

If truth be told, her government is poisoning the entire country.

Where the hell is Batman when we need him?

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in