Halloween must have arrived early, for the ghouls are circling. Here they come, lurching towards us with an inhuman gait, jostling indelicately for primacy as the Conservative party holds yet another election to select a leader that nobody wants.
When Liz Truss resigned after turning the economy into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, she started up the eerie melody for a ghastly musical chairs of hapless Tory zombies, resurfacing from their lairs long after we thought they were gone, their rotting flesh and putrid ideas coming back to haunt us even after we thought they had disappeared in the Armageddon set off by Truss and her unholy predecessors.
First in the picture – although she has yet to confirm she’s standing and may not even get even the crazy ERG’s backing – was Suella Braverman, scariest of all, a rictus leer etched on her face as she dreams of flinging refugees up in the sky and into oblivion. She has failed as a home secretary and horrified even many Tories with her bloodthirsty fantasies, but she still thinks she’s the answer.
Before she had to leave office earlier this week, Braverman was trying to usher in extra punitive measures with the already draconian public order bill, causing MP Charlie Walker to compare it with something worthy of China’s authoritarian government. To the existing provision for ankle tags for all, she wanted to add extra powers for injunctions on those “likely” to stage disruptive protests and arrest them if they didn’t comply. All she is missing are the seers from Minority Report, telling her which innocents she should target next. For targeting the weak is very much her thing — but then with this enduring Tory horror show, we are after all in the blazing underworld, proof of which is that this woman believes she can be prime minister.
Braverman had only just been decapitated by a random email apparently trying to expose plans to – quelle horreur – increase immigration. In her burning ambition, this was a chance for her to fall on her sword and frame this early political death as a point of principle so she could come back as a prodigal saviour. We knew this would happen, but we didn’t think it would be so soon.
Even in the darkest horror film there is a period of calm, some light relief, where the main characters are allowed to eat and joke with their friends before being sucked into the abyss or dismembered by a deranged cyborg with chainsaws for hands.
But no, six weeks after we had to watch in frozen horror as they chose the predictably unsuitable Truss, we now have to peruse an unholy parade of the same ghastly wannabes.
Lost a leadership election? Resigned in disgrace? Sacked for utter uselessness? None of this matters. The undead don’t have memories.
So we must look on once again as they come with indecent haste, unsteadily stuttering towards us like a scene from the Thriller video, only without the catchy tune, and definitely no thrilling. In that line-up is another petrifying character – Kemi Badenoch, the young British-Nigerian who seems to have a hardline view on everything. She isn’t seen as a frontrunner, but she is apparently in “conversations with colleagues” over a possible second leadership bid. Watch out for more “woke” bashing if she stands.
The more plausible candidates, in the sense that plausible means they might get chosen, not that they’d be any good, are Penny Mordaunt and Rishi Sunak, who also ran in and lost the last leadership election. Do they think the mad Tories who gave us Boris Johnson and Truss have seen the light now?
This Conservative psychodrama has gone too far, but it went too far last time and the time before that. Yet they get away with it, the same desultory characters polished up and sent out for a second viewing, as they look back at their potential supporters like the ghost of Banquo.
“Feel guilty”, they say to their party membership. You caused all this by succumbing to the hubris of Brexit and Johnson, maybe not knowing at the start quite how much blood you would spill, still not learning your lesson and likely to murder again. Feel guilty, feel guilty. But the guilt stretches out to the wider public – who keep reelecting this shower – and the entire political system, that keeps allowing this Tory leadership game to happen with no mechanism to force them to give the people a chance to choose someone else.
In the haste to not appear quite so mad as before, some MPs keep resurrecting Mordaunt as a sensible alternative, which she previously seemed to be until she actually started talking. But then, relative to the others, who knows? She hasn’t so far secured many declared supporters, yet has apparently refused to go on a joint ticket with Sunak and be his underling, clearly not hearing the repeated calls for unity.
She isn’t the only one. As the clamour for the much-debased top job is sending Tory minions scuttling in all directions, you have to wonder why they keep calling for unity when this has been anathema to them for decades. Remember John Major’s “bastards”?
John Lamont, the Scottish Tory MP, is backing Mordaunt, saying that she would “bring together the strongest government with the best and brightest talents from across the Conservative Party”. No John, there is no brightest and best. If there were any, they have since been thrown out or resigned. If the parameters for the cabinet had been to pick the brightest and best, the Conservative Party would not be where it is today.
In this melee, Sunak will be seen as the grown up, the steadying hand, but don’t you see? Just as Mordaunt channels the spirit of a jolly, “good egg” Home Counties busybody who died in the 1950s but returns to haunt your flower and produce show and steal your prize marrow for dastardly ends in this Agatha Christie/Stephen King/teen horror mash-up that we are all living in, Sunak is the smooth-talking villain of another kind of tale. The one who inspires confidence and exudes competence, luring you to his mountaintop designer house where he knifes you while he smiles. Or is he one of those snappily dressed vampires from Twilight, eternally young and slim, and eternally dangerous?
Sunak is the anti-Boris, the witchfinder general in a narrative where blind faith and superstition trump reason at every turn, where only the loyal and the true believers are rewarded. He is indeed the most sober and sensible of the sorry lot desperate for validation as leader.
But just because he has proved better than Truss and Johnson – a low, low bar – this doesn’t qualify him for savior status. He may have presciently sounded the alarm over Truss’s disastrous economic plans, but Sunak has long been a slightly ideological advocate of the kind of right wing policies that maybe we don’t need any more – such as the low-tax, low-regulation freeports. He was also an early Brexiteer before it became fashionable enough to lure Johnson, backing the very project that brought us into this nightmare.
Sunak was happy to serve in Johnson’s cabinet on terms his predecessor Sajid Javid found unacceptable, and wielded the knife that brought the PM down only after years of indignities and when he saw the chance to grab his crown instead. Also, all those wooden performances – definitely a zombie.
The choice of Sunak may calm the markets and appear pragmatic, and it might give the government some space to actually try to run the country for the people – you know, the 67 million out there they’re supposed to be working for. But that’s something that the Conservatives seem to have decided is an optional extra in a government. Although, in this world of darkness, somehow time is found for nasty, punitive legislation, such as the public order bill and the nationality and border and policing bills that went before. Ample time has also been made available for driving the country off the Brexit cliff of diminished trade and unnecessary red tape, clashing with allies abroad and breaking the law. And, of course, partying while your granddad dies alone of Covid.
After 12 years of Conservative-led governments increasingly succumbing to their lunatic wing, the last thing the country needs is the sticking plaster of a semi-plausible administration that still won’t address the burning issues at hand – do they even talk about climate change any more? Or poverty? Nothing short of a general election and a completely different, more capable administration will help, however disruptive.
But, as in all good horrors, the innocents must suffer. So instead we have this leadership scramble. And as this marathon of the morbids drags on, underpaid workers flock to food banks and the sick wait forlornly for ambulances. Children of people earning a pittance are refused free school meals and young workers in many sectors contemplate going on strike to stop the terrifying erosion of their wages by past cuts and inflation caused in no small part by the Tories’ twin modern trademarks of Brexit and economic mismanagement. The less well-off elderly struggle to get the care they need and couples stretched by their first mortgage face losing their homes over the interest rates pushed up by the Conservative economics fright show.
But who remembers the role of KamiKwasi Kwarteng now? In the endless spiral of grotesque politics, his image has been crushed to bonemeal, but no doubt he will rise up, fix us with lifeless eyes, and tell us that he has been resurrected to save us.
The most conclusive proof that we are living on the dark side is that the ultimate slain monster is in resus. Worse than the rest because he hides his intentions under a veneer of fun, like the evil clowns who slit your throat before taking off with the spoils, this love child of Chucky and the Honey Monster is apparently jetting back from the exotic holiday he took in term time and funded by goodness-knows-who to bid for the leadership “for the good of the country”.
That Boris Johnson apparently has the support of more than 100 Tory MPs proves that they were zombies all along, the staggering, lumpen undead with no souls, no heart, no empathy, no humanity and definitely no wisdom. Can nobody remember he was too much even for the Tory cult after his multiple sins — too many to list here – started to drag them all down? Johnson is under investigation by the Privileges Committee which is almost certain to find he misled parliament, potentially leading to his suspension – in parallel universes like ours, such things are mere trifles.
The reliably ill-advised Andrew Bridgen said Johnson would get 100 backers and that “there would be no limits” on what he would do. Quite right. When has Johnson ever been cognisant of limits?
Can any of this be real? It surely has to be a nightmare from which we will awake soon. The country is a laughing stock and our children’s futures have been trashed with mounting debt, isolation from the world and the burning bus of climate change coming towards us, unaddressed.
Don’t they know that we don’t want any of them any more? Haven’t they seen the opinion polls? But of course they have. That’s why they are trying to cobble together yet another leadership to delay their electoral wipeout. They don’t care that we’ve had enough of Badenoch, we ran from Braverman, we’re not Ready for Rishi, we are not avid for Javid, we don’t want more of Mordant and we are definitely not Backing Boris.
As this horrific freak show went international, Trevor Noah, host of the US satirical programme, The Daily Show, suggested Paddington Bear might be a soothing prime ministerial choice for us. Bring it on. He can’t be worse, he’s much nicer and he’s definitely not straight out of Nightmare on Elm Street.
Now, does he also have some garlic and a cross under that hat of his to help us send the rest of them right back to Hades?