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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
John Crace

Faithless Tories feign loyalty to Rish! with all the plausibility of a Nadine Dorries story

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak: ‘Just saying there’s a plan when there clearly isn’t is an insult to people’s intelligence.’ Photograph: UK Parliament/Maria Unger/Reuters

Cometh the hour … At times like these, we can only turn to one person. The woman with her finger on the dark heart of the Tory party. The woman who managed to expose a secret even MI6 didn’t realise it had. Even though it was MI6 who told her. Step forward, Nadine Dorries.

Her seminal work of fiction, The Plot: the Political Assassination of Boris Johnson, uncovered a new history of the last 25 years. Nothing had been quite as it seemed. Here’s where her fearless research took her. Back in 1997, William Hague and Michael Gove had conspired to divert the Tory party from its true nature as the home of the deranged. So they had deliberately failed to make the party electable to allow David Cameron and George Osborne to take over.

They in turn had plotted to lose the 2015 general election that they had won and to keep the UK in the EU by calling a referendum that they had lost. They knew Theresa May would be hopeless and that Boris Johnson, the One True King, would then take over. Though somehow it was their fault that Boris was a serial liar and morally corrupt and would be kicked out by the Tories and replaced by Liz Truss.

Liz would be gone in seconds, Mad Nad predicted after the event, and then Sunak would be drafted in to lead the Tories to failure. After losing the election, Michael Gove would end his Arthurian quest by finally becoming Tory leader and taking the UK back into the EU. Even though he had campaigned for Brexit and was now out of government. It all made total sense.

There was yet more. For if it wasn’t the Govester, then it would be She Who Could Not Be Denied: Kemi Badenoch. Who would have been about 10 when the Plot was first conceived. Truly she was blessed. The Lord moveth in mysterious ways. It does not fall upon us mere mortals to challenge his plan.

But it turns out the Plot keeps moving, the Conspirators more dangerous and elusive than Moriarty. Nad alone can keep up. So when Simon Clarke broke cover on Tuesday night to declare in the Daily Telegraph that what the country needed was yet another Tory party leadership contest months before the general election, Dorries was first to respond. “IT’S STARTED,” she tweeted excitedly. And possibly drunkenly.

You could sense the excitement. The game was afoot. The shapeshifting Tory party had transformed itself yet again. It was Clarke. Of course it was. Who was better suited to champion the fortunes of the Tories than a complete nonentity? Someone who owed his brief stay in the cabinet to Johnson, that impeccable judge of character? An appointment probably just made on a whim. As a joke. Much like making him a knight. For services to not very much.

The thing you have to know about Clarke is that he has been proved to be wrong about almost everything. Though weirdly, his reasons for wanting rid of Rishi were spot on. Though they could hardly fail to be. You don’t need a YouGov poll to tell you that the Tories are on course for annihilation under Sunak. Everyone knows it – none better than the Tory MPs themselves. Many know they will be looking for new jobs before the end of the year.

Yet a Prophet is not without honour, save in his own land. Because the Conservatives have worked out they are in a lose-lose situation. If they stick with Rishi, they are done for. And if they ditch him now, they are also done for. The last thing the country can stomach is yet more infighting from the Tories. It would be nice for them to get round to some governing. Actually, scrub that. Let’s stick to the real world.

So no sooner had Simple Simon raised his head above the parapet than dozens of Tories, who would like nothing more than to see the back of Sunak, declared their undying support for the prime minister. Something Clarke himself had done less than 12 months previously. What goes around. Suddenly we were expected to believe the Tories all spoke with one voice. This despite there being five warring factions on the right and a spineless group of halfwits on the left. With another new group – spearheaded by Liz Truss and Clarke – incoming in early February.

Fantasy is what keeps Tory morale going. Conservative MPs again look to an imaginary poll in the Telegraph – there’s a theme developing here – which tells them if there was a mythical new leader from the Marvel franchise who could expel all foreigners, create peace throughout the world and make us richer beyond our dreams, then the Tories would win the next election. So they live in an hallucinatory world. Pipers at the gates of dawn. Their magical realism prime minister’s questions.

Back to the real world. There was no sign of Simple Simon in the Commons for PMQs. Though there were several anonymous grey men in grey suits busy reassuring colleagues they weren’t Clarke. When Sunak finally showed up, the response was borderline hysteria. Nothing could have been more damning. The less respect they have for Sunak, the more vocal their support becomes. They aren’t even fooling themselves. Clarke is just a guilty window to their souls.

Something Keir Starmer was at pains to point out: if even his colleagues didn’t want him, why should the country have to put up with him? It had become this existential. Literally, what was the point of Sunak? He didn’t even succeed as third-rate performance art. Nothing really works any more. Just saying there’s a plan when there clearly isn’t is an insult to people’s intelligence. We have to live in the world that the Tories have created. Sunak is rich enough to be immune to his own damage.

This was no more than what Clarke had said and Sunak really had no answer. Instead, he tried to make it personal, starting another culture war by accusing Starmer of being a member of the wokerati. A National Trust lover. Probably listens to Radio 4. Is nice to black people. The Labour leader merely yawned. He had been director of public prosecutions in 2008. Sunak had just been making money out of other people’s misery. Then inflicting austerity on them. Read my lips, he said. Nothing worked. They couldn’t even get their childcare scheme off the ground.

Long before the end, you could feel the energy being sucked out of the Tory benches. The truth inescapable: Sunak was just dead weight. Imagine. Worse even than Cameron, May, Johnson and Truss. Yet they were stuck with him. Simple Simon had merely been a Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

“Six-nil, prime minister,” shouted one toadying backbencher as Sunak left. He was right. Starmer had won six-nil. But what to do? Stick or twist? Hell, go for it. You may as well keep us entertained this year. And don’t worry about Clarke. There’s time for at least three more leadership contests before the election.

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