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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Marina Hyde

Why is British politics a raging bin-fire? Don’t ask the misunderstood heroes who held the torches

Liz Truss and Boris Johnson at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony on Whitehall in London
Liz Truss and Boris Johnson at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony on Whitehall in London, November 2022. Photograph: Toby Melville/AP

It’s encouraging to see Liz Truss hoving back into view, after a period in the wilderness only slightly longer than that endured by the OG messiah. And, indeed, only slightly longer than her entire premiership. As one ally told the Financial Times of her abortive adventures in the public finances this week: “Liz believes that the policy was right but she didn’t get the political backing she needed.” Erm. Does that quite cover it? Having failed to get backing from her colleagues, the markets, business, the Bank of England, the public and experts from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and beyond, Liz was arguably a full six infinity stones short of a gauntlet.

Still, it feels inevitable that another betrayal narrative should be cranking up. You can never have too many, can you? Having accidentally divested itself of various of its other manufacturing industries, the UK is now world-beating in producing betrayal narratives, with supporters of any number of the politicians who played a part in the rolling chaos of the past seven years still claiming that their standard bearer was falsely victimised by people who simply lacked their vision. British politics throws the best pity parties. Consider us the Valhalla of misunderstood heroes.

Quite why this is the default narrative of UK public life is unclear, other than the fact the scorched-earth mess of it all has to be blamed on someone other than the people who just happened to be holding a blowtorch in the Westminster area at the time. The ranks of the betrayed grow ever larger, encompassing (but not limited to) such reverse luminaries as Truss and her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage. Acolytes of all the above believe their leaders’ visions have been betrayed by someone or other in one way or another, when the reality is they were undone by such trifles as “the voters”, “reality” and “the consequences of their own actions”.

Alas, this is not how their various tribes continue to see it, with the preferred position being to blame someone or something else for the shortcomings. British politics has been a series of bin fires over the past few years, but the various factions would have you believe that if only their bin fire had been allowed to burn a little longer, a phoenix would have arisen from it. Within our politics, taking responsibility is dead as a concept. The result is a public realm where it is always someone else’s fault, and no mistakes, ever, can be conceded by operational figures.

Only in this atmosphere could 102 Conservative MPs have believed last October that it was finally time for a return for Boris Johnson, who had vacated Downing Street in disgrace a full six weeks previously, after a series of self-generated scandals that had led to apoplectic public outcry and a downfall which had required 57 ministerial resignations over not much more than 48 hours to finally shift the blockage. When he chose not to formally run in the second leadership contest last year, Johnson’s supporters let it be known his betrayers were simply not yet sorry enough for what they had done. “Now is not the time for Boris,” one sniffed. “They will be desperate by June next year.” Certainly wouldn’t rule it out. Westminster outriders feeling wounded over what happened to Johnson are all over the place these days. On Brexit, they even seem to imagine he was betrayed by his own deal.

Then again, Brexit is perhaps the richest source for betrayal narratives, with the ground being laid almost immediately after the vote. In 2017, Nigel Farage explained that if he didn’t get his perfect, shiftingly defined version of Brexit, he would “don khaki, pick up a rifle and head for the frontlines”. In fact, he’s farting out gin adverts and appearing on GB News and Cameo (where the platform describes him as “highly responsive” to requests to say any old shit for 73 quid). But he’s still finding time to assert betrayal, and perpetually hints he may even feel betrayed enough to return to the frontlines – of politics – someday in the not too distant future. Which will at least allow me to attend his 37th resignation speech in due course.

Less politically successful but feeling no less betrayed are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, who still blame the media for the former Labour leader’s failure to win two elections, the first against the worst candidate and campaign in recent memory, and the second (by a landslide) against Boris Johnson. Perhaps betrayal is easier to swallow than the idea that the last thing on earth anyone in the red wall was doing on the doorstep was regurgitating anything some twat like me had written in the Guardian. (Let’s face it, if newspaper commentary of any type were remotely market-moving, the columns warning people off Johnson – from left and right – might have effected something other than a massive majority in his favour in 2019.)

So now the Trussites take their place among the furiously betrayed, despite the fact their leader left office having broken virtually every egg at her disposal, landing the UK with a vast bill and absolutely no prospect of an omelette. In fact, with nothing resembling an omelette having been served up for years now, it’s possible – just possible – that the real victims of betrayal are not all these politicians, but the public.

  • Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist

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