You know and I know that we have an energy price crisis in the UK. We know that soon we will hear desperate stories of the old, the frail and the poor taking extreme measures to avoid being hungry and cold. Some will take their own lives. Some will die of malnutrition or hypothermia. However, the Tory leadership contest appears to be proving quite the distraction to those in charge.
You know and I know that UK inflation is the highest of the main European economies, that growth is the lowest of the G7 nations and our export trade has fallen off a cliff since we finally exited the European single market.
Tory leadership madness
There are dozens of other crises that should be engaging the government – NHS waiting lists, ambulance response times, the rail dispute, congestion and delays at Dover and at airports, farmers and fishermen facing Brexit ruin and so on. The response of the Conservative Party is to continue with a further four weeks of leadership process and tired electioneering.
Nero played his fiddle while Rome burned but at least he was in tune. The Conservative Party is conducting a symphony orchestra that is out of tune, out of time and increasingly out of favour with the real electorate. Waltzing around the country are Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. Their mission is to try and persuade an electorate smaller than that of Dundee to put their X in the box marked for one or the other.
By all contemporary accounts, Truss is way out in front with the Tory membership across the land. There has been a slew of cabinet ministers and influential backbench MPs declare for Truss. In these stakes she leads Sunak by 2 to 1.
To try to wrest back support, Sunak braved an interview with Andrew Neil and then on the Today Programme with Nick Robinson. Truss has turned Neil down. There is about as much chance of either of them being seen on Channel 4 News as there is of Boris Johnson buying a round in the Old Hacks & Charlatans Arms.
Fighting to the bitter end
It seems to not matter at all that the UK grows less efficient, less stable and for more people, poorer, by the day. The Tory party leadership contest must run its allotted course. It need not be so.
There is another way the whole matter could be brought to a swift end. One of the candidates could withdraw, thus negating the need for a ballot among the Tory faithful. The obvious person to quit is Sunak, though he may be calculating that the longer Truss is exposed to scrutiny, the greater the chance her campaign will implode. She has performed badly in the latest hustings and the polls say there has been a shift to Sunak. But Truss has the backing of Paul Dacre and his Daily Mail, and of the so-called European Research Group (ERG) and its most powerful member, Steve Baker MP. She should still win.
Johnson dreams of a triumphant return
As the whole unnecessary affair rumbles on, not very far in the background is Johnson. The wounded Johnson has not taken his defenestration well. Just as he was a bad prime minister, he is a bad loser. He blames Sunak as the prime assassin and has assured that his closest allies have let the country know his feelings. This has damaged the former chancellor’s chances with ordinary Conservative Party members. Johnson cares little what happens to Truss and even less about Sunak. He will do little to prop either administration. His aim is to see them fail. He imagines returning in triumph to lead his party to a great and spectacular victory in 2024.
Do you and me, our aunts and cousins, our children and our parents matter very much in the greater scheme of this Tory leadership election? Not at all. It is not about us. It is about power. Raw political power to be used and misused only as this Conservative Party knows how. There is perhaps one benefit to be had from these long weeks of ever-more extreme policy making, rictus smiles and rickety TV sets. It is that the longer it goes on the less they can be in Whitehall and the less damage they may be doing the country.
Can we go to extra time? No, says the referee called public opinion, there are too many lives at sake. Stop wasting time and start sorting out the mess you helped Johnson create.