And so Boris Johnson became the third successive Prime Minister to have their career destroyed by Boris Johnson.
You’d think resigning would mean he’d resigned, but no: the Tories, ever sticklers for tradition, proved incapable of Getting Exit Done, and Johnson stayed in Downing Street, barely even pretending to lead the country any more. He didn’t bother turning up to chair three separate COBRA meetings about various crises, opting instead to throw a party for himself. He’d learned his lesson, clearly. And then it was back to cosplaying, this time dressing up as Tom Cruise to arse around in an RAF jet, like the Honey Monster being cast in in a knock-off movie called Top Gunt.
For the rest of the Tories it was time to begin the first leadership election of the year. Their top priority was to urgently find a new PM who could prove to the nation that the squalid Boris Johnson was an exception to the norm. Quick and clean: that’s what was needed.
This doesn’t entirely explain why the Tories decided the leadership campaign should deprive Britain of a functioning government for an epic 7 weeks – longer than practically any general election. And as for clean: more than one candidate immediately leaked dossiers listing the seediness of their rivals. Details included the use of hard drugs, prostitutes, tax dodges, illegal loans, and what one Tory source described as ‘explicit photographs that could be used as kompromat’.
None of this boded well, but then the boding got worse when a ludicrous 15 candidates threw their hats into the ring, or 12 if you only count Grant Shapps once. Under party rules a candidate needed nominations from a mere 8 MPs to stand, but Ben Wallace – who had been favourite just days earlier – couldn't even scrabble together that many, so decided to simultaneously remain our defence minister and a life model for ornamental rubber doorstops.
And that left us with the following pantheon of numb-nuttery.
Let’s start with the nominally sane candidates, principal among them: Liz Truss, dragged away from Instagram long enough to fill in the application form to become PM. She emitted the energy of Philomena Cunk battling to understand the off-side rule, and her response to the massive unpopularity of Boris Johnson was to first define herself as the ‘Boris Johnson continuity candidate’ and then to deny she was the Boris Johnson continuity candidate at all, heavily foreshadowing the stability and fortitude which became her trademark. Some people boast that they are single-minded, but Truss’s dedication to efficiency had got her down to a lot less than that.
By stark contrast, Jeremy Hunt’s pitch was that he was caring, intelligent and competent, a claim only slightly undermined by the fact he couldn’t remember the nationality of his own wife. It’s certainly true that he was the least fist-chewingly right-wing runner, predominantly by keeping his absolutely horrible political views static while the rest of the party goose-stepped off to find even horribler ones.
In normal circumstances being sane would be an advantage. Not so with this electorate, which consisted almost entirely of furious 80-year-olds from Guildford who earnestly believed they were living in the movie Zulu. This reduced Hunt’s chances of victory to practically zero. So to increase his appeal he selected Esther McVey as his running mate, and described her as a ‘star’. Perhaps the star he meant was a white dwarf, which physicists will tell you is incredibly dense, produces absolutely no new material, and rapidly collapses.
The other big hitter was Rishi Sunak, standing to become prime minister so he could overturn the economic legacy of Rishi Sunak. It began well, with a fellow MP describing him as a ‘treacherous bastard’, and the nation reminding him that they weren’t thrilled at the prospect of replacing the guy who was fined for illegally partying with the other guy who was fined for illegally partying.
Sunak quickly flipped through the Rolodex of Things a Man With No Beliefs Can Claim, and plucked out the card labelled: Honesty Candidate. Unfortunately this didn’t entirely square with the time he’d been chancellor of the UK while exploiting his tax status as a Green Card holder in the USA, claiming his wife didn’t pay tax cos she was from a third country, being paid by a trust fund in a fourth, and allegedly breaking the rules of his job to hide money in a fifth. So his next idea was to proclaim himself a ‘serious candidate for serious times’. Fat chance. We all still remembered him as the Chancellor of the Exchequer who didn’t know how to use a credit card at the garage where he'd taken the Kia Rio he was pretending to drive.
Days into his campaign, and with two false starts already under his tiny, tiny belt, Sunak then told his fellow MPs that his only weakness was ‘striving too hard for perfection’, before appearing in front of a Ready for Rishi campaign banner on which he’d misspelled the word ‘campaign’. It’s almost impossible to satirise this shit.
But I’ll try: Grant Shapps stood out by refusing to get drawn into anti-trans debate, which was the first recorded time he had ever been clear about identity. His unwillingness to pick on a minority wasn’t the only reason Shapps gained little support from the culture warriors on the backbenches, ‘The last time Grant said he'd help me win an election’, said one Tory, ‘I nearly ended up in prison’. I think we’ll put him in the ‘maybe’ column.
Tom Tugendhat did well in the contest, either despite or because of his zero ministerial experience. He had been fiercely critical of the shallow, moronic approach of Johnson, with his endless repetition of three-word slogans and careless lack of understanding about the Brexit he was selling us. So Tugendhat launched a campaign using a two-word slogan, repeating ‘Clean Start’ 16 times in a single short TV interview. He then went on to prove his grasp of detail by proposing a new ‘Viking Alliance’ of nations which he described as ‘not all in the EU’, and said would consist of Ireland (which is in the EU), Iceland (which is in the EU), Sweden (which is in the EU), and Norway (which is an associate member of the EU as part of the EEA).
Next horror story: Kemi Badenoch, who proudly opposed Net Zero climate policies on day one of her campaign, then U-turned on day two, telling a husting that she would definitely commit to Net Zero targets. And then she U-turned again, telling an audience she’d delay Net Zero. Thatcher had said, ‘The lady’s not for turning’. Badenoch spun round so much she’d be a more effective member of society if you painted MOT up one side of her, TEST on the other, and plonked her on the pavement outside Kwik Fit. But keen to bolster her position as the anti-woke candidate she held a second campaign launch, at which single-occupancy toilet stalls were pointlessly bestrewn with makeshift ‘men’ and ‘ladies’ signs, because the culture wars had turned her into some sort of effluent-obsessed Mary Wokehouse.
Somehow even this shambles made her more relatable than Nadhim Zahawi, who was now in charge of the nation’s money but seemingly couldn’t even keep track what was happening with his own. His leadership hopes barely lasted a week, not least because when asked about the non-dom, tax-haven status of his own vague wealth he told Sky News, ‘I don’t think it’s right to go into numbers because I’ll probably get it wrong’.
Also, can I be Prime Minister please?
Zahawi launched his bid for power with a tagline that looked like a leak of his Facebook password: NZ4PM. He wanted everybody to know he’d reached his high office as a result of his fierce competence and laser-like focus on the details, but if you visited NZ4PM.com it took you to the leadership page of Penny Mordaunt.
That’s a real person, by the way, not a minor Addams Family character. There were rumours that cursed dildo Jacob Rees-Mogg would also throw his top-hat into the ring, and if he teamed up with Mordaunt, we could simply cancel parliament and replace it with repeats of The Munsters. But Mogg didn’t stand, so we were left with Mordaunt bringing to the contest all the dazzling skills we had come to expect from a Tory leader: she’s a former magician's assistant who had failed to make it into the top 10 in a celebrity diving show.
To avoid discussing the vast gap in useful experience she could bring to the role, she concentrated on reminding the public that she’d been in the Royal Navy reserve and therefore, she said, ‘perhaps better than any other candidate’ she understood the military. This may have been surprising news to Tom Tugendhat, a lieutenant colonel who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also startled those who recalled she’d been Defence Secretary for a mere 85 days. It definitely stunned senior officers from the navy, because they reported ‘she isn’t [currently] a trained or paid reservist, she’s never qualified or been commissioned’, and complained that the martial fervour with which she represented herself was ‘deeply misleading’. One of her medals was a badge for rum-drinking, for Christ’s sake.
When she wasn’t getting hammered and pretending to be Captain Pugwash, Mordaunt demonstrated her competency for the job of PM via a heart-warming campaign video featuring footage of convicted murderer Oscar Pistorius, who didn’t complain, and Jonnie Peacock, who did: he’s a Paralympian who hadn't given permission to appear the video, and demanded to be removed. So her campaign had to be relaunched 2 hours after it started.
She immediately gained the backing of non-league Tory backbencher Jack Brereton, who you’d assume would be a natural Sunak fan, given that he managed to spell his own name wrong on a leaflet in which he reassured his constituents that he would ‘continue the levelling of Stoke-on-Trent’.
Don’t laugh: it can’t be easy to only make it half-way to being an idiot savant.
Yet Brereton still somehow managed to outperform Steve Baker. Baker’s opening – and, as it turned out, closing – gambit revolved around a poster with a design seemingly stolen from a gym in the 80s. Behind the image of Baker were a random smattering of geometric shapes, one of which intersected with head to make it seem like he’d been struck with hatchet. That was strange enough, but then we get to his tagline. Obama went with ‘Yes We Can’. Johnson plumped for ‘Get Brexit Done’. Baker took a radically different approach and opted for ‘I will be relaunching Conservative Way Forward to redefine the territory on which the Conservative Party operates’. Perhaps worried that this rolled off the tongue a bit too easily, Baker had printed it using five different font sizes. The end result came across as a riddle in the style of an eye-test, performed by a smug optician with a meat cleaver through his brain.
Unsurprisingly, his campaign ended – and I mean this very literally – before it had even begun, and he lent his backing to Suella Braverman, a human-sized guinea pig that had mindlessly gnawed through very nearly half of International Law for Dummies. Presumably on the basis that she earnestly believed this is what the party, nay, the country was crying out for, Braverman – or should we call her Heinrich Hamster, or maybe Joseph Gerbils? – ran a leadership bid based on a promise to ‘eliminate’ rules protecting us from being tortured.
If it’s becoming hard to keep up with the sheer number of ludicrous candidates, brace yourself for the previously – and indeed subsequently – unheard-of Rehman Chishti, who had seemingly been invented merely so he could be defeated, like a nameless pre-titles bad guy in a Bond movie. YouGov doesn’t even include him in their list of politicians by popularity, and bear in mind the list includes disgraced idiot Neil Hamilton, who hasn’t been an MP since 1997.
And it didn’t help that Chishti’s bid for power began with a publicity photo that aimed for ‘staring at manifest destiny’ but came across as ‘I can’t work out how to use the toilet on this train’. He gained the support of literally nobody, backed the losing Tugendhat, then doubled-down by backing the losing Sunak, and then – poof – he was gone, like the dream that never was.
Perhaps worried that the electorate might conclude they weren’t taking this election seriously, bewitched thumb Mark Jenkinson tweeted that his own leadership campaign would involve having smoke blown up his arse, and promising the moon on a stick.
Mate, I’ll take it.
Fortunately this lot were quickly whittled down from 11 to a more manageable number, and soon just eight candidates remained.
Kemi Badenoch (Mary Wokehouse).
Liz Truss (Mary Madhouse).
Rishi Sunak (Mary Poorhouse).
Suella Braverman (Mary Workhouse).
Tom Tugendhat (Mary Guardhouse).
Penny Mordaunt (Lairy Alehouse).
Nadhim Zahawi (Scary Shithouse).
And Jeremy Hunt (Dopey Titmouse).
Quick select rewards
- The ebook
- Your name in the back of the book
Russell Jones Collection
- The ebook
- Your name in the back of the book