openDemocracyUK: Opinion

Be careful what you wish for – the Tories won’t change if Johnson goes

The UK prime minister’s departure will give even more power to the far Right of the party – the zealots who brought you Brexit and the COVID fiascos

Richard Murphy
19 January 2022, 3.58pm
Boris and David, not such good friends now
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Colin Fisher/Alamy Live News. All rights reserved

After a week of revelations about COVID rule breaches by the British prime minister, the defection of a Tory MP to Labour, and the demand from Tory grandee David Davis MP in the Commons –citing Leo Amery to Neville Chamberlain – “In the name of God, go,” it must be presumed that Boris Johnson’s remaining days in office are numbered.

From the smile on opposition leader Keir Starmer’s face at today’s prime minister’s questions session in Parliament, he appears to think this a moment for celebration. As the leader of a left-wing party, he should be more cautious. Yes, Wakeford has abandoned the Conservatives; Davis has not.

I am sure that Davis remains as committed as he has ever been to all the far-Right Tory causes. What is more, Davis is unusual in combining that commitment with some degree of political astuteness. He rarely acts without having worked out his next move. His demand is, I am sure, based upon the presumption that whoever comes next as Tory leader will better advance his cause.

For once, I find myself in agreement with him. Whether the next leader of the Conservative Party is Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Penny Mordaunt, Nadhim Zahawi or an outsider like Jeremy Hunt or Tom Tugendhat, the Tories will not have changed their spots. It’s very likely that much that Johnson has stood for will remain as recognisable government policy under another leader.

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There are three things that characterise the modern Conservative Party. The first is ruthless electoral success. Whatever is required to deliver this is acceptable to its MPs. Manipulating constituency boundaries; disenfranchising millions to supposedly tackle electoral fraud when almost none has ever been found; discernible and blatant lying: all have met their approval. With regard to the latter, Johnson's only crime is to be have been found out.

The second is promotion of profoundly factional interests. The COVID contracts VIP lane is the clearest evidence of the inherent bias in the way the Tories govern, but it is only a symptom of something much deeper within the party’s psyche. This is perhaps best described as a profound bias towards those with wealth however they might have secured it.

These people have no faith in government. They oppose all that government stands for

Far from that wealth trickling down as a result of their policies, it fountains upwards. That the divisions within society and the well-being of the vast majority is harmed as a result is a matter of indifference to those pursuing the policy.

Then there is the third and most dangerous element within Conservative thinking. This has long been associated with the far-Right members of its parliamentary party, who were once described as “the bastards” by former prime minister John Major during his time in office.

These people have no faith in government. They oppose all that government stands for. They do not wish it to succeed, or any of the services that it might supply, from education to health and onwards. Their only goal is to promote a far-Right-wing vision of society where the fittest survive, as indicated by the wealth that they can accumulate. The rest can fall by the wayside.

To achieve this goal, this part of the Tory party has since the 1990s been engaged in a policy of political distraction. Its aim has always been to drive the party away from any proactive programme of policy delivery towards one of political destruction. Euroscepticism, and then Brexit, were perfect delivery mechanisms to achieve that goal. Letting COVID rip through society is another one.

Even the distraction of changing leaders as often as possible assists the goal because nothing really happens within government during the periods of leadership crisis, and all that they are interested in is the delivery of precisely nothing but a captured state capable of redistributing wealth upwards by, for example, capturing the BBC for private gain.

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To pretend that a change of Tory leader will now change the policy of this dominant group within the Conservatives is absurd. They think that they have won the party for the far Right and have every intention that the next leader will either deliver the policy of destruction that they desire or will, in her or his turn, be destroyed by them. Everyone in the country needs to be aware of this because this group has no interest in most people. The electorate are only tools for the achievement of this group’s far-Right, corporatist goals.

Celebrate Johnson’s demise if you want but be careful what you wish for

As former Labour leader Neil Kinnock once warned, people should not be ordinary, young, ill or old, whoever becomes the next leader of the Tories. We might add that nor should they be a new, first- or second-generation migrant, or work for the state.

All of these groups will be discriminated against in favour of a policy for the few at cost to the rest. Johnson’s real crime, for the Tory Right, is not to have delivered this with the vigour they wanted, leaving a bigger state than they would ever have wished for. Whoever comes next will have heard that and will seek to deliver the cuts in services that this far-Right fringe desire.

Celebrate Johnson’s demise if you want but be careful what you wish for. His successor may be far worse for the country at large and you too, unless, that is, you happen to be in the Tory VIP fast lane.

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