Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Boris Johnson's 2019 purge will haunt the Tories for years to come

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If Rishi Sunak was meant to offer a fresh start, then his first cabinet was deeply disappointing. There was little sign of a cabinet of all the talents, made possible by the soothing of old enmities, beyond the return of Michael Gove.

In fact it's hard not to be depressed at many of the names he brought back or kept on yesterday: Gavin Williamson, Suella Braverman, Dominic Raab, Thérèse Coffey.

If you try to come up with a list of four more encouraging names, you are likely to come up with something like: David Gauke, Dominic Grieve, Justine Greening, Rory Stewart.

Trouble is, none of that four is still in the Commons. All were among the 21 Conservative MPs who lost the whip in September 2019 for, in effect, voting against a no-deal Brexit.

Gauke  and Grieve stood as Independents in the general election later that year, while the other two did not defend their seats under any label.

It's clear that Boris Johnson's 2019 purge will continue to hurt his party for years to come, and not just because it cannot spare people of that talent.

If the Conservative Party is to have a future that does not involve a permanent shift to being the English Nationalist Party, then at some point the moderates are going to have to fight back.

And if they are going to do so, those moderates and the party as a whole will need a leader - a Tory version of Neil Kinnock, if you will.

It's possible to imagine that such a figure can be found among the four names I chose. It's much harder to imagine he or she is to be found in Sunak's new cabinet.


Anonymous said...

Your point here is spot on. But one quibble... Dominic Grieve did attempt to defend his Beaconsfield seat, as an Independent, and the Lib Dems didn't put up a candidate. He came second, with 29%, to the official Tory's 56%.
Historically, Beaconsfield often had Liberals in second place, and looks like it could have been one where the Lib Dems became really competitive in the '90s, although for whatever reason they didn't. Former Liberal candidates include Stephen Lloyd and Paul Tyler. Paul Tyler came second in in 1982 by-election, beating the Labour candidate, who was a certain Tony Blair. Dr A.

Phil Beesley said...

Change in the Conservative Party will be difficult because it has stuffed the parliamentary benches with people who know how to argue and cajole, not necessarily how to analyse and reflect.

Anyone wishing to become a Conservative MP or candidate has to convince a local party to back them. Even if Johnson hadn't wiped out a couple of dozen MPs from the "decent" wing of the party, they'd have been replaced by headbangers eventually. The Conservative Party is probably beyond the point when "decents" are numerous enough to drag it back to Christian Democrat-ish politics.

Jonathan Calder said...

Doc: Thank you - the perils of writing from memory as you get older. I have edited the post so it is accurate.

Phil: You may be right - I just hope the Tories pay an electoral price for this change.

Phil Beesley said...

It's about the voters though. Rishi and Liz both won the party eventually, two different sides, and maybe that matters in constituencies with active activists.

There are loads of educated posh people who shake their heads when Suella Braverman is appointed to any post higher than Pencil Monitor. Lots of votes which won't turn into seats, and a handful of maybes, are on offer.

Conservative politics is in a feedback loop. All of the daft stuff is fed back into mainstream Tory politics, which generates more nonsense.

Matt Pennell said...

A couple of points:

1) Don't forget the huge amount of talent that defected from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems in 2019 - losing Heidi Allen, Sam Gymiah, Phillip Lee and Antoinette Sandbach has left a massive void yet to be filled.

2) Boris Johnson's shabby treatment of Nicholas Soames caused his nephew, popular TV historian and art critic Gideon Soames, to rip up his party membership and start briefing against the Tories on the South Downs national park dinner party circuit. Expect to see a collapse in vote in that part of the world