Old tunes remastered

Penny, Liz and Boris — still rocking the political moshpit

Another day, another sweaty room. Penny Mordaunt had chosen possibly the hottest room in Britain to overfill with sweaty MPs and launch her bid to … well, honestly, it was crowded and the sound was bad and I was at the back so I’ve only a faint idea what she was saying. She mentioned something about the Falklands, so maybe we’re going to send another taskforce.

At the front we caught glimpses of some of her MP backers. There was Charles Walker! And Michael Fabricant! We must all pray she’s not offering Cabinet positions in return for support. 

The person a candidate chooses at these times sends a message

The person a candidate chooses at these times sends a message. Rishi Sunak chose Dominic Raab, saying he was the kind of person that hard-faced sweaty men take seriously. Tom Tugendhat had Anne-Marie Trevelyan, showing he’s on speaking terms with at least one Brexiteer. Mordaunt had Andrea Leadsom. Was she telling us she’s the candidate of people who are out of their depth? The alternative was David Davis, but perhaps he wouldn’t have been any better. 

“Our party has lost its sense of self,” Mordaunt said. The Conservatives, she claimed improbably, were like Paul McCartney playing Glastonbury. “We indulged all those new tunes but what we really wanted to hear was the good old stuff,” she said, “that we all knew the words to. Low tax, small state, personal responsibility.”

Leaving aside the political message for a moment, anyone who feels qualified to give performance tips to a Beatle isn’t lacking in confidence. Mordaunt didn’t explain what it was the party had been doing in the recent years that was the political equivalent of The Frog Chorus, but her only comment on Boris Johnson offered a clue. “We should thank him for delivering Brexit,” she said, damning with the very faintest of praise.

Outside in SW1, the rest of the contest was more Live And Let Die. Liz Truss has yet to set out her own stall, and is allowing herself to become the candidate of people who want to avenge the wrong done unto Johnson. 

If, like Jacob Rees-Mogg, you feel that the current prime minister’s only failing is that he didn’t give in to his instincts enough, Truss is the woman for you. It’s unclear that this is what she thinks herself. Certainly she was willing to sit next to him at Prime Minister’s Questions. Just down the bench were Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries, all that is left of Johnson’s backing singers.

As the prime minister rose to speak in the Commons chamber, he was interrupted by heckling from two MPs from Alba, the Scottish nationalist party that has seceded from the SNP. As with the Mordaunt speech, it was hard to hear what they were talking about. Perhaps they too want to send a taskforce somewhere. The Speaker threw them out, which had probably been their main goal. 

Johnson’s remaining fans had spread themselves out across the chamber. Joy Morrissey, who used to sit behind him nodding furiously, was on the back row. Presumably the goal was to give the impression that he enjoyed support across the party. It seems a bit late for that, but it’s certainly the case that, having decided to get rid of the prime minister, Tory MPs now wanted us to know what a great chap he was. 

Keir Starmer was full of helpful suggestions. If Johnson wanted to get revenge on his colleagues, he said, he could end the non-dom tax dodge enjoyed by leadership candidates and their wives. 

Johnson swerved that with a joke of his own, that he was pleased to be leaving his job at a moment when vacancies were at an all-time high. Perhaps he’s going to try to become a teaching assistant, though the background check could be a problem.

Starmer noted the prime minister’s evasion on tax policy. “Cut him some slack: faced with an uncertain future and a mortgage-sized decorator’s bill for what will soon be somebody else’s flat, I’m not surprised the prime minister is careful not to upset any future employers.”

Johnson fired back that any of the eight “brilliant” candidates to succeed him would “wipe the floor with Captain Crasheroony Snoozefest.” The Tory benches greeted this as though it had been crafted by Noel Coward and delivered by Peter Kay. They cheered and stamped their feet. The Speaker had to calm them down. 

It was vintage Johnson

It was indeed vintage Johnson. He scratched his arse, he ignored questions and threw out familiar promises as though his former colleagues hadn’t spent all week trashing his record. And then he had a final moment of theatre for us. 

“It is possible that this will be our last confrontation,” he told Starmer. “It is possible.” He explained that the Tories might have chosen a leader “by acclamation” by next week, but no one thinks that is likely. It seems more likely — it seemed ever likelier as he adopted a more and more valedictory tone — that he plans to skip next week’s session, presumably with an unavoidable trip to some more interesting foreign part. His office denied this later, but we all know how much that’s worth.

“It is perfectly true that I leave not at a time of my choosing,” Johnson said. “But I am proud of the fantastic teamwork that has been involved in all of those projects, both nationally and internationally. I am also proud of the leadership that I have given. I will be leaving, soon, with my head held high.”

Head held high and, I am pleased to report, hand deep down the back of his trousers.

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