Thursday 13 June 2019

In Which I Select The Least Awful Conservative Leadership Candidate

The British Conservative Party is having the leadership contest for which it has long yearned.

Inspired by John Scalzi's posts on the 2016 and 2012 US Republican candidates, I am ranking the contenders from most to least terrible.

Rogues' gallery. Image source: BBC

First, some things to bear in mind.

  • Yes, these are all Tories. It's a given that they are not cuddly socialists. All have served as ministers in a government that victimised foreigners, slashed public services, and attempted to implement Brexit. None of them are nice people; and the more capable ones have applied their abilities to implement appalling policies. That said, there are meaningful distinctions here. If I was forced to eat either a bowl of live ants or one of broken glass, I would reluctantly choose the ants.
  • Yes, they are all claiming only they can renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels, ignoring the EU27's very clear statements that they have no interest in reopening negotiations. It's not an encouraging sign; but see above.
  • Brexit will be the overwhelming issue in British politics for the foreseeable future. The winning candidate's record and views on other issues will of course matter, but next to Brexit they are of secondary importance. In particular, are they willing to countenance a no-deal Brexit? Given the failure of today's vote, Parliament may not be able to impede the next Prime Minister from doing so.

Let's take it away. Here is the rogues' gallery of candidates, starting with the least desirable and working upwards.

10. Raab

Dumber than a bag of hammers, and devoted to Brexit come what may. Openly talking about suspending Parliament to ensure a no-deal Brexit. That doesn't exactly make him stand out in this company (see numbers 9 and 8). But Raab takes the wooden spoon for being so monumentally stupid (see his failure to realise that Britain is an island), and for expecting us to forget that he was the Brexit Secretary in charge of negotiating the Withdrawal Agreement he now derides as the work of Satan.

9. McVey

Not quite as stupid and fanatically pro-Brexit as Raab, but it was a close run thing. And that is all I have to say about McVey.

8. Leadsom

Reached the final two of the last leadership contest. Notable chiefly for her remarks that "as a mother" she was better qualified to be PM than Theresa May. This represents the tip of an iceberg of stupidity, which motivated her fellow Tory MPs to prevail upon her to drop out of the contest. Perhaps remembering Iain Duncan Smith, they felt the chance she might win the membership vote was an unacceptable risk. She's still not the worst this time around, which really says something about the dreadful quality of the candidates.

7. Hunt

Hunt scares me nearly as much as the fanatic no-dealers on this list. Worst Health Secretary ever; everyone I know in the NHS loathes him with a burning rage like unto a thousand suns. But he has a weird Teflon quality, such that this hasn't made him as universally despised as it should have. As foreign secretary, compared the EU to the USSR.

He is smooth, clever in his way, and absolutely devoid of principles, empathy, or human compassion. The Brexit fanatics higher on the list are terrifying, but may be naturally constrained by their own ineptitude. Hunt has the capacity to go over the event horizon, with a Dalek-like logic that simply doesn't recognise the casualties (possibly including literal deaths) as anything to be concerned about. Even among the dead-eyed sociopaths of the Conservative party, he stands out as one to fear.

6. Johnson

The bookies' favourite, whose main asset is a tired and second-rate Bertie Wooster act which the Tory membership (and to a lesser extent Tory voters) nevertheless find appealing. Spectacularly lazy and ignorant. Even his fellow Conservative MPs regard him as a loathsome and unprincipled scoundrel.

I have the cold shivers that he might railroad the UK into a no-deal Brexit, because he has not bothered to understand the consequences of doing so. At least he isn't ideologically committed to burning the UK to the ground in order to achieve Brexit, so he might conceivably muddle through to an acceptable outcome. If he does so it will be through blind luck, not any qualities of leadership.

5. Harper

Bland and forgettable former Chief Whip. I don't know how this mediocrity made the nominations list, but here we are. A void in human form with few discernable qualities, positive or negative. (Someone needs to check if he is former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a Mission: Impossible mask.)

This marks the approximate dividing line between "eh, could be worse, prepare for a Theresa May Mark 2 scenario of drift and confusion" and "holy shit, prepare to leave the country if you haven't done so already."

4. Hancock

Bland and forgettable current Health Secretary. Has made some remarks about refusing to bypass Parliament which indicate at least an approximate grasp of reality. Amusing name, especially in conjunction with ill-advised graphic design.

3. Javid

Current Home Secretary. Record as a reasonably competent minister. Long-standing but non-fanatical Brexiteer. Child of Pakistani immigrants, raised in humble circumstances, and became a self-made millionaire in banking (albeit while the banks were blowing up the world in the financial crisis). All of which indicates a relative intelligence and pragmatism, and his origins are a refreshing change from the braying public-school spawn who populate much of the Tory party. Unfortunately, if he makes it to the final two, the Pakistani part of said background is likely to doom his chances with the elderly and racist party membership.

2. Gove

A sweaty-palmed weasel of a man, but that may be what the times call for. Again, fairly intelligent and competent as a minister. Solid Brexiteer credentials; but unlike Raab and Johnson, he didn't flounce out of the Cabinet when May's deal took shape. He might just be crafty enough to get some type of Brexit deal through Parliament; failing that, he would probably choose another extension over No-Deal.

1. Stewart

Interesting background as an army officer, diplomat and possible spy. Has been talking blunt common sense on Brexit and the disastrous nature of No-Deal. Personable and shows an unusual interest in actually understanding and solving problems, rather than blindly applying ideology. The Guardian readers' favourite, and as such probably has no hope in this contest, although you never can tell.

Also, see my introductory remarks. He's an ambitious Conservative cabinet minister, not the second coming of Jesus. As such, it's hardly surprising he didn't resign from the government to vote for Labour's motion to prevent No Deal.

0. Clarke

Kenneth Clarke is not running. If he were, he would be my choice out of sitting Conservative MPs. Tried and failed in 1997, 2001 and 2005. Too sensible to try again this time around. Still a Tory, with a career of almost half a century defending and implementing odious Tory policies, but one of a dwindling band of rational and responsible Tories.

Instead, we're going to get somebody else. Stewart is the only one for whom I'd really have any optimism. The others are all different variants of grifter, fanatic and nitwit. I feel sad for those who remain in the UK, and grateful I could move overseas and escape from this sorry parade of villains, one of whom will become First Lord of the Treasury in a few weeks.

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