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It’s usually inappropriate to quote another reporter, but Stewart Lee’s day job is a stand-up comedy, so we can make an exception this time. Writing in The Observer on Sunday, Lee offered a summary of Britain’s Conservative government as its 12-year rule stumbles towards its end.
The Conservative politicians who made headlines last week, he wrote, were “a child molester, a serial adulterer and a compulsive liar, a handsome but morally bankrupt financial whiz, and a tyrant who sends immigrants to Rwanda”.
“It looks less like a government than a special team of convicted criminals who have been given their freedom in exchange for accepting an impossible mission behind enemy lines in a 1970s Italian-funded war movie. Operation Dynamite Bastards!!!!”
Imran Ahmad Khan, a Tory MP, resigned after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy, but the real story is that another Tory MP, Crispin Blunt, a former justice minister, condemned his conviction as “an international crime”. scandal, with terrible wider implications for millions of LGBTQ+ Muslims around the world.
The “serial adulterer and compulsive liar” was of course Prime Minister Al “Boris” Johnson, still refusing to deny that he had no more children than the seven he admits to having from various mothers. But it was the “compulsive liar” part of the indictment that attracted more attention last week.
It was really a legal question. For more than a year, the Conservative government has been haunted by ‘Partygate’, an ongoing scandal involving many drunken parties at the Prime Minister’s home and office at 10 Downing Street, even when the whole country was in a COVID lockdown. .
Revelations about these parties have spread one by one from about a year ago, each denied by Johnson both to the public and to parliament (where deliberately lying is a resignation offence). Eventually the police intervened, as these were criminal offences, and the first fines were imposed on Johnson and other senior Tories last week.
Police are dealing with the offenses one by one, one drip at a time, and Johnson faces up to five additional fines. He will also have to be scared for lying to Parliament, and while the Conservative majority there will save him for the time being, his party has irretrievably lost faith in him.
The “handsome but morally bankrupt financial whiz” is Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) Rishi Sunak, who was universally seen as Johnson’s main rival and possible replacement – until he fell into disgrace a few weeks ago. He, too, has been fined for the holidays, but his biggest problem is his personal finances.
First, it emerged that Sunak’s wife, an Indian heiress, was exploiting a tax loophole to avoid paying UK tax on her $15million-a-year dividend income. All she had to do was state that she had no intention of staying in the UK permanently – which may be true, as it later emerged that she and Rishi had both retained their green cards issued in the United States.
This ends Sunak’s prime ministerial ambitions – and then there is the ‘tyrant who sends immigrants to Rwanda’, Interior Minister Priti Patel. She announced the plan last week while handing a $120 million down payment to Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame for removing asylum seekers from Britain.
It’s probably illegal, and Patel probably realizes it’s never really going to happen. She’s just throwing red meat at the racist, anti-immigrant voters who played a big part in bringing Johnson & Co. to power in the last election. But she didn’t solve the biggest problem, which is what to do with Johnson. Nobody did.
Johnson’s popularity in the party and the country has plummeted, and even his recent sub-Churchillian posturing in Ukraine has done nothing to restore it. But following the waning star of Rishi Sunak, the Conservatives have no other candidate who will tickle the electorate. Plus, Johnson certainly won’t go without a fight.
The most likely outcome is deadlock: an unpopular government heading into a cost-of-living crisis with no visible strategy and two years before the next election. They had no policy beyond ‘Brexit’, which no longer inspires even its former enthusiasts, and the dearest wish of their enemies is that Johnson stay in power until the election is finally held. .
He probably will.