The events of the last few weeks and the resignation today of the fourth prime minister in six years, are a depressing measure of the depth to which British politics under the Conservative Party have sunk. Britain has endured a year with no effective government to speak of. And Tory ministers have acted as though we are bystanders in our own tragedy while they argue among themselves.
Some point the finger of blame at Brexit, which has surely been a disaster built on deceit and lies, with deep divisions in Tory ranks continuing to spill out as policymaking collides with reality. The mini-budget which precipitated Liz Truss’s departure is just the latest and most damaging example.
Conservative Party deeply divided
Conservative MPs and members will next week elect a fifth leader since they came to power, with little sign of a unity candidate. David Cameron’s claim that a referendum on Europe would resolve the issue forever has instead turned into a perpetual psychodrama.
We hear rumours that Boris Johnson may be a candidate. Party managers should scotch any idea that the chief architect of the present chaos and a man who is still under investigation by the Privileges Committee for potentially misleading the House, could ever contemplate a return. Members are apparently to be polled electronically to save time. This is a dangerous move. The membership has twice proven itself incapable of making sound choices and tossing in a potentially insecure voting system would only pile on the risk.
The issue of Europe has now seen the demise of the last six Conservative prime ministers and will probably see off several more. For voters and the party at large, this presents a problem. The ideological divide is now so wide that no one can be quite sure what direction the party is liable to set off in under any leader, or if the journey can be completed without huge course corrections or accusations of sabotage and betrayal. The Conservative manifesto has become a broken signpost of what the electorate can expect.
Traditional one-nation pro-European Conservatives and the Eurosceptic/UKIP wing have had a Jekyll and Hyde relationship for 30 years. The time must be approaching when a schism would be welcomed. Each wing should stand below their own banner and make an honest pitch for votes, rather than having to obfuscate their real intent. The pretence that a compromise exists must end.
Truss may have been the shortest-serving UK prime minister in history, but her departure will prove to have more far-reaching significance than some who sat atop the greasy pole for far longer. It demonstrates not only how divided the party is but also the shocking dearth of talent in Cabinet and a complete absence of judgement on the part of the membership. And it demonstrates most of all the failure of our democracy in how we elect our governments and thus our leaders.
There must be a general election
With the unedifying sights in the Commons last night topped by the coercive and bullying behaviour in the lobby, parliament has been brought into disrepute. It is clearly not fit for purpose. And changing one Tory leader after another is not the answer, we need a general election now.
That however is unlikely while the polls point to electoral obliteration for the Tories. When the ballot box finally does catch up with the Conservative Party you can be sure a lot of blood-letting will take place from which two distinct parties will emerge. We should all welcome that.
The great German statesman Otto von Bismarck once said:
“Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”
Let us hope Sir Keir Starmer and the Labour Party are watching and wise.