T-minus five days off a likely Boris Johnson premiership, I would like to thank all the Conservatives who explained exactly why putting us through the stone-cold shitshow of a campaign was so essential. It was important, these red-trousered political scientists all told us, because the process allowed the candidates to be properly tested. It didn’t happen last time, and look how that turned out.
Preach. Had we gone through the whole rigmarole in 2016, we might have found out about teenage Theresa May’s Betamax crop-circle habit before it was too late. Or that, if asked to state a preference between Midsomer Murders and Sherlock, May would one day simply reply, “I’ve watched both.” Instead, what happened, happened. I guess you don’t make that magnitude of mistake twice.
So here we all are, staring down the barrel of the overwhelmingly predicted result. And I think we have to conclude there is literally no process as rigorous as the Tory leadership election, barring the application procedure for joining a pyramid scheme or a sex cult.
Fire up the campaign montage, then, and let’s have a look at Boris Johnson’s best bits. Over the past four weeks alone – three-and-three-quarters of which he was kept in a padded black site by his carers in case he accidentally said piccaninnies or bumboys or fucked the help or something – Johnson has: failed to defend the UK’s most senior ambassador against an absurd attack by the US president, to a degree that contributed to that diplomat’s decision to resign; had the police called to a late-night screaming argument at his girlfriend’s flat; been exposed as incapable of understanding basic elements of his own supposed trade plans; claimed like the maddest of all mad bastards to have some wine-crate-based model-bus-building hobby; lied unnecessarily and repeatedly about everything from the total inviability of his flagship policy to how long he’d owned a bike before it was stolen; refused 26 – TWENTY-SIX – times in a row to even say when a faux paparazzi picture of him and his girlfriend was staged and taken; declined to say how many kids he has; shamelessly suggested he might prorogue parliament, taking him one step closer to his childhood ambition of being some sort of nightmare king; waved a kipper around to illustrate a claim that 30 seconds of Googling would have revealed as more complete bollocks, as has been his stock in trade for more than 30 years; and more. Much more, though for space reasons I have to draw a line here.
So we have to ask of the Tory membership, who are still going to make this blond Pennywise their prime minister: what would have made the difference, guys? We’re really quite deep into springtime for Hitler territory here. A leadership campaign so nakedly grotesque it should have folded on page four has in fact been a runaway hit.
And according to these much-vox-popped Tory members, Johnson is the only person for the job. It’s never rationally clear why. He’s just one of those guys who is deemed so vital to some alleged “common good” that really any level of moral defect is excusable in the service of this bigger thing. Why? Because he brings benefits. In his personage, somehow or other, benefits are distilled. No matter that to the rest of us, these promised benefits seem oddly intangible, realistically unachievable or always tantalisingly yet-to-be-realised. He is too big to be judged a moral failure.
In this, he is far from alone. The indignities of Brexit have pushed the UK into several grim ethical compromises already, and there will doubtless be many more. Consider the pathetic spectacle of Jeremy Hunt, being asked this week by the BBC’s Naga Munchetty if he’d call the “Send her back” chants at the Trump rally racist. “I’m not going to use the ‘R’ word,” Hunt declared, like the mimsiest of all moral vacuums, “because I do have to be responsible for that relationship between the UK and the USA, and I think it would be damaging to that if I used it.” I know Jeremy’s only got four days left to nurse his delusions of relevance, before he retreats to begin work on his 2020 leadership campaign, but HONESTLY. In some cases of emergency, you do have to break the glass.
Naturally, other horror shows are available. From a little bit of realpolitik to a little bit of royalpolitik, then, as we consider the mysteriously enduring appeal of the great soft power asset that is Prince Andrew. Why must accusations that he committed what would be statutory rape of an underage “sex slave” of his dear friend Jeffrey Epstein, on three occasions, continue to dog the stupidest Windsor of his generation? Certainly, HRH continues to deny them, even as Epstein was this week denied bail while awaiting his sex-trafficking trial. And even as we continue to treat the prince’s views on our post-Brexit trading relationship as in any way valuable, despite the fact his former trade envoy role was obviously only ever invented as a way of getting him between golf course and parties without taxpayers complaining about the helicopter bills.
You’d think we’d know all this. But we clearly don’t, because as recently as last month, Andrew was giving a big set piece TV interview, laying out his judgments on post-Brexit trade and relations with America.
So this is who we are. At this stage in its journey to take back control, the UK is the country so desperate for a trade deal with a self-confessed protectionist that it couldn’t condemn a “Send her back” chant. We’re the country that spends more time fussing about Meghan’s trip to Wimbledon than “trade expert” Prince Andrew’s historic visit to an Epstein Caribbean estate that I keep reading was “known locally as Paedophile Island”. And barring the most hilarious electoral upset in history, we’re the country that is soon to be ruled by Boris Johnson. Do we deserve everything we get? Perhaps we’re on the point of finding out.
• Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist