The Tories’ favourite sport? Dispatching their leaders | Zoe Williams

There was a mythical time when a succession of young nobles got to be king for a year, and were then ceremoniously killed, and someone in my house (not me) knows what this epoch was called. I refuse to look it up or commit it to memory because half-remembering some ancient parable and then beefing it up with Google gravitas is the kind of thing the prime minister would do.

But prime minister for how much longer? Because this brutal practice of yore is now the operating model for the Conservative party: anoint a leader in great floofy garlands of praise; let them at it for a year or so; then destroy them. It’s a blood sport. You can tell they’re nearing the kill when Piers Morgan delivers a crushing verdict – that the prime minister is “a shambles”. “But … dude,” you might exclaim, into your marmalade or whatever, “we always knew he was useless. You’re the one who voted for him!” That’s not the point, ladies and gentlemen: consistency is for little people, along with accountability. Morgan isn’t here to justify his own choices, he’s here like a picador to deal the playful opening wound of the final act. It’s hard to cheer all this on when you know it will just start right up again, with a different king, who will be similarly sacrificed.

Mr Z and I spend a lot of time arguing about what the Tory right actually want. He thinks they have an overarching policy agenda that is too controversial to say out loud, so they have to perpetually ventriloquise it through successively less honest leaders, until they get to their happy place. I think all they want to do is be in charge and survive for ever, and they’ll move from host to host, refining their genetic makeup. Over time, they become more widespread, yet somehow weaker, then stronger for a bit. It’s an imperfect metaphor, since I change my mind regularly on who the host is: is it their doomed leader, or their doomed voter, or the entire nation? I also don’t have a clear idea of what herd immunity would look like. What does it mean for the Tory right to become endemic? Do they become symptomless, so that we know they’re probably out there, but cease to vote for them? Or will we be lateral-flow-testing for spasms of the war on woke for ever?

Nevertheless, I think I’m right on the fundamentals. You could lose whole chunks of your waking adult life reading Britannia Unchained and The Road to Serfdom, smashing your head against the fallacies, only for Liz Truss to turn around and say she’s not that into the free market any more because she met a protectionist at a party. You could drill forever for the big idea, only to finally reach it and discover a single slogan, repurposed from a mashup of Marie Antoinette and Molly-Mae Hague: “We all have the same 24 hours, and if you haven’t got a load of cake at the end of it, well then, you’re inadequate”. It’s just not worth it, is my point.

To return to those gilded young kings-for-a-year, whose provenance I refuse to look up: at what point did they start to think, hang on, the person before me got ritually sacrificed – could that be some sort of a clue? We’re now in the Rocky-phase of the leader’s downfall, where the party urges BoJo to regain his mojo, knowing that he cannot, because it was an illusion of collective devising in the first place. It is medium enjoyable to watch, except eerily reminiscent of seeing Theresa May have a coughing fit: inexorable doom is actually not that fun, whoever’s it is. One day soon, Conservative hopefuls will wise up, and nobody will want the job. In an era of “unprecedenteds”, we’ll have reached a party so strung out that nobody wants to lead it, the final endpoint of unprecedentedness. Or at least, hopefully we will.


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