As Boris Johnson looms large, why allowing Tory members to decide the next prime minister is a grave mistake - Euan McColm

People who join political parties are, in my experience, often both passionate and well-intentioned.

In more than quarter of a century covering the ins, outs, ups and downs of national debate, I’ve met countless decent sorts who give their time and money to those they support. These people are essential to the sustenance of democracy.

They are also, more often than not, entirely clueless about politics.

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An interest in a subject – no matter how intense – does not necessarily transform into understanding.

The face of former British prime minister Boris Johnson on an advertising hoarding at Westminster tube station in London. Picture: AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali
The face of former British prime minister Boris Johnson on an advertising hoarding at Westminster tube station in London. Picture: AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali
The face of former British prime minister Boris Johnson on an advertising hoarding at Westminster tube station in London. Picture: AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

This should not surprise anyone. We should no more expect, for example, an enthusiastic, paid-up member of the SNP to have a decent strategy for achieving independence than we should expect an attendee at a Taylor Swift concert to be able to write a string of chart-topping pop songs.

The average member of a political party is a fan, not an expert.

You don’t have to take my word for this. Just look at the evidence of recent years.

Labour Party members, who hadn’t paid the slightest bit of attention to the career of Jeremy Corbyn, bought into the laughable notion that he was a decent man rather than a crank with a history of appalling views and troubling associations.

These members didn’t stop to think about whether Corbyn could win an election. And nor did they consider his chances of being able to unite his parliamentary colleagues.

What followed was, well, we all know what followed.

More recently, Conservative Party members imposed on the nation Prime Minister Liz Truss. Seduced by her promises of tax cuts and growth, they ignored the fact her pitch defied logic and paid no heed to the fact the majority of Truss’s colleagues at Westminster did not support her.

The consequences of allowing people who don’t understand politics or economics to make such an important decision have been grave, indeed.

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The United Kingdom’s economy has been horribly damaged. We are, all of us, now paying a price for the decision made by a minuscule cabal of fools.

And we may be about to see it happen again.

Truss’s resignation on Thursday – just 24 hours after she told the House of Commons she was “a fighter, not a quitter” – may have come as a huge relief to the majority of us. But it does not appear to have acted as much of a wake-up call to many of those who made the catastrophically stupid decision to elect her in the first place.

By Thursday evening, a growing number of MPs – urged on by idiots who’ve paid their money to the Conservative Party and will, therefore, make the final decision on who takes over in 10 Downing Street – were discussing the possibility of bringing back Boris Johnson, the corrupt liar who had to resign in July after more than 60 resignations from MPs on the government payroll, including a number of senior Cabinet ministers.

Poll after poll has shown us that, although Johnson is despised among the wider electorate, a great many Tory members continue to buy into the notion he is a great statesman.

A weird collective amnesia has gripped these activists. They seem to have forgotten that Johnson’s focus in Government was not the advancement of the interests of the nation, but the preservation of his own career.

It has slipped their minds that he broke lockdown laws in order to party in Downing Street while, in the real world, the rest of us – the little people – endured hellish family separations and, in many cases, grieved alone, while observing the necessary restrictions imposed during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.

These Johnson fans have forgotten – or do not care – he finally had to resign after it emerged he had appointed the MP Chris Pincher as his deputy chief whip despite being aware of a series of allegations of sexual harassment made against his colleague.

The resignations of senior Government figures that, eventually, made even Johnson see the game was up seem to have been lost in the mists of time.

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Johnson’s lickspittles in the Conservative parliamentary group and in party associations across England tell us he has a mandate to return. He won a huge majority in 2019 and his return to Downing Street is not merely desirable, it is his right.

There might be something in this if the UK operated a presidential system, but it does not. A Prime Minister governs if he or she can command a majority in the House of Commons. There is no more to it than that.

Of course, we do not know whether Johnson will make it on to the final ballot paper. Candidates must win the backing of at least 100 Tory MPs before being put forward for the judgement of party members. But it is troubling, indeed, that this moral vacuum of a man is being discussed as a serious contender.

It seems remarkable to me that news of Johnson’s ambition to return emerged while he was on holiday in the Caribbean.

Parliament is not in recess, after all, yet we are expected to believe that a man who prefers sunning himself rather than serving his constituents during a crisis has the interests of anyone but himself at heart.

The next Prime Minister, whether it’s Johnson, former chancellor Rishi Sunak, or current Leader of the House, Penny Mordaunt, need not call another election until January 2025, but the moral case the country needs a say in who governs us is overwhelming.

Of course, the next PM will look at the polls, which predict a Labour landslide, and tell us now is not the time for an election, now is the time for a period of calm and stability

But when the time comes, this Conservative Party – whether under the leadership of Johnson or not – will suffer.

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And every Tory member will have paid for the privilege of hastening that deserved humiliation.



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