Politics

Iain Macwhirter: Cressida Dick to the rescue but the Tory Party is doomed – it doesn’t know what it’s for anymore.

I’m not sure who was laughing loudest at the media’s frustration last week over the non-publication of the partygate report: the Metropolitan Police chief, Cressida Dick, or Boris Johnson. Both have grounds to feel hounded by the press in recent months. Johnson over parties and Dick over Sarah Everard and misogynistic coppers.

Labour and the SNP are furious that the partygate inquisitor, Sue Gray’s, full report may not now be released for weeks. But there shouldn’t have been any surprise. The Met was always likely to oppose publication of anything that might prejudice a criminal investigation.

Dame Cressida had said there were possibly “flagrant breaches of the law” here. They can’t have it both ways. And urging Ms Gray to release the entire report when the police have insisted on censoring it, as The Tory MP Roger Gale and the SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford did last week, is just daft.

The best guess now is that it will alol end in a flurry of fixed penalty notices (“parking fines” according to the former DPP, Ken MacDonald), plus a few showy police interviews with the key figures. These would include Boris Johnson, his Principal Private Secretary, Martin Reynolds who sent out those incriminating “bring a bottle” invites and Carrie Symonds if it was she, as alleged, who organised the June 2020 birthday party.

The star witness may well be Dominic Cummings. He was a fixture in Number Ten at the time of the May/June gatherings and has been spilling large quantities of beans from his blog.

Many smell a rat. But this latest Whitehall farce seems unlikely to save Boris Johnson from a leadership challenge. Informed sources are claiming that there are now the required 54 Tory MPs waiting to drop expressions of no confidence into the inbox of Sir Graham Brady, chair of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee. Operation Save Big Dog doesn’t seem to be halting the revolt which is now spreading to all wings of the parliamentary party.

It is in such a state that it hardly knows what it is rebelling about anymore. Parties? Brexit? Net Zero? Tax increases.The cost of living crisis? – it’s a kind of permabellion. They may all be dancing to the tune of Baron Cummings of Barnard Castle, but they don’t seem to care. Nor do they have an obvious replacement as leader. They just want Boris to buck up or butt out.

That the PM had to rely on the Twitter-addled Nadine Dorries and the bizarrely-coiffured nonentity Michael Fabricant to lead his defence in the media last week was a measure of just how isolated Boris Johnson has become. And the Tory culture war is hotting up.

Lord Frost, who resigned before Christmas over Covid regulations and Brexit back-tracking, has called for “neo-socialists, green fanatics and pro-woke” staff to be turfed out of Number Ten. The right believe that Boris Johnson has surrounded himself with advisers and civil servants who are paid up members of the “the Blob”.

They mean Guardian-reading climate change obsessives who only care about animals and black people instead of white van man, fracking and The Flag. The right see partygate as the lever to force Johnson back onto traditional Brit-Nat Tory turf. That’s not going to happen.

Boris is proud of his bike-riding, animal-living LGBT-supporting liberal image. His BAME cabinet is meant to demonstrate that he’s not an old style “nasty” Tory. He’s pro-NHS and anti-austerity. Twitter thinks the PM’s environmentalism is phoney, but Johnson is a genuine convert to climate change. He really believes that green capitalism is the way forward for Britain.

Brexit was not meant to be this way. Rightwing Tories like Steve Baker expected “red meat”. They want the Prime Minister to abandon climate targets, axe renewables subsidies, slash taxes and deregulate everything in sight. And Boris Johnson is said to be wobbling. He is back-tracking on his “furry”Animal Sentience bill and the campaign against junk food. Some even think he might reverse this April’s tax increases and review energy subsidies.

You might have thought that Boris Johnson’s alleged “wokery” and NHS support would appeal to the left of the the party. Not so. They are mostly die hard Remainers. Their hatred of Boris dates from the prorogation row two years ago, when the PM sacked 21 Remain-supporting Tory MPs, including 2 former Chancellors and six former cabinet ministers. That cut deep. They joined with the right in the100-strong Tory Rebellion last November over the Owen Paterson sleaze allegations.

Like Peppa Pig, that rebellion seems like ancient history, so much has happened since. But it was the moment the Tory party finally learned the art of fratricide. Conservatives used to fetishise party loyalty and avoided washing dirty linen in public. Unity was their secret weapon. Not any more. Tories no longer feel that they have to keep it in the family.

Last week, Lord Agnew resigned sensationally over the failure to recover fraudulent Covid loans. The former transport minister, Nusrat Ghani, then raised the spectre of Islamophobia, which has dogged Boris Johnson, despite his promotion of Muslim cabinet ministers. She accused a government whip of citing her “Muslimness” in the decision to sack her. People are leaking with impunity. As in the “puppygate” emails which suggested that the PM wanted dogs saved before people in the evacuation from Afghanistan

So it’s all falling apart at once. The centre does not hold. Hardly surprising for a politicians who is said to embraces chaos as a principle of governance. From his messy hairdo to his trailing shirt tails Boris Johnson is chaos personified. But it is more than just his personal disorganisation.

The Tory Party is becoming ungovernable. It no longer knows what it stands for – tax and spend or fiscal austerity, multiculturalism or controlling immigration, globalisation or localism. It has even lost the plot on the Union, now that the Scottish Conservatives under Douglas Ross have declared a kind of provisional UDI. Tories are ideologically at sea.

But they’re not alone. When it comes to factionalism, no one does it better than Labour. The ghost of Jeremy Corbyn has not been laid to rest, and key figures on the left, like John McDonnell, are determined that Sir Keir Starmer will not inherit the party. Labour is divided between the metropolitan Twitter-left, who idolise Owen Jones and think Britain is racist, and the neo-Blairites who want to wave the flag and reconnect with the white working class. These divisions are papered over so as not to distract from Tory grief, but they are as deep in the governing party.

All of which leaves Nicola Sturgeon leading the most visibly united party in UK politics. The SNP remains massively popular despite poor performance on education, waiting times and the economy. Divisions over Gender Self-Id and Indyref2 are eclipsed by the chaos in Labour and the Tories. The national question has dominated Scottish politics and the opposition parties are seen as not properly Scottish. But waving the flag just doesn’t seem to work in post-Brexit England.

And Boris is not waving but drowning.

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