Express & Star

Toby Neal: Backstabbers rose to applaud their victim

Toby Neal casts his eye on the world of politics.

Boris’s last hurrah

In an outbreak of mass hypocrisy the like of which has not been seen in the House of Commons for several weeks, the Tory benches rose to give a standing ovation to Boris Johnson.

As they freed their hands to clap, the applause was almost drowned out by the clatter of backstabbing knives dropping to the floor.

Among their ranks was one dissenter, who was noticed to be very slow to rise. It may be that by staying seated Theresa May was making a stand, a stand for integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, sincerity, being true to one's beliefs; which in her case is the belief that her successor as Prime Minister is a cad, scoundrel, bounder and vagabond.

But in the end she stood up to join the others as well. I don't blame her. As a vicar's daughter she probably thought it was good manners to comply, even though she didn't clap – which is supposed to be against Commons rules anyway.

In any event one of the most difficult things in life is to be the odd one out.

There was that experiment years ago with a bunch of students, where they were all shown two lines on a blackboard, and tasked with saying which was the shortest. One of those taking part was an unsuspecting genuine student, while all the others were the experimenters' stooges who voted en masse each time for the longest line. After getting it "wrong" a couple of times and so standing out like a sore thumb, the genuine student would thereafter just vote the same way as everybody else did.

So now we turn to who should succeed Boris Johnson.

A myriad of talents, experience, charisma, and capabilities. All lacking.

If I were a member of the Conservative Party – forget it, I've looked at their website and there's no mention of a free gift for joining – my reaction to the full candidates' line up would have been: Cripes, is this the choice?

Boris Johnson has been such a colourful figure at the helm that it's as if there's been an invisibility cloak thrown over the rest of them.

There is though something more to it than that. There was a time when the Commons had people on both sides of the House of great experience, seniority, substance and standing, and ministers would often stick in their roles for years providing continuity, rather than, as mostly happens today, staying in post for a few months before being switched in the next reshuffle.

Even the "characters" were of higher quality, variety, and interest. There used to be a Scottish MP called Willie Hamilton who was a highly vocal anti-royalist, for instance describing the Queen as (and apologies for repeating this, Your Majesty, but it is in context) "a middle-aged woman of limited intellect who should be ditched in the Channel", and Princess Anne (similar apologies, Your Royal Highness) as "rather a plain young woman, mostly found on the back of a horse".

While there has never been a shortage of nasty MPs, they used to be nasty with a cause – whether it be class war, republicanism, or whatever. Today they're mostly just nasty, and the cause is trying to get their scripted quote on the telly, or trite political advantage.

It comes down to Sunak and Truss. At least a lot of voters will have heard of them. Sunak is cultivating the notion that he is sound on the economy, although objective examination of the evidence must lead to doubts on that following his mission to bankrupt Britain, tax levels which are at the highest for generations, his fraud-friendly furlough scheme, and his cheap meal deals at the expense of the taxpayer.

Admittedly he was quite a popular Chancellor, some even describing him as a "hero" during the pandemic, but popular Chancellors are not necessarily good Chancellors.

Truss is a political alloy who appears to comprise elements of both May and Thatcher. This may or may not be seen as a plus point in the voting, but does not bode well for the public warming to her.

As for Boris, new pastures and new opportunities now beckon. He gave politics a whirl, but never really understood the rules of the game, and never got the hang of the "trust in politics" gimmick.

Where is a suitable home for someone whose stock with the public has fallen so low?

Boris, journalism will welcome you back with open arms.