Richard North, 15/06/2019  

This week amounted to watching the live abortion of that time-worn cliché that the Conservative parliamentary party is "the most sophisticated electorate in the world", writes Marina Hyde. "Do me a favour", she adds: "They've just spaffed 114 first-round votes on a subclinical narcissist whose chief qualification for the gig is knowing the ancient Greek for raghead".

Yesterday, that self-same Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson graced us with his presence on the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme, and succeeded in demonstrating beyond peradventure that his ideas for Brexit are barking mad.

Not least, he believes it is "perfectly realistic" to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement with the EU, dispensing with the backstop – this, despite multiple, unequivocal reaffirmations from any number of senior EU officials and Member State leaders that it is not possible.

Not only that, the wunderkind asserts that the new negotiations can be concluded by 31 October and, although he continues with his stance that we have to leave by then, he added that it would be the wrong move "at this stage" to signal he will delay Brexit beyond that date.

The Mirror not unreasonably sees this as raising doubts over whether he'll keep his word, especially as he refused to promise he'll resign if he does delay Brexit past Halloween.

Here, there is some synergy with Lord Ashcroft's latest report which outlines the results of his focus groups of wavering Tory voters talking about the leadership race. The section that leaps out retails a "consistent theme" that people were interested first and foremost in the candidates' apparent character and competence. They had simply given up listening to policies or plans, whether on Brexit or anything else.

The rationale for this was summed up in a series of quotes. One respondent said of the candidates, "They'll say one thing to your face and then get in the car and say 'ha, they bought that one, didn't they'". Another said, "Whenever I read about them, the underlying thing that I just can't seem to get past is that they'll do whatever it takes just to be leader and then change their mind". Then a third added, "I've heard it and heard it and heard it and now I’m exhausted with listening to all their twaddle".

Elsewhere in his report, Lord Ashcroft notes specific views expressed about Mr Johnson: "He's a compulsive liar"; "a cheater"; "I don't trust him"; "He's great at telling people what they want to hear, Boris, so he’ll just go wherever": "I don’t think he's normal at all, I think he's very peculiar"; "a devious individual and he's doing everything to attract attention to himself"; "He's incredibly personable but he doesn't care about genuine people, I don't think".

Putting these elements together, I recall my own piece written in November 2017 which I entitled "why are these lying bastards lying to us?". I'd taken my theme from Jeremy Paxman's famous working principle.

And there it is – the assumption that politicians are lying to us now comes so naturally that there is scarcely any merit in assessing what they say or promise prior to an event. They are going to lie anyway, hence the comment from one of Lord Ashcroft's respondents: "They'll say one thing to your face...", etc.

This applies in spades to Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, the "compulsive liar", about which the only certainty is that he will lie through his back teeth if there is any advantage to be gained from it.

Another to note this characteristic is Suzanne Moore - not my most favourite commentator. But she joins the growing throng to write that we are "getting a new prime minister, not one we have elected: a known liar and cheat, devoid of principles beyond self-advancement, a walking id, a moral void".

But if people have given up listening to policies or plans, because they know that politicians will lie anyway, Ms Moore has her own "take" as to why the Tories favour this "compulsive liar".

According to Ms Moore, this is not about the candidates' "apparent character and competence". Rather, as set out in her headline, Johnson's "charm" is just the arrogance of "those born to rule", revealing a fatal flaw in the English psyche. The Tory leadership contest, she writes, "shows we'll keep running back to the posh boys, no matter how much they use and abuse us".

When I saw this, I couldn't help but wonder if she'd been reading the blog. Only recently I'd been writing about my long-time feeling that, in this country, there is "an unwholesome deference to authority figures and the upper classes". This, I asserted, "suggests we've never really got over being a feudal society", where "we fawn over 'posh' accents and men in well-cut suits".

Moore takes this further. She likens the relationship between the voters and our politicians with an abusive relationship where, despite the humiliation the victim keeps coming back for more. But this relationship she calls "the new feudalism".

This is now the new offer, she writes. "Not only is it not democracy", she adds. "It is not even leadership, but a performance of it". And in this world, political language, as George Orwell said, "is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind".

Moore sees "pure wind" as the definition of the Tory leadership spectacle. None of it is solid, she says, arguing that the "abusive relationship could stop" and "the electorate should be walking away". However, like many of us, she asks: "But where to?" That, she says, is the real question.

Coincidentally, another Moore picks up the thread – the ever-pompous Charles Moore, writing in the Telegraph, pointing out that the Tory survival instinct "has finally kicked in" with the realisation – in his view – that "only Boris can deliver Brexit".

This confirms, as if it was needed, that the Tories are putting party before country, but it also illustrates the short-sighted assessment of Johnson's contribution whose management of a no-deal scenario – if it comes to that – will almost certainly ensure the collapse of his government and ensure the Conservatives remain out of office for a generation.

But then Charles Moore thinks that Dominic Raab – the Brexit secretary who didn't realise how important Dover was - "is a man of high intelligence". He also thinks Johnson is the only man who "can do the job", getting the UK out of the EU, neglecting to remind us that, had parliament ratified the Withdrawal Agreement, we would by now have departed.

Nothing matters in the Tory camp any more, it seems, other than whether their new leader has the ability to win a general election. And if a "compulsive liar" says he is their man, they are prepared to take him at his word. This is what modern-day politics has come down to.

And now, in the ultimate perversion in a contest which already stretches the bounds of tolerance beyond breaking point, there is talk of a "secret plan" to ensure that only Johnson's name is presented to the party membership for the leadership vote.

Ostensibly designed to prevent "four weeks of damaging Tory bloodletting", this gets more and more Soviet as time goes on, where voters are allowed to vote for only one candidate. And the fact that truncating the contest reduces Johnson's exposure to hostile media is, of course, neither here nor there.

Not least, that would avoid Johnson having to be grilled by members over 16 hustings events in every region of the UK over a four week period starting in Birmingham next Saturday, 22 June - events where the lead candidate is extremely vulnerable.

Right to the end, "cheater" Johnson is doing his best to rig the contest in his favour, especially as he is still struggling to avoid having to partake in Channel 4's TV debate.

Perhaps, though, he and his supporters are beginning to detect the sort of negative vibes articulated by Matthew Parris in the latest of his columns, this time under the headline "For Tory members, Johnson is not a done deal".

"If you're selling tickets to a Boris Johnson in Downing Street, a certain hesitation furrows the Tory brow", he writes, then concluding that "a convinced, energetic, eloquent but intellectually serious campaign among the Tory grassroots next month could yet unseat the favourite".

"Unbeatable among his cowardly and preferment-seeking parliamentary colleagues", Parris says, "he remains beatable among the real grown-ups: the national membership of the Conservative Party". No wonder Johnson wants only his name to go forward. This is the sort of cheating that comes naturally to the man.

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