So, I get in from a pleasant evening out and turn on the internet, like you do. There, staring up at me from my hand-held device is the smiling image of a balding, bearded Tory MP next to a headline about groping. I read on with a sense of weary inevitability.
He is (for now) the Conservative deputy chief whip, an important member of the government. He was drunk and he allegedly felt a couple of blokes up at a Tory private member’s club on Wednesday night (29 June). The MP’s name is Chris Pincher, which might count as an unusually strong – not to say extra-embarrassing example – of nominative determinism.
I’m not sure I can take much more of this. I know that no political party has a monopoly on sleaze, and I assume that the people who run the Conservative Party don’t go out of their way to recruit candidates who are a bit, you know, frisky (though they do seem to be of unusually low caliber). I’d like to think that these things happen, we’re all frail, “who among us hasn’t…”, and so on; but really?
In the news already this year as far as I can remember we’ve had: Tory MP David Warburton getting suspended over allegations of sexual assault; Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan convicted of child sexual assault; Tory MP Neil Parish confessing to watching porn in the chamber in front of female colleagues; an unnamed Tory MP arrested on suspicion of rape and told to stay from Westminster; the various well-known blows to Tory MP Boris Johnson, including inquiries to the cabinet secretary about getting his undeclared girlfriend Carrie Symonds a nice job.
Plus, of course, in recent times: Partygate, wallpapergate, Geidtgate, Owen Paterson and the chancellor Rishi Sunak’s personal family tax arrangements. Nadine Dorries. Just Nadine Dorries, running culture. That’s it. That’s the tweet.
Yes, I have heard of Patrick Grady, Keith Vaz, Claudia Webbe and Mark Oaten; Beergate and Growlergate, to give matters the proper cross-party perspective, but right now the Tories are running the country, and there is the distinct whiff of decay around the government.
Uniquely, it’s the prime minister who is setting the bad example, casting the die of hypocrisy and lawlessness, underpinning it all with a disregard for truth and decency.
There’s an old (and inaccurate) saying attributed to Lenin about a fish rotting from the neck done, and things do seem to be going that way.
It happens to parties that have been in power for a very long time, a sort of iron rule of politics. It happened towards the end of the previous couple of long periods of Tory rule. In the early 1960s and again in the 1990s, after they’d also been in control for a decade and more, the Conservatives fell prey to a bewildering variety of espionage, sexual, financial and more straightforward political scandals.
Toward the end of time in power they naturally ran out of ideas, were short of energy and creativity, a loss of direction and perennial leadership crises. They grew out of touch, and the weaker brethren succumbed to the pleasures of power. Partygate summed up everything that was wrong with the set-up, up to and including questions about misleading parliament (just as the Macmillan and Major governments suffered in their dog days).
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And so it is again now. The constant stream of unedifying stories and gaffes and U-turns and failures give the public a picture of an undisciplined, greedy, exploitative, and entitled clique who’ve forgotten what they’re in government to “do” rather than “be”.
I’m not at all sure how anyone could complete the sentence “I support the Conservatives because…” I mean what are they actually for, apart from being world leaders in empty slogans?
Once I therefore greatly look forward to by-elections in Tamworth, Somerton & Frome, Uxbridge & South Ruislip and other Tory-held locations.
This is because, like the people voting in Amersham & Chesham, North Shropshire, Wakefield, Tiverton and Honiton and across dozens of local councils, it is exhilarating to watch democracy reinvigorate itself.
Like all knackered parties, the Tories need a spell in opposition to rebuild, rethink and reset their moral compass (if it hasn’t been nicked).